From Pink’s Pen: Men at Best

From A. W. Pink’s The Life of Elijah:

It is for this reason that God suffers it to appear that the best of men are but men at best. No matter how richly gifted they may be, how eminent in God’s service, how greatly honoured and used of Him, let His sustaining power be withdrawn from them for a moment and it will quickly be seen that they are “earthen vessels.” No man stands any longer than he is supported by divine grace. The most experienced saint if left to himself is immediately seen to be as weak as water and as timid as a mouse. “Man at his best estate is altogether vanity” (Psa 39:5). Then why should it be thought a thing incredible when we read of the failings and falls of the most favoured of God’s saints and servants? Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s carnality, Abraham’s prevarications, Moses’ anger, Aaron’s jealousy, Joshua’s haste, David’s adultery, Jonah’s disobedience, Peter’s denial, Paul’s contention with Barnabas are so many illustrations of the solemn truth that “there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecc 7:20). Sinless perfection is found in heaven, but nowhere on earth except in the Perfect Man.

Yet let it be pointed out that the failures of these men are not recorded in Scripture for us to hide behind, as though we may use them to excuse our own infidelities. Far from it: they are set before us as so many danger signals for us to take note of, as solemn warnings for us to heed. The reading thereof should humble us, making us more distrustful of ourselves. They should impress upon our hearts the fact that our strength is found alone in the Lord, and that without Him we can do nothing. They should be translated into earnest prayer that the workings of pride and self-sufficiency may be subdued within us. They should cause us to cry constantly, “Hold thou me up and I shall be safe” (Psa 119:117). Not only so, they should wean us from undue confidence in the creature and deliver us from expecting too much of others. They should make us diligent in prayer for our brethren in Christ, especially
for our pastors, that it may please God to preserve them from everything which would dishonour His name and cause His enemies to rejoice.

From the Greatest Generation to Self-Celebrity

I love this illustrative comparison drawn by David Brooks in his book The Road to Character:

On Sunday evenings my local NPR station rebroadcasts old radio programs. A few years ago I was driving home and heard a program called Command Performance, which was a variety show that went out to the troops during World War II. The episode I happened to hear was broadcast the day after V–J Day, on August 15, 1945.

The episode featured some of the era’s biggest celebrities: Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and many others. But the most striking feature of the show was its tone of self–effacement and humility. The Allies had just completed one of the noblest military victories in human history. And yet there was no chest beating. Nobody was erecting triumphal arches.
“Well, it looks like this is it,” the host, Bing Crosby, opened. “What can you say at a time like this? You can’t throw your skimmer in the air. That’s for run–of–the mill holidays. I guess all anybody can do is thank God it’s over.” The mezzo–soprano Risë Stevens came on and sang a solemn version of “Ave Maria,” and then Crosby came back on to summarize the mood: “Today, though, our deep–down feeling is one of humility.”

That sentiment was repeated throughout the broadcast. The actor Burgess Meredith read a passage written by Ernie Pyle, the war correspondent. Pyle had been killed just a few months before, but he had written an article anticipating what victory would mean: “We won this war because our men are brave and because of many other things— -because of Russia, England, and China and the passage of time and the gift of nature’s materials. We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other people. I hope that in victory we are more grateful than proud.”

The show mirrored the reaction of the nation at large. There were rapturous celebrations, certainly. Sailors in San Francisco commandeered cable cars and looted liquor stores. The streets of New York’s garment district were five inches deep in confetti.1 But the mood was divided. Joy gave way to solemnity and self–doubt.

This was in part because the war had been such an epochal event, and had produced such rivers of blood, that individuals felt small in comparison. There was also the manner in which the war in the -Pacific had ended—-with the atomic bomb. People around the world had just seen the savagery human beings are capable of. Now here was a weapon that could make that savagery apocalyptic. “The knowledge of victory was as charged with sorrow and doubt as with joy and gratitude,” James Agee wrote in an editorial that week for Time magazine.

But the modest tone of Command Performance wasn’t just a matter of mood or style. The people on that broadcast had been part of one of the most historic victories ever known. But they didn’t go around telling themselves how great they were. They didn’t print up bumper stickers commemorating their own awesomeness. Their first instinct was to remind themselves they were not morally superior to anyone else. Their collective impulse was to warn themselves against pride and self–glorification. They intuitively resisted the natural human tendency toward excessive self–love.

I arrived home before the program was over and listened to that radio show in my driveway for a time. Then I went inside and turned on a football game. A quarterback threw a short pass to a wide receiver, who was tackled almost immediately for a two–yard gain. The defensive player did what all professional athletes do these days in moments of personal accomplishment. He did a self–puffing victory dance, as the camera lingered.

It occurred to me that I had just watched more self–celebration after a two–yard gain than I had heard after the United States won World War II.

This little contrast set off a chain of thoughts in my mind. It occurred to me that this shift might symbolize a shift in culture, a shift from a culture of self–effacement that says “Nobody’s better than me, but I’m no better than anyone else” to a culture of self–promotion that says “Recognize my accomplishments, I’m pretty special.” That contrast, while nothing much in itself, was like a doorway into the different ways it is possible to live in this world.

From Lewis’s Pen: How Tyrannies Come In

From the essay “Is Progress Possible?”

On just the same ground I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in. In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They ‘cash in’. It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science. Perhaps the real scientists may not think much of the tyrants’ ‘science’– they didn’t think much of Hitler’s racial theories or Stalin’s biology. But they can be muzzled.

We must give full weight to Sir Charles’s reminder that millions in the East are still half starved. To these my fears would seem very unimportant. A hungry man thinks about food, not freedom. We must give full weight to the claim that nothing but science, and science globally applied, and therefore unprecedented Government controls, can produce full bellies and medical care for the whole human race: nothing, in short, but a world Welfare State. It is a full admission of these truths which impresses upon me the extreme peril of humanity at present.

We have on the one hand a desperate need; hunger, sickness, and the dread of war. We have, on the other, the conception of something that might meet it: omnicompetent global technocracy. Are not these the ideal opportunity for enslavement? This is how it has entered before; a desperate need (real or apparent) in the one party, a power (real or apparent) to relieve it, in the other. In the ancient world individuals have sold themselves as slaves, in order to eat. So in society. Here is a witch-doctor who can save us from the sorcerers — a war-lord who can save us from the barbarians — a Church that can save us from Hell. Give them what they ask, give ourselves to them bound and blindfold, if only they will! Perhaps the terrible bargain will be made again. We cannot blame men for making it. We can hardly wish them not to. Yet we can hardly bear that they should.

The question about progress has become the question whether we can discover any way of submitting to the worldwide paternalism of a technocracy without losing all personal privacy and independence. Is there any possibility of getting the super Welfare State’s honey and avoiding the sting?


"Salvation Brings Imitation": Piper on Christus Exemplar

One of the important doctrines I have studied recently with the feeling that orthodox theologians have ignored in the doctrine of the atonement is Christus Exemplar. I reject the Moral Influence Theory of the atonement (birthed by Abelard centuries ago) that says Christ died to give us an example of how much he loves us and how we are to love others. In Abelard’s theory, there is no objective purpose of the cross. It is purely subjective. This view has been adopted by liberals theology and is nothing more than heresy.  Christus Exemplar is not that.

I will not go into great detail here into defending it, but Scripture is clear that the root work of the cross is substitutionary, but that does not mean that the only motif or purpose of the cross is substitution. Christus Victory, when properly understood, is valid as is Christus Exemplar. If we deny substitution, Christus Exemplar becomes nothing more than Abelard’s heresy.

I have found as a pastor the power of this doctrine. The work of Christ on the cross redeems us and at the same time we as Christians are to never to leave the cross and resurrection. Christus Exemplar assures that we do just that.

I want to quote John Piper in a book he wrote called Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die (read online here).  One chapter is dedicated To Call Us to Follow His Example of Lowliness and Costly Love.  He quotes from 1 Peter 2:19-21, Hebrews 12:3-4, and Philippians 2:5-8.  Piper writes:

Imitation is not salvation. But salvation brings imitation. Christ is not given to us first as model, but as Savior. In the experience of the believer, first comes the pardon of Christ, then the pattern of Christ. In the experience of Christ himself, they happen together: The same suffering that pardons our sins provides our pattern of love.

In fact, only when we experience the pardon of Christ can he become a pattern for us. This sounds wrong because his sufferings are unique. They cannot be imitated. No one but the Son of God can suffer “for us” the way Christ did. He bore our sins in a way that no one else could. He was a substitute sufferer. We can never duplicate this. It was once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. Divine, vicarious suffering for sinners is inimitable.

However, this unique suffering, after pardoning and justifying sinners, transforms them into people who act like Jesus—not like him in pardoning, but like him in loving. Like him in suffering to do good to others. Like him in not returning evil for evil. Like him in lowliness and meekness. Like him in patient endurance. Like him in servanthood. Jesus suffered for us uniquely, that we might suffer with him in the cause of love.

Christ’s apostle, Paul, said that his ambition was first to share in Christ’s righteousness by faith, and then to share in his sufferings in ministry. “[May I] be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ . . . that I may . . . share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:9-10). Justification precedes and makes possible imitation. Christ’s suffering for justification makes possible our suffering for proclamation. Our suffering for others does not remove the wrath of God. It shows the value of having the wrath of God removed by the suffering of Christ. It points people to him.

When the Bible calls us to “endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10), it means that our imitation of Christ points people to him who alone can save. Our suffering is crucial, but Christ’s alone saves. Therefore, let us imitate his love, but not take his place. (92-93)

From Lewis’s Pen: Someone Else’s Fault

From God in the Dock:

A sense of sin is almost totally lacking. our situation is thus very different from that of the Apostles. the pagans (and still more the metuentes) to whom they preached were haunted by a sense of guilt and to them the Gospel was, therefore, “good news.” We address people who have been trained to believe that whatever goes wrong int he world is someone else’s fault – the Capitalists’, the Government’s, the Nazis’, the Generals’, etc. They approach God himself as His judges. They want to know, not whether they can be acquitted for sin, but whether He can be acquitted for creating such a world. (95)

From Lewis’s Pen: Ambition!

From God in the Dock:

Ambition! We must be careful what we mean by it. If it means the desire to get ahead of other people – which is what I think it does mean – then it is bad. If it means simply wanting to do a thing well, then it is good. If it means simply wanting to do a thing well, then it is good. it isn’t wrong for an actor to want to act his part as well as it can possibly be acted, but the wish to have his name in bigger type than the others actors is a bad one. (45)

Pastors: Pray for the Lambs

While preparing a sermon on intercession in prayer, I came across the following quote from the book On Being a Pastor by Alistair Begg and Derek Prime on the importance of pastors praying for their congregation.

The principle part of our pastoral care is unseen by those who benefit from it, since ti is exercised in secret. Called to be shepherds as well as teachers, we must be intercessors for the members of Christ’s flock entrusted to us. Prayer is one way in which we keep watch over the spiritual well-being o the lambs and sheep of the flock. If no one else prays for them, we must. It is significant that the ministry of intercession is the one ministry that our Lord continues in heaven now on our behalf. We are never nearer to His heart than when we bear up in our payers the concerns and well-being of His flock.

“All the saints” (Ephesians 6:18) are to be prayed for, since all Christians in this world are in the battle, without exception. Some require daily prayer because of crisis, and all have a call upon our regular prayers because of the needs all constantly have. We must not pray for people only when they are ill! Spurgeon made this point in a somewhat amusing way when talking to pastors: “When a man is upstairs in bed, and cannot do any hurt, you pray for him. When he is downstairs, and can do no end of mischief, you do not pray for him. Is this wise and prudent?”

I concur. One of the greatest ministries a pastor can perform for his congregation may never been seen by his congregation.

From Spurgeon’s Pulpit: Christ Did Not Say "Feed My Giraffes"

From his sermon, “Feed My Sheep“:

A farmer one day, after he had listened to a simple sermon which was the very opposite of what he generally heard, exclaimed, “O Lord, we bless you that the food was put into a low crib today, so that Your sheep could reach it!” Some Brothers put the food up so high that the poor sheep cannot possibly feed upon it. I have thought, as I have listened to our eloquent friends, that they imagined that our Lord had said, “Feed my giraffes.” None but giraffes could reach the food when placed in so lofty a rack! Christ says, “Feed My sheep”—place the food among them. Put it close to them.

From Bonhoeffer’s Pen: On Confession and Counseling

From Life Together:

It is not experience of life but experience of the Cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. (118-119)

From Bonhoeffer’s Pen: Self-Forgiveness Can Never Lead to a Breach With Sin

From Life Together:

Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God? But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution. And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness? Self-forgiveness can never lead to a breach with sin; this can be accomplished only by the judging and pardoning Word of God itself. (115-116)