Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

So this is notoriously the strong example used by many to show the puritanical hell fire and brimstone preaching that was all about God hating everybody. At least, that is generally how it was portrayed to me before I was a Christian. However, once I read it I realized the most magnificent thing. It is only when we see God’s wrath for what it truly is, that we realize the grace of God for what it truly is. This, I think, Jonathan Edwards does greatly.

Exerpt from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

By Jonathan Edwards

“The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this.  “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”  By the mere  pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign  pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any  more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment. The truth of this observation may appear by the following considerations. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands.—He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a  great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast  multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. They are as  great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble  before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs  by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell.

What are we, that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down? They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at  any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” Luke xiii. 7. The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.”

We all have this sword of justice hanging over our heads which is the due punishment for our life of sin. However, it is astonishing and worship inducing to realize that sword will never fall upon your neck, because it fell upon our savior Jesus Christ in our place.


The Immutability of God


To possess the quality of immutability, is to be totally unchanging. Thus, to say that God is immutable is to say that He is unchanging. In fact this is a self-explanatory proposition. A perfect being must be unchanging because to change perfection is to make it less perfect. But here are two men that can say it with great clarity.

The first is from an article called “The Importance of God’s Immutability” by R.C. Sproul Jr.

“It is likely the most overlooked, under-appreciated, unknown attribute of the living God. Of course we are in grave danger indeed if we seek to pit against one another or to rank in relative importance the attributes of God. The doctrine of His simplicity reminds us that God is one, that He is not composed of parts. The attributes of God are not like that old spiritual, Dry Bones, wherein we affirm that the wrath bone’s connected to the justice bone, the justice bone’s connected to the omniscience bone. Neither does God find balance between competing qualities, as if His wrath were muted by His grace, or His love tempered by His holiness. These are all one, the same thing. In the end all of what He is He is because He is God.

Which, in the end, is why His immutability is so vitally important. This attribute is that which enables us to depend on God to be God. It is why we can be certain that every excellency, every perfection, indeed every promise of God is utterly inviolable. He shall not be moved. Jonathan Edwards wisely pointed out that this is one of the reasons the heathen hate him so much. They have other potent enemies. But those enemies can grow weak. They have other angry enemies, but they can be calmed. They have other knowing enemies, but they can be fooled. The God of heaven and earth, on the other hand, will never cease to be all-powerful. His wrath will never turn from sin. And His eyes will never grow dim.

This same attribute, however, redounds to the good of those who love Him. Last night, as with many nights, I gathered my two littlest boys, Reilly and Donovan, before bed. I read to them a rather silly story about a robot and a goat in search of a missing sock. They snuggled up to me as we read, and later as we said our bedtime prayers. Finally, I sang to them their lullabies, one of which comes, in our evening liturgy, complete with shaking, squeezing and giggling. It is a precious time for all three of us, and they go to bed at peace having heard me pray these words, “Lord help these boys to know that daddy loves them, mommy loves them, mommy and daddy love each other, and you love them.”

It’s all true. But sometimes I lose my temper. Sometimes I speak to these precious boys in anger. Sometimes I am merely distracted. The certainty I want to give them is radically muted by my own unpredictability. Not so with our heavenly Father. His immutability isn’t a mere battlefield wherein we tussle with process theology. It isn’t a mere bulwark against the folly of open theism. It isn’t even a mere facet of His character to be put under a microscope to be examined and expounded upon. It is instead a promise, a covenant promise. It is my certainty when I lie down to sleep that He will love me in the morning even as He loves me through the night. It is how I know that nothing can take me from His hand. It is the very reason we not only believe His promises, but believe He is the promise. The grass withers. The flower fades. But the Word of our God endures forever.”

The second is from C. H. Spurgeon from his sermon “The Immutability of God” delivered January 7th 1855. Here Spurgeon is working through the practical implications of this attribute of God.

“Yet again, God is unchanging in His promises. Ah! We love to speak about the sweet promises of God; but if we could ever suppose that one of them could be changed, we would not talk anything more about them. If I thought that the notes of the bank of England could not be cashed next week, I should decline to take them; and if I thought that God’s promises would never be fulfilled- if I thought that God would see it right to alter some word in His promises- farewell Scriptures! I want immutable things; and I find that I have immutable promises when I turn to the Bible: for, “by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie,: He hath signed, confirmed, and sealed every promise of His. The gospel is not “yea and nay,” it is not promising today, and denying tomorrow; but this morning when you turned to the Bible the promise was not sweet. Do you know why? Do you think the promise had changed? Ah, no! You changed; that is where the matter lies. You had been eating some of the grapes of Sodom, and your mouth was thereby put out of taste, and you could not detect the sweetness. But there was the same honey there, depend upon it, the same preciousness. “Oh!” says one child of God, “I had built my house firmly once upon some stable promises; there came a wind, and I said, O Lord, I am cast down and I shall be lost.” Oh! the promises were not cast down; the foundations were not removed; it was your little “wood, hay, stubble” hut, that you had been building. It was that which fell down. You have been shaken on the rock, not the rock under you. But let me tell you what is the best way of living in the world. I have heard that a gentleman said to a Negro, “I can’t think how it is you are always so happy in the Lord and I am often downcast.” “Why Massa,” said he, “I throw myself flat down on the promise- there I lie; you stand on the promise- you have a little to do with it, and down you go when the wind comes, and then you cry, ‘Oh! I am down;’ whereas I go flat on the promise at once, and that is why I fear no fall.” Then let us always say, “Lord there is the promise; it is thy business to fulfill it.” Down I go on the promise flat! no standing up for me. That is where you should go- prostrate on the promise; and remember, every promise is a rock, an unchanging thing. Therefore, at His feet cast yourself, and rest there forever.”

Sproul Jr., R. C. “The Importance of God’s Immutability”. Ligonier Ministries. 2013. Web. 29 July. 2013.

Spurgeon, Charles H. “The Immutability of God”. The Spurgeon Archive. 2001. Web. 29 July. 2013.

Spurgeon on the Doctrine of God


Introduction from “The Immutability of God”

Delivered on Sabbath Morning, January 7th, 1855, by the REV. C. H. Spurgeon

At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

Found at

It has been said by some one that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with the solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God. We shall be obliged to feel—

“Great God, how infinite art thou,

What worthless worms are we!”

But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. He may be a naturalist, boasting of his ability to dissect a beetle, anatomize a fly, or arrange insects and animals in classes with well nigh unutterable names; he may be a geologist, able to discourse of the megatherium and the plesiosaurus, and all kinds of extinct animals; he may imagine that his science, whatever it is, ennobles and enlarges his mind. I dare say it does, but after all, the most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning

Bible study, Jaques Derrida, and Postmodernism

Here is a great little explanation about the problem often seen in bible studies, I add it because it has a lot to say about how we read what we read. This is especially important when it comes to God’s word. Todd Friel discusses here the nature of Postmodern Deconstruction as stemming from Jaques Derrida.

In their book From Plato to Derrida, Forrest Baird and Walter Kaufmann explain Derrida’s appeal against modern philosophy:

“Derrida believe that Western philosophy is built upon a “Metaphysics of Presence”: upon, that is to say, the idea that there is an origin of knowledge from which “truth” can be made present. Philosophy has always seen itself as the arbiter of reason, the discipline that adjudicates what is and is not. Forms of writing other than philosophical discourse, such as poetic or literary writing, have been judged as inferior, and removed from the truth. In Of Grammatology, Derrida calls this positing of a center that can situate certainty Logocentrism. Philosophy thinks it can talk about “meaning” through a language unsullied by the imprecision of metaphors. Au Contraire! Philosophical discourse is not privileged in any way, and any attempt to explain what “meaning” means will self-destruct. Put more precisely, the signifiers of language systems cannot refer to a transcendental signified originating in the mind of the speaker because the “signified” is itself created by the conventional, and hence arbitrary, signifiers of language. Signifiers therefore merely refer to other signifiers (e.g., words refer only to other words). The “meaning” is always deferred and Presence is never actually present. Signifiers attain significance only in their differences from each other (the signifier “cat” is neither “cap” nor “car”) or in what they define themselves against (“to be asleep” is understood in contrast to “to be awake”).” (pg. 1176)

By showing that words only have meaning in relation to different words, he is attempting to break down the “Meta-narrative.” Ravi Zacharias, in a European Missions Conference, explains it this way:

“When you or I look at a text, or look at a narrative, we come to it from a Meta-narrative perspective. There are some assumptions that we already bring to the text that helps us make sense out of the text itself. One of the things we would assume is that when the writer uses the word particular, he means exactly that and we are not trying to fuse it with something other than that. Postmodernism came and basically through away the Meta-narrative. There is no superstructure on the basis of which to look at the text itself and there is no way to make absolute statements of a metaphysical nature, particularly. Issue’s of goodness, of virtue, of religion, the existence of God, the nature of self; these are metaphysical matters. And they said that you cannot possibly have a single vision on that theory and say this is the absolute nature on that particular subject.”

Later he explains their epistemology in shorter words:

“It (postmodernism) is based on an epistemology that holds to the limitless instability of words.”

However, it is interesting that through all of this Derrida expects us to find what he is writing to be meaningful, and might even assume we can understand what he is trying to express with his words. This is the somewhat self-contradictory nature of the movement. While Postmodernism is now applied to Ethics and Metaphysics (philosophy of reality), it began as a literary critique. The principle attack is on an epistemological level (philosophy of truth and how we know what we know). Key men in this movement were  Jean-François Lyotard, Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault, and Jaques Derrida. It was a critique with our ability to derive meaning from what is written, and gave the reader, rather than the author, sovereignty over the meaning in the text. While it is a philosophical movement, I would agree with Ravi Zacharias (a Christian philosopher and apologist) in saying that it is more of a mood than a philosophy. In the next video Ravi talks about Postmodernism and how it is played out in America.

This mood is now prevalent in America whether people know they believe it or not. This is a serious issue because it is inherently anti-biblical. It also leads to a sort of relativism of meaning. Since meaning cannot be found inherent in the text, and everyone approaches the text differently, how can anyone say their meaning is superior or more true than others? You see this expressed in comments such as, “your truth is your truth, and my truth is my truth?” or “there are so many different opinions out there, how can you believe that yours is right?” Those questions are not trying to set up their own standard of truth, they are trying to break down our ability to know the truth. Thus comes the term “deconstructionism”, they are deconstructing our ability to know understand. However, Jesus had a different way of understanding meaning within the text. When condemning the Pharisee’s Jesus says:

“And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:37-40)

Jesus has a fundamental assumption here, that the scriptures are clear and the meaning is able to be derived from them. The Pharisee’s are held responsible for reading the scriptures that testified to Jesus and refusing to believe. It shows that the words in the text are clear, and that we are able to understand their meaning. We will all be responsible for how we handle the word of God.

Baird, Forrest E. and Walter Kaufmann. From Plato to Derrida: Third Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 2000. Print

A Pilgrim’s Regress: Reason saves John

C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book called A Pilgrim’s Regress. In it, he follows John Bunyans allegorical style to show his own conversion experience. He is represented by the man John who wanders around the world in the book searching for his deepest longing. This longing is a reflection of God into the picture of an Island, that is, the longing for heaven. Hell is pictured by a black hole. God is called the Landlord and is constantly drawing John nearer to him through many different characters. Early on, after leaving his house in search of the island, John gradually gives into atheism after repeated attacks on his faith in the island’s reality. Eventually, he is taken hostage by Enlightenment taken to a great giant. He is then imprisoned by the “Spirit of the Age.” This giant represents ruthless materialism where all of reality is reduced to material. There is no spiritual aspect to man, and no God. Anything the giant sets its eyes upon becomes transparent, revealing only material. It is the giant, and his minions, that attempt to convince John that this is all he is and nothing more. Daily the guards enter in brainwashing the prisoners to their system of thought, depriving them of any hope beyond this world. However, there is still fight in him when on one encounter he fights back.

“Jailor- ‘Our relations with the cow are not delicate–as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions.’

Now John had been in the pit a shorter time than any of the others: and at these words something seemed to snap in his head and he gave a great sigh and suddenly spoke out in a loud, clear voice:

‘Thank heaven! Now at last I know that you are talking nonsense.’

‘What do you mean?’ said the jailor, wheeling round upon him.

‘You are trying to pretend that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of thing as sweat or dung.’

‘And pray, what difference is there except by custom?’

‘Are you a liar or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which Nature casts out as refuse and that which she stores up as food?’

‘So Nature is a person, then, with purposes and consciousness,’ said the jailor with a sneer. ‘In fact, a Landlady. No doubt it comforts you to imagine you can believe that sort of thing’; and he turned to leave the prison with his nose in the air.

‘I know nothing about that,’ shouted John after him. ‘I am talking aof what happens. Milk does feed calves and dung does not.’

‘Look her; cried the jailor, coming back, ‘we have had enough of this. It is high treason and I shall bring you before the Master.’ (Pg. 42)

He is brought before the great giant to be charged with treason against the Spirit of the Age, when someone intervenes.

When they came out into the air John blinked a little, but not much, for they were still only in a half-light under the shadow of the giant, who was very angry, with smoke coming from his mouth, so that he looked more like a volcano than an ordinary mountain. And now John gave himself up for lost, but just as the jailor had dragged him up to the giant’s feet, and had cleared his throat, and begun ‘The case against this prisoner–‘there was a commotion and a sound of horse’s hoofs. The jailor looked round, and even the giant took his terrible eyes off John and looked round: and last of all, John himself looked round too. They saw some of the guard coming towards them leading a great black stallion, and in it was seated a figure wound in a cloak of blue which was hooded over the head and came down concealing the face.

‘Another prisoner, Lord; said the leader of the guards.

Then very slowly the giant raised his great, heavy finger and pointed to the mouth of the dungeon.

‘Not yet,’ said the hooded figure. Then suddenly it stretched out its hands with the fetters on them and made a quick movement of the wrists. There was a tinkling sound as the fragments of the broken chain fell on the rock at the horse’s feet: and the guardsmen let go the bridle and fell back, watching. Then the rider threw back the cloak and a flash of steel smote light into John’s eyes and on the giant’s face. John saw that it was a woman in the flower of her age: she was so tall that she seemed to him a Titaness, a sun-bright virgin clad in complete steel, with a sword naked in her hand. The giant bent forward in his chair and looked at her.

‘Who are you?’ he said.

‘My name is Reason,’ said the virgin.

Make out her passport quickly,’ said the giant in a low voice. ‘And let her go through our dominions and be off with all the speed she wishes.’

‘Not yet,’ said Reason. ‘I will ask you three riddles before I go, for a wager.’

‘What is the pledge? said the giant.

‘Your head,’ said Reason.

There was silence for a time among the mountains.

‘Well,’ said the giant at last, ‘what must be, must be. Ask on.’

‘This is my first riddle,’ said Reason. ‘What is the colour of things in dark places, of fish in the depth of the sea, or of the entrails in the body of man?’

‘I cannot say,’ said the giant.

‘Well,’ said Reason. ‘Now hear my second riddle. There was a certain man who was going to his own house and his enemy went with him. And his house was beyond a river too swift to swim and too deep to wade. And he could go no faster than his enemy. While he was on his journey his wife sent to him and said, “You know that there is only one bridge across the river: tell me, shall I destroy it that the enemy may not cross; or shall I leave it standing that you may cross?” What should this man do?’

‘It is too hard for me,’ said the giant.

‘Well,’ said Reason. ‘Try now to answer my third riddle. By what rule do you tell a copy from an original?’

The giant muttered and mumbled and could not answer, and Reason set spurs in her stallion and it leaped up on to the giant’s mossy knees and galloped up his foreleg, till she plunged her sword into his heart. Then there was a noise and a crumbling like a landslide and the huge carcass settled down: and the Spirit of the Age became what he had seemed to be at first, a sprawling hummock of rock. (Pg. 43)

Reason had saved John from his captivity. John then travels far with Reason and she begins to interpret the dreams for him. She interprets the third dream first and shows that man often mistakes the copy for the original. If man has a longing for something other than this world, the materialist says that this ‘transcendent’ longing is nothing more than a copy of our longings for earthly things. However, Reason answers this:

‘But you must see that if two things are alike, then it is a further question whether the first is copied from the second, or the second from the first, or both from a third?’

What would the third be?’

‘Some have thought that all these loves were copies of our love for the Landlord.’

‘But surely they have considered that and rejected it. Their sciences have disproved it.’

‘They could not have, for their sciences are not concerned at all with the general relations of this country to anything that may lie East of it or West of it. They indeed will tell you that their researches have proved that if two things are similar, the fair one is always the copy of the foul one. But their only reason to say so is that they have already decided that the fairest things of all–that is the Landlord, and, if you like, the mountains and the Island–are a mere copy of this country. They pretend that their researches lead to that doctrine: but in fact they assume that doctrine first and interpret their researches by it.’

‘But they have reasons for assuming it.’

‘They have none, for they have ceased to listen to the only people who can tell them anything about it.’

‘Who are they?’

‘They are younger sisters of mine, and their names are Philosophy and Theology.’ (pg. 49)

Science is not concerned with the way this world may relate to anything that transcends the material. The scientist, in speculating there is no God, is not coming to this conclusion based on material evidence, but must first assume it in order for his theories about the material world to make any sense. Later, they begin to talk about what John saw in the dungeon when the Giant was staring through him. She then poses the same question she asked the Giant, to John.

‘What is the colour of things in the dark?’

‘I suppose, no colour at all.’

‘And what of their shape? Have you any notion of it save as what could be seen or touched, or what you could collect from many seeings and touchings/’

‘I don’t know that I have.’

‘Then do you not see how the giant has deceived you?’

‘Not quite clearly.’

‘He showed you by a trick what our inwards would look like if they were visible. That is, he showed you something that is not, but something that would be if the world were made all other than it is. But in the real world our inwards are invisible. They are not coloured shapes at all, they are feelings. The warmth in your limbs at this moment, the sweetness of your breath as you draw it in, the comfort in your belly because we breakfasted well, and your hunger for the next meal–these are the reality: all the sponges and tubes that you saw in the dungeon are the lie.’

‘But if I cut a man open I should see them in him.’

‘A man cut open is, so far, not a man: and if you did not sew him up speedily you would be seeing not organs, but death. I am not denying that death is ugly: but the giant made you believe that life is ugly.’

‘I cannot forget the man with the cancer.’

‘What you saw was unreality. The ugly lump was the giant’s trick: the reality was pain, which has no colour or shape.’

‘Is that much better?’

‘That depends on the man.’

‘I think I begin to see.’

‘Is it surprising that things should look strange if you see them as they are not? If you take an organ out of a man’s body–or a longing out of the dark part of a man’s mind–and give to the one the shape and colour, and to the other the self-consciousness, which they never have in reality, would you expect them to be other than monstrous?’

‘Is there, then, no truth at all in what I saw under the giant’s eyes?’

‘Such pictures are useful to physicians.’

‘Then I really am clean,’ said John. ‘I am not–like those.’

Reason smiled. ‘There too,’ she said, ‘there is truth mixed up with the giant’s conjuring tricks. It will do you no harm to remember from time to time the ugly sights inside. You come of a race that cannot afford to be proud.’ (Pg. 51)

When all things are reduced to material, what does that say for our own consciousness? If a soul is that which transcends the material, and there is nothing more than material, then there is no soul. All of our feelings, emotions, and thoughts are somehow illusions of the material. When the giant looked through them and he saw his insides, this was the trick of the Spirit of the Age on his mind. Making him think that he was wrong to trust his experience of a soul. Yet, if you try to make something that is immaterial, material, you make it something that it is not, and that is always ugly says Reason. The last riddle interpreted is the most dead on challenge to those who reject God.

‘It has two meanings,’ said she, ‘ and in the first the bridge signifies Reasoning. The Spirit of the Age wishes to allow argument and not to allow argument.’

‘How is that?’

‘You heard what they said. If anyone argues with them they say that he is rationalizing his own desires, and therefore need not be answered. But if anyone listens to them they will then argue themselves to show that their own doctrines are true.’

‘I see. And what is the cure for this?’

‘You must ask them whether any reasoning is valid or not. If they say no, then their own doctrines, being reached by reasoning, fall to the ground. If they say yes, then they will have to examine your arguments and refute them on their merits: for if some reasoning is valid, for all they know, your bit of reasoning may be one of the valid bits.’ (Pg. 52)

This is the common refrain of today. Statements like “there is no truth” or “we can’t know the truth” all fall to the ground by their own requirements. If there is no truth, then their own statements cannot be true. But if truth is there to be found (which they have to admit if what their saying is right) then the arguments for Christianity must be accepted as options. Options that are to be evaluated and denied by their own merit rationally. The bridge is a wonderful metaphor for argumentation.

‘I see, said John. ‘ But what was the second interpretation?’

‘In the second,’ said Reason, ‘the bridge signifies the giant’s own favourite doctrine of the wish-fulfilment dream. For this also he wishes to use and not to use.’

‘I don’t see how he wishes not to use it.’

‘Does he not keep on telling people that the Landlord is a wish-fulfilment dream?’

‘Yes; surely that is true–the only true thing he did say.’

‘Now think. Is it really true that the giant and Sigismund, and the people in Eschropolis, and Mr. Halfways, are going about filled with a longing that there should be a Landlord, and cards of rules, and a mountain land beyon the brook, with a possibility of a black hole?’

Then John stood still on the road to think. And first he gave a shake of his shoulders, and then he put his hands to his sides, and then he began to laugh till he was almost shaken to pieces. And when he had nearly finished, the vastness and impudence and simplicity of the fraud which had been practiced came over him all again, and he laughed harder. And just when he had nearly recovered and was beginning to get his breath again, suddenly he had a picture in his mind of Victoriana (Edith Sitwell, a controversial english poet)  and Glugly (representing intentionally vulgar art) and Gus Halfways (representing the modern quest for technology) and how they would look if a rumour reached them that there was a Landlord and he was coming to Eschropolis (Greek for “city of filth and obscenity). This was too much for him, and he laughed so hard that the broken chains of the Spirit of the Age fell off his wrists altogether. But all the while Reason sat and watched him.

‘You had better hear the rest of the argument,’ she said at last. ‘It may not be such a laughing matter as you suppose.’

‘Oh, yes–the argument,’ said John, wiping his eyes.

‘You see now the direction in which the giant does not want the wish-fulfillment theory used?’

‘I’m not sure that I do,’ said John.

‘Don’t you see what follows if you adopt his own rules?’

‘No,’ said John, very loudly: for a terrible apprehension was stealing over him.

‘But you must see,’ said Reason, ‘that for him and all his subjects disbelief in the Landlord is a wish-fulfillment dream.’

‘I shall not adopt his rules.’

‘You would be foolish not to have profited at all by your stay in his country,’ said Reason. ‘There is some force in the wish-fulfillment doctrine.’

‘Some, perhaps, but very little.’

‘I only wanted to make it clear that whatever force it had was in favour of the Landlord’s existence, not against it–specially in your case.’

‘Why specially in mine?’ said John sulkily.

‘Because the Landlord is the thing you have been most afraid of all your life. I do not say that any theory should be accepted because it is disagreeable, but if any should, then belief in the Landlord should be accepted first.’ (Pg. 52-53)

Too often, people lob the argument, “you just want this to be true so you make it true.” The reason you are a Christian is because your afraid of dying and want there to be life after death, therefore that is what you see. It is then a wish-fulfillment dream. However, just as the bridge can be used for the Atheist, it can also be used against the Atheist himself. Maybe, they don’t believe in a God, because they don’t want there to be a God. Indeed, that is the essence of Romans 1:21-23.

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

They suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). There are many other levels within this narrative that I am sure I have not reached. C.S. Lewis takes a lot of time to truly work through, but I did appreciate this section.

Lewis, C.S. The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational. 1996. Print

The actual problem of sin

Here is an excerpt from The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton, Systematic Theology and Apologetics professor at Westminster Seminary California. Here he is pointing out a common misrepresentation of sin as failure or purposelessness. Something that is quite a problem in the American church. The problem, while initially good in that it minimizes sin that shames us, comes about when it also minimizes the sacrifice made by Christ and forgiveness. How can you accept the life giving power of the Gospel, when you find not real true need of forgiveness?  I will allow him to explain this thought further because he is far more articulate than I, but as I read through it again, it is hard not to get pictures of people like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and many others that downplay the true cause while approaching the symptoms alone, all in the name of Christ.

No More Crisis Management

There is a place for crisis management. Victims of natural disasters are served by governmental and private sector relief. We are grateful to those busily at work developing vaccines, economic plans, and hospitals. However, the one crisis that we cannot manage– which is in fact the root of all other crises–is sin and its eternal consequences.

Pastors have increasingly become experts in crisis management. Some of that is simply part of shepherding a flock, but a lot of it is due to the fact that we expect our pastors to be personal coaches, therapists, and life managers rather than faithful prophets who diagnose our condition and heralds of the Good News that actually solves our deepest crisis. We may be a little more sophisticated in our spiritual technology, but the pattern is familiar. We will gladly follow preachers who tell us that everything is fine, that there is no wrath to fear, that either God is too nice or we’re too good for any final judgment to land on our heads. We will even pay a lot of money to spiritual designers who will help us weave cobwebs to hid our guilt, assisting us in shifting the blame to our parents, our circumstances, society, our spouse, and ultimately God. As false prophets, we lie ot ourselves, to others, and to God about who we really are. As false priests, we offer whatever pitiful sacrifices we think might buy God off for a while. As false kings, we seek to dominate rather than serve, expecting everyone– including God– to assume their role in our supporting cast.

However, the problem is not God’s unfaithfulness to his covenant, but ours. And because we are the ones at fault, God is our problem, and this is one we cannot manage. In fact, God’s Word calls us to face the crisis at its root and to give up our strategies for self-salvation. When the righteousness of God no longer disturbs (much less terrifies) us, we feel no need to cry out for the righteousness from God that is a gift in Christ Jesus. No longer “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” as in Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, we are more like somewhat dysfunctional but well-meaning victims who need to be “empowered.” Nobody today seems to think that God is dangerous. And that is itself a dangerous oversight.

The Holiness of God obscured, the sinful human condition is adjusted, first, to the level of sins. That is, instead of recognizing that sin is the universal condition of bondage, death, and condemnation from which we cannot extricate ourselves, we reduce it to particular actions or habits that we can be scolded or cheerfully encouraged out of repeating. Symptoms are mistaken for the illness. Second, we treat them primarily as negative behaviors that adversely affect fellow human creatures or our own well-being. For many, especially in our pampered culture, the only law left- and it is a relentless command that generates enormous anxiety- is to take care of oneself. The vertical relation- that makes sin truly sinful- is almost entirely forgotten. Now they are no longer sins- offenses against God- but mistakes: failures to live up to our potential or to improve our world. In fact, they need not even be defined by God’s law, but reflect our own inner lights: that which we personally find morally offensive. Third, we deflect these sins to “outsiders,” defining them as things that other people do. Depending on your ideology, “sinners” become either Republicans or Democrats, gays or social conservatives, socialists or capitalists, Muslims, Jews, Christians, or secular humanists. In this reconstruction of the problem, sins are deflected to others. Even when we discover them in ourselves, they are easily treated merely as self-destructive behavior that can be managed with proper strategies.

However, in the biblical perspective, that which makes sin sin is not first of all the unhappiness or shame that it brings to us and those around us, but the objective offense that it is before God. No one is eternally condemned for failing to find meaning, purpose, or fulfillment in life. But when sin is first defined vertically- that is, in reference to God- our nagging sense of unworthiness and guilt finally finds a real source and object. Only real sins can be really forgiven. We cannot forgive ourselves. Even the forgiveness of other people cannot erase the debt and give us a righteous status. Only if our sins are first of all offenses against God can they be objectively, fully, and finally forgiven.

There is no way of avoiding the biblical insistence that God’s wrath is real and being stored up for the judgment day. At the heart of Christ’s work on the cross is his propitiation of God’s wrath, but this makes no sense when we worship our own idolatrous projection of a domesticated deity who thinks we are basically good people who need a little help to be better. If “people today” find the preaching and teaching of sin and the cross irrelevant, it is only because we, like Israel, have dulled their sense of God’s holiness and righteousness.

When theology dispenses with propitiation (the satisfaction of God’s wrath) as a theme, it must eventually surrender forgiveness as well. We see this connection between a denial of God’s wrath and forgiveness in Don Henley’s song, “The Garden of Allah”:

Because there are no facts, there is no truth, just data to be manipulated…

Because there is no wrong, there is no right, and I sleep very well at night.

No shame, no solution, no remorse, no retribution

Just people selling T-shirts….

(Page 50-51)

Horton, Michael. The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. 2009. Print

Justification and Praise in the Atonement of Christ

I was in Half Price book’s off of Army Trail rd. and I saw this book on atonement in the antique section. Turns out this copy was published in 1886 and delivered to the recipient that very Christmas (according to the note in the front page). Further proof of this is a note written on a peace of paper with the year 1930 on it. Pretty sweet stuff. The author is a man named Lewis Edwards, a theologian attached to the Calvinistic Methodist movement. Apparently that is not an Oxy moron or contradiction in terms but in fact a real movement! He is really deep and covers a whole lot of ground in an interesting narrative style in the form of a student/ professor dialog. Here are two sections close in page numbers which compliment each other. The first is a quote from a somewhat liberal German theologian named Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (1780-1849). What is interesting about this quote is it’s orthodoxy. I thought it was a great wrap up of Justification in relation to atonement. The second section is a praise uttered later by the student in response to the doctrine of atonement. Long but worth the read.

Teacher: Pages 147-150

“And what seems at first sight more strange is that the keenest minds among the Germans– who deny the full inspiration of the Bible– still hold this doctrine. Yet, on second thought, it is not so strange; for they have no wish to attack or defend a theological views. One of the foremost in this class is De Wette, and his exposition of the words, “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:17), is as follows:

“The Greek word, as well as the Hebrew, sometimes denotes virtue or piety, which men possess or seek; sometimes it has an imputative meaning, and denotes deliverance from condemnation– that is, justification. The latter signification is the most usual in the writings of Paul; ‘righteousness’ is what is righteous before God (Rom. 2:13), the effect of His legal justifying judgment, or the result of imputation (Rom. 4:5). It is true that the supposition may be made that a man attains justification by keeping the law; in that case his righteousness would be ‘his own righteousness’ (Rom 5:3), ‘the righteousness of the law; (Phil. 3:9). But it is impossible for him to attain righteousness of his own, so as to render him acceptable before God (Rom. 3:21; Gal. 2:16). The Jews not only did not keep the law (Rom. 3:9-19), but could not keep it (Rom. 7:7, &c); and the Gentiles in like manner have exposed themselves to the wrath of God (Rom. 1:24-32). God has ordained that all should be shut up in disobedience. If man, then, from being unrighteous is to become righteous, that cannot be except by the grace of God, namely, by God’s declaring him righteous, accounting him just, justifying him (Rom. 3:24; Gal. 3:8). The Greek word translated ‘to justify’ signifies, not only negatively to, set free, like the Hebrew word in Exod. 23:7; Isa. 5:23; Rom. 2:13; but also positively to declare righteous; but not to make righteous by transmitting or communicating the moral power from which perfect morality springs. The correct meaning of ‘justification’ is the one adopted by the Protestant theologians, who understood it in a forensic sense; that is, as the result of imputation. God justifies for the sake of Christ (Rom. 3:22, &c.), on the condition of faith in Him as Mediator. The result of His justification is righteousness of faith; and, because it is given freely, it is the righteousness of God or from God (Phil. 3:9). So Chrysostom, Ruckert, Reiche, Meyer. This justification is certainly an objective act of God; but it must be received also inwardly, because the condition is inward. It includes deliverance from guilt and peace of conscience, which are attained through faith in the grace of God in Christ; the same disposition of mind which would be proper to a perfectly righteous man, if such there were; in others words, the mind is in harmony and peace with God. Every exposition is erroneous that leaves out the fact of imputation.”

On the word “faith,” in the same verse, he says:

“Faith is trust, that is–

  1. The acceptance of any truth in full trust in respect to knowledge; that is, conviction.
  2. The reliance of the mind in full trust in respect to feeling. Here it is to be taken more especially in the later sense, trust reposed in the grace of God in Christ, calming the mind and freeing it from all guilt– especially, trust in the atoning death of Christ. With this is connected– not by the meaning of the word, but by the idea of unconditional trust which shuts out every exception– humility of mind in full renunciation of every merit on the part of the man himself, and recognition of his own unworthiness and need of salvation.

Disciple: Pages 162-165

One result of the whole discussion upon my mind is to deepen my belief in the inspiration of the Bible. This thought sounds like some deep chord underneath, and in harmony with all that is said. By this time I almost think the internal evidence is after all the strongest. Here is revealed a plan which man by his own wisdom could never have conceived. It is clear that it is not the product of the Jewish imagination, for to the Jews it was an offense; and it is equally clear that no inquiring Greek discovered it, for to the Greeks it was foolishness. yet we find that this is the only plan which is in harmony with the instinctive impressions that exist in the mind of every man respecting the evil of sin and his lost condition. Not to speak of the demands of the law of God, no other plan supplies the need of man and answers the questions of his conscience. Whatever some philosophers may say, we feel that there is an essential difference between sin and holiness. We feel that sin is evil in itself, and that holiness is good in itself. We feel that sin in itself deserves punishment. To deny this is the same as to deny that there is conscience in man. When I read or hear of some heinous crime, I wish the transgressor to be punished, and it angers me to be told that he has escaped. This appears to me a healthy feeling, implanted in me by the Creator, and I would not for anything lose it, in spite of all the preaching nowadays of the gospel of treacle, as Carlyle calls it, which has made one unwholesome mixture of good and evil, having more pity on evildoers than on the poor, and attempting to sweep all punishments out of the world. I speak strongly because I am conscious of having been injured by this doctrine, and I conscientiously believe you ought to write against it. Unhealthy sentimentalism of this sort is at the root of most of the opposition shown in our days to the doctrine of eternal punishment, the manifestations under the Old Testament of God’s hatred of sin, and the doctrine of the atonement as it is related to righteousness. But, as Socrates observes in the Phaedo, that pleasure and pain are like two bodies meeting in one head, so that the one cannot be without the other; in the same way, with greater propriety, it may be said that love of holiness and hatred of sin are inseparable. Sincere hatred of the evil obliges us to love the good, and sincere love of the good necessitates our hating the evil. Now, if this principle be admitted, I fail to see how it is possible to reject the conclusions for which you contend. Our conscience declares that sin ought to be punished; consequently, no theory can satisfy the conscience which does not teach that. The merited punishment has been suffered by another Person, who stands in so close a relation to us, that His sufferings answer the same purpose in view of the principles of righteousness, and, as a consequence, produce the same effect of appeasing the conscience, as if we had suffered the punishment of ourselves– a Person in virtue of our relation to whom we are raised into a perfectly righteous state: “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace of conscience undoubtedly is meant here, and if the commentators had but borne this in mind, they would not have objected so generally to the reading of the oldest manuscripts, “ Let us have peace towards God.” As you have observed, we cannot comprehend this relation between Christ and His people; but that only proves that the revelation of such a doctrine is of God.

Edwards, Lewis. The Doctrine of Atonement. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1886. Print.