Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mortification, Faith, and the American Pitbull Terrier

One of the reasons why I inveterately adore the American Pitbull Terrier—and probably why most fanciers fancy them as well—is that this breed possesses the traits of gameness and tenacity at a level far above all other breeds. The pitbull, at least those that come from reputable, tested stock, will not back down from a challenge and will keep coming back for more in spite of injury or trouble to itself.

Another reason why I love "pits" is that they remind me of the tenacity and gameness required in the Christian life. The fallen world, the devil, and most especially our own remaining propensity for sin necessitate our incessant coming back to Christ. This "keep coming back for more" virtue in the Christian is called faith, and John Owen tells us that we are to "by faith ponder on this, that though you are no way able in or by yourself to get the conquest over your distemper, though you are even weary of contending, and are utterly ready to faint, yet that there is enough in Jesus Christ to yield you relief (Phil. 4:13)" and "Christ tells us that we obtain purging grace by abiding in him (John 15:3). To act faith upon the fullness that is in Christ for our supply is an eminent way of abiding in Christ, for both our insition [engraftment] and abode is by faith (Rom. 11:19-20)." [1]

Let the following reflections be fuel for your continued "scratching" back to Christ:

"I am a poor, weak, creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is becomes as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of naught. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succor and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Jesus Christ, that has all fullness of grace in his heart [John 1:16], all fullness of power in his hand [Matt. 28:18], he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for  my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror [Rom. 8:37].

'Why do you say, O my soul, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Have you not known, have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint' (Isa. 40:27-31).

He can make the 'dry, parched ground of my soul to become a pool, and my thirsty, barren heart as springs of water'; yea, he can make this 'habitation of dragons,' this heart, so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations, to be a place for 'grass' and fruit to himself (Isa. 35:7)." [2]

[1] John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, eds. Kelly M. Kapic & Justin Taylor [Illinois: Crossway, 2006], 131-132).
[2] Ibid., 132.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Looking to Christ + Loving Sin = Futility

We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. The recovery of the doctrine of justification was the crowning achievement of the Reformation, and the Gospel is the good news not only for the unbelieving sinner but for the believing one as well.

But in our daily looking to Christ for the assurance of our salvation—which, the Reformers taught, is of the essence of faith—are we perhaps missing a key ingredient? Do we look to Christ in the manner with which the Apostle Paul did in his description of the normal Christian life in Romans 7, i.e., in utter abhorrence of the sin that still clings to him like a strapped-on carcass, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:24-25)?

John Owen strips off our cloaks of deceitful comfort in the ff. statements:

"When men are wounded by sin, disquieted and perplexed, and knowing that there is no remedy for them but only in the mercies of God, through the blood of Christ, do therefore look to him, and to the promises of the covenant in him, and thereupon quiet their hearts that it shall be well with them, and that God will be exalted, that he may be gracious to them, and yet their souls are not wrought to the greatest detestation of the sin or sins upon the account whereof they are disquieted—this is to heal themselves, and not to be healed of God...When men do truly 'look upon Christ whom they have pierced,' without which there is no healing or peace, they will 'mourn' (Zech. 12:10); they will mourn for him, even upon this account, and detest the sin that pierced him.....Now this, I say, if it be done according to the mind of God, and in the strength of that Spirit which is poured out on believers, it will beget a detestation of that sin or sins for which healing and peace is sought.....When God comes home to speak peace in a sure covenant of it, it fills the soul with shame for all the ways whereby it has been alienated from him. And one of the things that the apostle mentions as attending that godly sorrow which is accompanied with repentance unto salvation, never to be repented of, is revenge: 'Yea, what revenge!' (2 Cor. 7:11).....he must come to self-abhorrency if he come to healing.....Let a man make what application he will for healing and peace, let him do it to the true Physician, let him do it the right way, let him quiet his heart in the promises of the covenant; yet, when peace is spoken, if it not be attended with the detestation and abhorrency of that sin which was the wound and caused the disquietment, this is no peace of God's creating, but of our own purchasing.....For instance, you find your heart running out after the world, and it disturbs you in your communion with God; the Spirit speaks expressly to you—'He that loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him' [1 John 2:15]. This puts you on dealing with God in Christ for the healing of your soul, the quieting of your conscience; but yet, withal, a thorough detestation of the evil itself abides not upon you; yea, perhaps that is liked well enough, but only in respect of the consequences of it. Perhaps you may be saved, yet as through fire, and God will have some work with you before he has done; but you will have little peace in this life—you will be sick and fainting all your days (Isa. 57:17). This is a deceit that lies at the root of the peace of many professors and wastes it. They deal with all their strength about mercy and pardon, and seem to have great communion with God in their so doing; they lie before him, bewail their sins and follies, that anyone would think, yea, they think themselves, that surely they and their sins are now parted; and so receive in mercy that satisfies their hearts for a little season. But when a thorough search comes to be made, there has been some secret reserve for the folly or follies treated about—at least, there has not been that thorough abhorrency of it which is necessary; and their whole peace is quickly discovered to be weak and rotten, scarce abiding any longer than the words of begging it are in their mouths." (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, eds. Kelly M. Kapic & Justin Taylor [Illinois: Crossway, 2006], 119-121).

Sobering words for the sin-parched pilgrim.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In Defense of Hell: Six Arguments Against Annihilationism

"In the first place, the amount of time spent in wrongdoing is often irrelevant in determining the sentence. As I write these words, police in London are looking for thugs who attacked a forty-five year old man in broad daylight, almost severed his arm with a billhook, pummelled him with a baseball bat and sprayed hydrochloric acid in his face. The assault was all over in less than a minute; would sixty seconds in jail be an appropriate sentence? As William Hendriksen says, 'It is not necessarily the duration of the crime that fixes the duration of the punishment...What is decisive is the nature of the crime.'

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Utility of Indwelling Sin

Indwelling sin—it is the scourge of the Christian life, even more so than the world or the devil. Though the Christian has been made a partaker of the nature of Christ through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, still, absolute freedom from sin is not to be had in this present age.

To be sure, it is the Christian's duty to be mortifying sin in his life, as far as he is aware of particular instances of dominance. However, it may come as some comfort to know that this enemy has both a God-glorifying and man-benefiting function, the knowledge of which can never be a warrant for lawlessness, but is actually the impetus behind the pedagogical use of the Law.

John Owen writes,

"To mortify sin is not utterly to kill, root it out, and destroy it, that it should have no more hold at all nor residence in our hearts. It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished. There is no man that truly sets himself to mortify any sin, but he aims at, intends, desires its utter destruction, that it should leave neither root nor fruit in the heart or life. He would so kill it that it should never more nor stir anymore, cry or call, seduce or tempt, to eternity. Its not-being is the thing aimed at. Now, though doubtless there may, by the Spirit and grace of Christ, a wonderful success and eminency of victory against any sin be attained, so that a man may have almost constant triumph over it, yet an utter killing and destruction of it, that it should not be, is not in this life to be expected. This Paul assures us of: 'Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect' (Phil. 3:12). He was a choice saint, a pattern for believers, who, in faith and love, and all the fruits of the Spirit, had not his fellow in the world, and on that account ascribes perfection to himself in comparison of others (v. 15); yet he had not 'attained,' he was not 'perfect,' but was 'following after' (v. 12): still a vile body he had, and we have, that must be changed by the great power of Christ at last (v. 21). This we would have; but God sees it best for us that we should be complete in nothing in ourselves, that in all things we must be 'complete in Christ,' which is best for us (Col. 2:10)" (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, eds. Kelly M. Kapic & Justin Taylor [Illinois: Crossway, 2006], 69-70, italics original, emphasis mine).

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