Evaluating the Strength of Arguments in the Sabbath/Lord’s Day Controversy, Part 1b: What are the Positions?

Manfred:

Here’s part 1 of what looks to be a thought-provoking examination of a controversial topic.

Originally posted on The Sabbath Complete:

With a wider view of the history of the controversy and the various expressions of belief, it is time to examine how each position develops its case. There are similarities among the three major positions and, of course, differences. Below, the three major positions will be briefly evaluated. While it is helpful to understand the basic positions as presented here, it becomes even more important to understand the terminology that allows discourse, the method each position uses to state their case, the relevance of cited materials, and finally, the rules of interpretation. These latter considerations will be discussed in following parts of this series.

A Concise Summary of Positions.[1]

The Lord’s Day (LD) position posits that the Sabbath is a ceremonial law that was fulfilled like other typological laws of the OT that pointed to Christ and His work of redemption. The Lord’s Day on Sunday memorializes the…

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Evidence that Cannot Save

Evidence that Cannot Save Law

A review by Stuart Brogden

John Warwick Montgomery has an impressive resume – author of more than 60 books in in 6 languages; he holds eleven earned degrees; is admitted as a lawyer to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court; and is a Distinguished Research Professor at Concordia University Wisconsin. That’s something of note. He has written a short book, History, Law, and Christianity, which is divided into two parts that examine the historical and legal evidence for Christianity. One of his colleagues at the university, Rod Rosenbladt, endorses this book and encourages readers to buy several copies, “because you will end up doing what I do. You will give copies to non-Christians!”

And this perspective reveals the faulty foundation of this work – it is presented as a compelling argument for the biblical account of Jesus that can bring lost people into the kingdom of God. We should not overlook the excellent examination of historical and legal evidence that does support the biblical accounts – but we cannot fall into the trap of thinking evidence or philosophical arguments will save anyone. This faulty foundation shows up early in the book – page 4, as the author declares, “Like Cambridge professor C.S. Lewis, I was brought ‘kicking and struggling’ into the kingdom of God by the historical evidence on behalf of Jesus’ claims.” On page 31, Montgomery serves up a short quote by Pliny the Younger, circa 122, showing how early Christians met for worship, and he then comments, “From that day to this all Christians – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant – have worshiped Christ as God on the basis of the historically impeccable testimony of Jesus’ own followers and of those who knew them intimately.”  Let’s leave aside the issue of which Jesus is embraced by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics and just focus on the thrust of Montgomery’s statement. It is another declaration that people come to saving knowledge of Christ on the basis of evidence and confidence of arguments based on that evidence.

This cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. If the author’s perspective is true, we need to witness with an eye towards saving people contrary to the Apostle Paul – And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

As with other books that have been written in this vein, this book can be quite useful for Christians who want to grow in their confidence of the biblical record, but is dangerous as a witnessing tool. People convinced by such evidence and sound arguments may very well end up having a faith that rests in the wisdom of men. We are ambassadors of the cross, not of historical evidence. People are brought into a saving knowledge of Christ Jesus by the work of His Spirit, as we proclaim His gospel. The flip side of the coin offered up by Montgomery is the attractive but just as faulty view that we can save Mormons (or others) by showing them factual errors in their religious books and doctrines. We cannot argue anyone into the kingdom of God.

That being said, this book has much encouragement for the saints. Montgomery rightly refutes post-modernism, false philosophical arguments, and liberal theology. He provides a very credible and readable defense of the person and deity of Christ Jesus from the historical record and the legal perspective, starting off (page 8) reminding us our faith is not blind or without evidentiary support: “Christian theology cannot be divorced from logic and history.” Since the gospel is centered on the work and person of Christ Jesus, we must accept the biblical record as factual – not something merely mystical – just as Jesus did when He talked about Adam, Jonah, Abraham, and other ancients from Moses’ account. Montgomery reminds us that while we can gain much from reading books written by other Christians, our faith and our truth are founded on the “primary documents” – the word of God. This is good stuff!

On page 11 and following, our author examines the historical credibility of the Bible, looking at biographical evidence, internal evidence, and external evidence. In each of these areas, the Scriptures excel in comparison to other historical persons and events accepted by all with far less support in all of these areas. Does this not reinforce the fact that such evidence cannot bring about the change that happens when one is born by again by the will of the Creator? But to see how blind lost people are to truth and willing they are to believe anything else, Montgomery observes: “To express skepticism concerning the resultant text of the New Testament books (as represented, for example, by Nestle’s Novem Testamentum Graece) is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” We can have confidence in our God because His Word is reliable. But we believe His Word because He opened our mind to His Truth when He made new creatures in Christ.

The second part of this short book focuses on the legal defense of the faith. He begins (page 47) by pointing out that every false religion is self-validating, a standard that very post-modern would embrace. “Christianity, on the other hand, declares that the truth of its absolute claims rests squarely on certain historical facts open to ordinary investigation.” The edge of the knife – our faith is fact-based, historically, archeologically, and philosophically; but can only be embraced if we are raised from spiritual death by the Author of all Truth. By nature, men suppress the Truth (Roman 1:18) and cannot will or desire to see it (Isaiah 64:7). Beginning on page 51, Montgomery addresses “four overarching questions” that “need to be addressed: (1) Are the historical records of Jesus solid enough to rely upon? (2) Is the testimony in these records concerning his life and ministry sufficiently reliable to know what he claimed about himself? (3) Do the accounts of his resurrection from the dead, offered as proof of his divine claims, in fact establish those claims? (4) If Jesus’ deity is established in the foregoing manner, does he place a divine stamp of approval on the Bible so as render it pronouncements apodictically certain?” Then he uses classical legal reasoning to examine each of these.

Our author examines motives for false testimony and the complexities of deception, providing nifty charts to show the various points of tension in each false presentation. Telling lies requires excellent memory and collaboration – and falls apart rather easily under competent cross-examination. The culture of disciples provided a cross-examination of sorts, making it impossible for them to carry on a life based on lies when so many Jews and Romans, who were hostile to their claims, walked among them day by day.

His last paragraph is worth a close read: “To meet man’s desperate need for apodictic (clearly established or beyond dispute) principles of human conduct, an incarnate God must not speak with a forked tongue. And, as we have seen, no divine stuttering has occurred. To the contrary, his message can be relied upon as evidentially established, a sure light shining in a dark world, illuminating the path to eternity.” Note this clearly – “His message can be relied upon.” We have been entrusted with His message, not our own. His message is the simple, foolish message of the cross, the story of the fall of man, the perfect life of the solitary God-man who earned the right to take the punishment for our sins and make a way for sinners to be reconciled to holy God. That is the life-giving message that He has given us – and we have nothing to be ashamed of when we proclaim it. The message is credible because the Author is credible. Once He gives new life, we can appreciate and embrace the trustworthiness of the message.

The Gospel in the Old Testament

The Gospel in the Old Testament. christ-in-the-old-460x259

What follows is a portion of what will be in part 2 of the book I am writing (Reformed and Baptist). I would like any constructive criticism ya’ll may be able and willing to contribute.

Perhaps the most clear, comprehensive illustration of the gospel in the Old Testament is portrayed in the story of the great flood. In the days of Noah, as in most eras of humanity, men were evil and there were few who knew and worshiped the One God. Noah found favor in the eyes of YHWH (Gen 6:3). Noah alone, of all the men on earth at that time, found favor in God’s sight. What does this mean? Abraham declared that he had found favor in God’s sight (Ex 33:12 & 13) and Moses, like Noah, is said by YHWH to have found favor in His eyes (Ex 33:16 & 17). Each man was solitary in his standing as God’s chosen vessel in the midst of a wicked and crooked generation, just as was the Christ to whom each of these men pointed. These mortal men, however, had no righteousness of their own, as the types always fail to fully portray the anti-type. They found favor in God’s sight because, as we see in the tale of Joseph in Egypt (Gen 39 – 50), God was with each of them and His favor was given to each of them. While each of the ancient patriarchs serve our purpose of showing how salvation has always been by grace given to sinners through faith given to sinners to believe God’s message about the promised Savior, Noah is the one example we will focus on.

In verse 9 we read that Noah was righteous, blameless in his generation – because he walked with God. Here, again, we must not read too much into these adjectives describing Noah. No natural man has ever been or will ever be truly blameless or righteous before God unless God justifies him and makes Him so (Ecc 7:20); there is no one who calls upon God, no one who rouses himself to take hold of Him (Isa 64:7). Noah’s blamelessness means he was circumspect in his living and did not give his generation cause to blaspheme God, just as described in 1 Tim 3:7, wherein the qualifications of elders are revealed. As our Lord kept Himself pure (John 17:4), using His walk with and prayer to His Father (Luke 22:39 – 46) to strengthen Him, so Noah was strengthened by walking with God – just as you and I are in our day. The earth was corrupt in God’s sight, filled with violence (verse 11); note the contrast to Noah, who found favor in God’s sight. As He will do at the end of the age, God the Righteous Judge declared His judgment upon the wicked world (verse 13) and told Noah how to save himself and his family (verses 14 – 17). Noah was told to make an ark and make many rooms in it, for the salvation of his family and all the animals God would shut up in the ark (Gen 7:11 – 17). None but the people and animals that God called would be allowed in the ark, none but those effectually called by YHWH into His provision of refuge would be saved. The vast majority of the earth’s population was consumed by God’s wrath; there was no refuge for anyone other than being in the ark (verses 20 – 23).

Do you see how this story points us to Christ? He was the solitary Son who was pleasing to the Father, hated by the world (John 15:18 & 19) and the wicked and corrupt generation that was seeking after signs (Matt 16:4). God pronounced His judgment that will cause the earth and its starry heavens to burn up and be consumed in His wrath (2 Pet 3:10), brought forth in resurrected glory as will His children be (1 Cor 15:35 – 49). Jesus went to prepare many rooms in His Father’s house, promising to take us there (John 14:2 & 3). The house, the temple (Eph 2:21 & 22), the city in which our Lord will dwell with those He saves (Rev 21:1-3); is built up of His elect, spiritual stones (1 Pet 2:4 & 5); firmly planted on the foundation laid by Jesus (1 Cor 3:11) and the prophets and apostles (Eph 2:20) – our Chief Cornerstone (Acts 4:11) and the other foundations stones that will never be shaken (Heb 12:28). None but those effectually called by God (John 17:1 & 2) will be allowed to enter in to the New Jerusalem that Christ is building by His blood and His righteousness (Heb 9:12; 1 Pet 1:18 & 19; 1 Cor 1:30).

I bring in a parable on baptism in chapter 2, so the reader will also know that this ark is specifically called out by Peter as a type, with the flood representing Jesus’ baptism in the wrath of God (1 Pet 3:21), the cup of which He drank – to the fullest, all the dregs (Psalm 75:2 – 8; Christ stood in our place as the one condemned, which is portrayed here) – to save those He predestined for that glorious end.

This is why I think this bit of history from God’s Holy Scriptures is one of the best for showing the comprehensive story of God’s redemptive purposes shown throughout His Word, which is the main theme in all of Scripture. Don’t take my word for it – this is what the Captain of our salvation said to dull minded disciples shortly after His resurrection. And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

A Commentary on Acts

A Commentary on Acts 415ueiiJyrL._SS300_

A review by Stuart Brogden

Writing a commentary on any book of the Bible is a daunting task. Especially, I think, a New Testament book. We tend to be more familiar with the New Testament and the theological divisions within the realm of Christianity are daunting. And we have much less commentary and interpretation by the Apostles of the New Testament than we have of the Old. And, as with any study of God’s Word, we all bring our presuppositions with us and have to conscientiously focus to seek the true meaning of Scripture rather than merely defend what we’ve been taught by others. Guy Prentiss Waters has spent untold hours to provide us a study commentary on the book of Acts.

Right up front, Mr. Waters makes it clear the perspective from which he views Scripture, which will delight his fellow paedobaptists but ought to give Baptists a bit of caution. Here, from the Introduction, page 9: “This commentary is Reformed in its orientation. It proceeds from the conviction that the Westminster Standards are the best summary of the Bible’s teaching in the church’s possession. It believes that Reformed theology and sound exegesis are not mutually exclusive alternatives, but the very best of friends.”

Many Baptists claim to be Reformed, but do not hold to the Westminster Confession. And putting any man-authored document as the lens through which to read Scripture is contrary to the very essence of being Reformed, which relies on the never-ending journey of Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming to Scripture for the glory of God. Some Baptists are just as guilty as some of our Presbyterian brothers.

That said, I think that Mr. Waters has written a very good commentary, focused on the redemptive story that holds all of Scripture together. This being a 600 page book, it’s not possible to give you a comprehensive review; so I’ve chosen to focus on a couple of passages in Acts chapter 2.

In a section titled, Promise Explained (page 84), our author does an excellent job explaining why Peter’s sermon (which Luke summarized for his account) points to Jesus as the promised son of David, pointing out: “First, David had ‘both died and was buried’ in Jerusalem. Second, David was a ‘prophet.’ Third, David had received the promise of God, on oath, ‘to seat one from the fruit of his loins upon his throne’ (Ps 132:11, cf 2 Sam 7:1; 1 Chr 17).” And just a few pages later, Waters leans (in a footnote) on the Westminster Longer Catechism to claim baptism as “a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sins that is granted alone through faith in Christ.” (page 89) There is no Scripture referenced and there is no Scripture that can be brought to defend this idea. It is conjecture conjured up by paedobaptists to support paedobaptism. One can argue from Scripture that circumcision of the heart or the Lord’s Supper or both are signs and/or seals of the New Covenant – which is what provides that forgiveness of sins (Luke 22:20 and Rom 2:29, respectively). Later on page 89 and onto page 90, Waters refers to Acts 2:39 and again allows his confessional tradition to influence his understanding of Scripture:

In Acts 2:39, Peter makes an important statement concerning the reach or scope of the promise of which he has been speaking. The promise pertains to three groups of people. First, it is ‘for you’, that is, the Jews – not simply these particular Jews gathered in Jerusalem, but for all Jews within reach of the gospel. Second, it is ‘for your children’. God had specially extended his promises to the offspring of believers under the Old Covenant, and will continue to do so under the New Covenant (Gen 17:7). Third, it is ‘for all who are afar off.’” Waters’ second point is one of the key areas that paedobaptists must not honestly examine, because the actual meaning of this Scripture undermines the foundation of their system. The promise given to Abraham in Gen 17:7 was not one that brought the offspring of Jewish children into the New Covenant. The other side of this covenant given to Abraham, described in Gen 17:9 -14, is what brought Jewish offspring into the Mosaic Covenant community – not the New Covenant. Most importantly, God’s Word tells us the proper interpretation of the promise in Gen 17:7: Galatians 3:16 (ESV) Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. The promises were to Abraham and his seed – not seeds; to include Christ and His body in the New Covenant, not unregenerate Jewish or Presbyterian children.

But, the paedobaptist says, Scripture clearly says “the promise is for you and your children!” Two things must be observed from this passage in God’s Word. First, this verse cited in part by Waters and most paedobaptist defenders – For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. That little phrase at the end qualifies everything that precedes it in this sentence. Only those children that are called by the Lord our God to himself will be saved and, therefore, included in the New Covenant. Secondly, the promise mentioned in verse 29 does not refer to the Abrahamic covenant, as paedobaptists claim in their effort include their biological seed in the New Covenant. Context reveal no mention of Abraham in Peter’s sermon. Starting in verse 22 and continuing to verse 36, Peter describes how Christ Jesus is the heir to God’s covenant with David as fulfillment of God’s promise to David to raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

No matter how you slice Acts 2, you will not find Abraham’s covenant nor a promise by God to include all the children of a group of people in the New Covenant.

As with all things written by man, there is error in this book of which the reader must be wary. But there is much good, as well. Many Baptists and Presbyterians agree vigorously on how sinners are saved – it is a monergistic work of God. This view of soteriology shines brightly throughout this commentary and ought to be an encouragement to many.

If you are a fan of the Westminster system of theology, you will enjoy this book more than us Baptists. But we can all learn and benefit from it as it will cause the serious reader to dig into Scripture to see if these things be so.

The Glory of a True Church

Now available! A book by Benjamin Keach that has been out of print for more than 100 1425078955676-1024x1024years. Brought to you by Free Grace Press. Check it out, see who recommends it – for pastors and all saints.

Benjamin Keach was one of the best and most well-known baptist, puritan theologians of the 1600s. He was instrumental in introducing hymns into the church’s worship, and also was one of the framers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. He also had a profound love for the church. He began preaching at 18, and pastoring at 28 and his ministry was tremendously blessed by God with growth in truth and defense against error. He was despised by the authorities of the Church of England and often persecuted for his faith. – See more at: http://www.freegracepress.org/products/the-glory-of-a-true-church-by-benjamin-keach/#sthash.7vwpKTyb.dpuf

Battle Plans

Battle Plan Battle Plan

A review by Stuart Brogden

David W. Saxton’s God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is a tightly-packed synthesis of Puritan thoughts on biblical meditation from more than 3 dozen books. In twelve chapters, he covers several important topics, such as defining the difference between biblical mediation and unbiblical meditation. But first, he wants to show us the joy of developing the habit of meditating on the Word of God and throughout the book he shows the pitfalls of being negligent and the nourishment to our souls we gain by persisting in getting the most of our relationship with our Lord and Savior.

What does it mean to meditate? It means to think personally, practically, seriously, and earnestly on how the truth of God’s Word should look like in life.” (page 2) That is helpful in our world in which so many endorse and practice pagan meditation. Saxton reminds us that God has designed us and ordained His Word to be compatible – we find comfort and relief when we are close to Him; we find our Who He is and how we draw close in His Word. “God has chosen primarily to help us deal with discouragements and sin by applying divines truth to our minds. … Biblical meditation on Scripture acts as a believer’s medicine because God’s Spirit always uses the balm of His truth to provide lasting comfort and help.” (page 3) If believers do not spend time and effort in the Word of God, contemplating its truth and application to him, he will be drawn aside to lesser things and be weakened rather than strengthened.

On page 8, our author quotes Philippians 4:8-9 as an example of how God shows proper biblical meditation. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (ESV) He then tells us (page 9), “This passage pronounces a blessing not on those who merely know God’s will, but rather on those who have put His will into everyday practice by dwelling on God’s truth.”

One aspect of this book that grew somewhat tedious for me is the sheer quantity and concentration of quotes from the Puritans. Many pages have 6 to 8 quotes, with sentences and paragraphs peppered with footnotes; often taking more space than Saxton uses. While it is good to read the thoughts of these long-gone saints, it is a bit distracting for so many quotes to be used in short space. But let’s get on with the book!

In advocating biblical mediation, Saxton (pages 28 & 29) tells us that the Bible is full of admonitions for God’s people to remember – as a form of mediation. “Revelation 2:5 demonstrates that this kind of meditation is actually the first step towards evangelical repentance: “Remember therefore from when thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove they candlestick out of his place – unless thou repent.” “Remember” is the word mnamoneuo, which means “to recall information from memory.” The word does not suggest that a person has actually forgotten. Rather, it commands the believer to recall or to think about again.” I would add that this word also conveys the notion of being told to not forget something, to bear in mind – as when your mother would you to remember to bring your coat home from school. Still on page 29, we are given Thomas Hooker’s definition of biblical meditation, one I think worth meditating on: “Meditation is a serious intention of the mind whereby we come to search out the truth, and settle it upon the heart.” While I think this is an excellent definition, I am weary of present day duality of heart and mind – as if one’s heart (pointing to the chest) is what the Bible means by this term, rather than “heart” being a Hebrew metaphor for the seat of one’s being – the soul, which includes our mind.

In chapters 4 and 5, Saxton explores “occasional meditation” and “deliberate meditation”, showing from the Puritans and the Word of God how unplanned, near-spontaneous contemplation of some attribute of God is as valuable as planned study and prayer and pondering the Word. Occasional meditation ought to fill our minds during the day, rather than our routine absorption of cultural media and the attending thoughts it stimulates. We are cautioned to be on guard against the mystical practice of Rome and others with regards to occasional meditation, but also to persist in training ourselves to think on and ponder the Word of God and how it applies to our daily lives throughout our days. We are urged to memorize Scripture as a safe guard for our thought-life. That’s good advice – I dare most of us are not taking it! Deliberate meditation is pressed on us as necessary for spiritual life – if we do not make plans to read, study, pray over, and ponder God’s Word, our sinful minds will fill us with fleshly desires. I am an advocate of making time early in the day, the calibrate my thinking with the Scriptures before I engage the world. Many of the Puritans agree with me, but they also recognize the danger of dictating specifics to others – some may function better later in the day. So each man must be convinced in his own mind.

William Bridge taught that meditation on the Word should be divided into four parts. The believer must consider the exactness of the commandment, the faithfulness of the promise, the terror of the threatening, and the weightiness of the examples.” (page 62) This I see as excellent counsel. Far too many Christians have a casual attitude towards the Word of God, actually caring not for various passages that do not conform to their presuppositions. Encouraging Christians to ever trust God, Saxton sums up a Puritan view: “In His wise and perfect dealings, the Lord sometimes causes His people to experience unusual times of joy, sorrow, decision, or change. These are all His divine gifts to turn the believer’s heart to seriously consider God’s dealings to gain His perspective from His Word.” If we grasp the truth of the sovereignty of God, we will embrace this idea – nothing we encounter is “happenstance”; all is God’s providential care, an expression of His kindness towards us. There is excellent teaching on choosing subjects to meditate upon – from sin and death to eternity to hell, and God’s rescue of His people. Our author quotes Thomas Watson (page 93): “Meditation on hell would rejoicing in a child of God … Christ Himself has felt the pain of hell for you. The Lamb of God being roasted in the fire of God’s wrath, by this burnt-offering the Lord is now appeased toward His people. Oh how may the godly rejoice!” Do we see the Lord in this light? Do we begin to comprehend how blessed we are by NOT having to face God’s wrath?

As with all things, Saxton and the Puritans see the main focus of meditation being to bring glory to God. How much of our prayer life is fleshly? Physical healing is always needed – but how often at church prayer meetings do we hear moans and weeping over spiritual matters? Is the eternal destiny of our family and friends as important as losing 10 pounds or getting a higher paying job? Do we recognize how desperately we need God’s grace this day? He quotes Henry Scudder (page 100) – “when you arise and dress yourself, lose not that precious time (when your mind is freshest) with impertinent and fruitless thoughts…. This is a fit time to think about why you have need of apparel.” The Fall affects everything in this age. I heard a pastor remark that every time a dog barks, he is reminding us that our race caused him and all creation to be cursed. We messed it up – not the dogs that God was kind enough to give us as companions. Do we admit to being Adam’s offspring, in need of the last Adam’s righteousness and thankful for His submission to the Father in all things? That is a good thing to meditate upon!

In chapter 10 we are given the benefits of meditation: it deepens repentance; increase resolve to fight sin; inflames heart affection for the Lord; increase growth in grace; provides comfort and assurance to the soul; creates a life of joy, thankfulness, and contentment; deepens and matures a Christian’s experience; and improves the knowledge and retention of God’s Word. That’s quite a list! Any one of these benefits is more than enough to show any child of God that he should spend more time and mental energy consuming and pondering the Word of God and how, now, he should live. None of us has “arrived” nor will any of us do so in this age. Brothers and sisters – we need these benefits and others who have gone before us bid us drink deeply from the fount of God’s Word to gain them. If you and I are honest, we admit we have no excuse for our negligence in pursuing godliness. Saxton calls upon the Puritans to speak to this in chapter 11 – Enemies of Meditation.

But there are a couple things in chapter 10 that must be highlighted, showing us that neither Saxton nor his beloved Puritans had it all together, either. First up, a short quote from Thomas Watson, a very credible witness for the Lord – but not perfect. Saxton quotes Watson from Heaven Taken by Storm (pages 106 – 107): “If only people meditated on the damnableness of sin … they would break off … sinning and become new creatures.” This is cobbled together from a short paragraph from Watson’s pen:

Meditation produceth reformation, Psalm cxix. 59. ‘I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.’ Did but people meditated on the damnableness of sin; did but they meddled with it, there is a rope at the end of it, which will hang them eternally in hell, they would break off a course of sinning, and become new creatures. Let all this persuade us to holy meditation. I dare be bold to say that if men would spend but one quarter of an hour every day in contemplating heavenly objects, it would leave a mighty impression upon them, and, through the blessing of God might prove the beginning of a happy conversion.

First, let’s all agree that spending time humbly before God as revealed in Scripture will cause reformation within the Christian. But can pondering sin and stopping any one or several of them actually cause a child of wrath to be born again and adopted by God? Mr. Watson had this backwards! God is the One who works transformation by raising a spiritually dead person to new life, becoming a new creature in Christ – not by any works on the part of the creature, for then we would have cause to boast in our flesh! God works reformation in the lives of His people, as we all are on a journey of becoming more conformed to Christ and need His Spirit working within us to make it so. These two things are not the same. From other things written by Watson, I think he knew this – but his writing and thinking (like mine) is not perfect. And he errs in this instance.

Secondly, after quoting Jonathan Edwards (page 110), Saxton says, “Meditation causes believers to grow in grace because it allows the word of His grace to minister a genuine building up of the soul.” (emphasis mine) We must always be on guard with how we characterize the Creator. He does not need our permission or cooperation to work His grace in our lives. He does instruct and equip us to cooperate with Him in this endeavor, but we do not allow Him to work His grace in our lives. Our brother would serve us better by saying that meditation promotes the Word of His grace to build up our soul.

Sanctification (which all of what this book discusses fit within) is a curious process. Unlike justification, sanctification is not monolithic. And while we are encouraged to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our ongoing sanctification, there are times in each believer’s life that He sanctifies us without our cooperation. Praise the Lord that He does not grow weary or negligent in His work, though we may be from time-to-time! But note this – apart from the Spirit working in us, we cannot sanctify ourselves. Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Game, point, match.

Last gripe – in the last chapter, careless language once again inserts an unbiblical image that has been promoted and abused by many, though I do not think this is Saxton’s intention. On page 130, Saxton tells us: “Our deceitful hearts seek to convince us that we have the innate ability to live the Christian life in our own power. Only humble prayer can drive out that evil spirit.” Two things are evident in this short quote: He contradicts himself, telling us rightly we cannot live the Christian life in our power, then telling us how to do so! Then he tells us that sin in us is an evil spirit. Accepting this image without realizing God’s truth leaves us open to being misled. Bob Larson has made untold sums of money playing on the fears of those who do not know the Lord or who are ignorant of the fact that if the Spirit of the living God indwells us, no evil spirit can therein abide. Though our flesh is affected and afflicted by indwelling sin, our soul is perfectly righteous and “possessed” by the Spirit of God. Only lost persons can have an evil spirit within them. That should make us thankful yet again to be found in Christ!

To conclude (lest I go on too long, as is my wont), this is a most excellent book, much needed in every church and by every child of God – for who does not need more grace and closeness with our Lord? Saxton tells us (page 131), “normal Christian growth can be a messy, painful, and imperfect struggle. Yet, just the same, it is a struggle worth fighting.” In his conclusion, he tells us, “The believer’s ultimate purpose is to glorify God through becoming more life Jesus Christ (Rom 8:28-30; 2 Cor 3:18). … This process of progressive sanctification is all of the Lord’s grace, yet it is a duty in which God’s people are responsible to participate.” “Find your greatest delight in life in the presence of Christ though His Word.” (page 137)

Man of Sorrows

Spurgeon’s Sorrows Sorrows

A review by Stuart Brogden

Zack Eswine has written an easy-to-grasp overview of a condition many Christians and pastors spend too little time understanding. Some because they’ve bought into the lie that being healed by the stripes of Christ is a temporal healing, and we should have no sickness if our faith is strong enough. Some because they do not understand mental problems and do not trust psychiatrists. Eswine studied Charles Spurgeon, who suffered with depression and wrote about it, and he brings the Word of God and the words of men to bear to clear the air and give us hope. My hope is to bring to light a few of the good insights this book has to offer and help my fellow Christians better understand this issue so that we might be used to do good to our brothers and sisters who are suffering with depression.

So let’s sample this book, see how Spurgeon dealt with it, and how our Creator advises us.

Chapter 3

Conversion to Jesus isn’t heaven, but its foretaste. This side of heaven, grace secures us but doesn’t cure us.

“Though substantial healing can come, Charles reminds us that often it waits till heaven to complete its full work.

“We do not profess that the religion of Christ will so thoroughly change a man as to take away from him all his natural tendencies; it will give the despairing something that will alleviate that despondency, but as long as that is caused by a low state of body, or a diseased mind, we do not profess that the religion of Christ will totally remove it. No, rather, we do see every day that amongst the best of God’s servants, there are those who are always doubting, always looking to the dark side of every providence, who look at the threatening more than at the promise, who are ready to write bitter things against themselves …

“Therefore we sufferers of depression in Christ may grow terribly weak, even in faith, but we are not lost to God.

“It is Christ and not the absence of depression that saves us. So, we declare this truth. Our sense of God’s absence does not mean that He is so.”

This is critical for us to grab hold of – our position as children of God, His redemption and righteousness is not based on or determined by how we feel. It is based on His work to earn His place as the Lamb of God, taking our sin upon Himself, and imputing His righteousness to us. These facts and the promises of God are what determine our standing before Him. Our emotions are given to us by God but we are prone to being dragged away from Truth by them.

Chapter 4

“Religion offers both a challenge and a help to those who suffer mental disorders. This challenge surfaces when preachers assume that depression is always and only a sin.”

The author goes on to identify the hope is, as studies which indicate people who are part of a religious community do better with mental health (citing Lauren Cahoon, “Will God Get You Out of Your Depression?” (ABC News, March 19, 2008))

Depression for the Christian is often based on the perception that God has abandoned him. This is a very tangible example of how our theology matters and how our faith must rest in Christ and not our perceptions of His love for us. No doubt, this is easy to say and terribly hard to find comfort in when one is captured by his emotions. Our author quotes saints of old often and here, he shows us they did not neglect Satan. The devil doesn’t cause depression but he certainly is eager to encourage it! At this point, the Christian must fight.

“We plead not ourselves, but the promises of Jesus; not our strengths but His; our weaknesses yes, but His mercies. Our way of fighting is to hide behind Jesus who fights for us. Our hope is not the absence of our regret, or misery or doubt or lament, but the presence of Jesus. “Doubting Castle may be very strong, but he who comes to fight with Giant Despair is stronger still!”” (a quote from Charles Spurgeon, “Christ Looseth From Infirmities,”)

He goes on to cite “three tough words” from Spurgeon. First, he defends those who suffer by pointing them to Christ. Secondly, he cautions them not to haunt themselves on purpose with the dreaded notion that somebody somewhere might be happy. Thirdly, Spurgeon would – when he thought it necessary, be direct with those who refused to fight their depression. His sermon, A Call to the Depressed, is cited as a prime example of this tactic. “Perhaps in this sermon, we see Charles the human being trying imperfectly to administer help to sorrows not easily diagnosed. In his earnest and fragile attempts to help, we see our own.”

Chapter 6

“Jane Kenyon’s remarkable poem, “Having it out with Melancholy,” poses two “God” problems associated with depression and our attempts at care. First, depression ruins our “manners toward God” because it teaches us “to exist without gratitude,” and tempts us to answer the purpose of our existence as “simply to wait for death,” since “the pleasures of earth are overrated.” Second, depression tempts our friends to offer the following advice: “You wouldn’t be so depressed if you really believed in God.””

This chapter provides the reader with biblical counsel for those who are depressed, who, our author points out, “lean on metaphors” to describe how they are feeling. Mental problems are hard to convey to those who have not experienced them, so abstract descriptions rarely suffice. The Bible communicates mental anguish via metaphor: Ps 88:3-7, 69:15, Job 13:25, Prov 18:14, et. al.

Three ways metaphors are sufficient to communicate to those in depression:

“(1) Metaphor leaves room. It does not propose to cover every angle, understand every possibility or to explain every detail. It does not require only one possible explanation. Language that proposes to do this with depression exposes its ignorance of the situation at hand.

“(2) Metaphor allows for nuance and difference. Since each person’s experience with depression differs, metaphor allows for diverse expression. Formulaic prose or platitudes immediately reveal their lack of realism regarding how depression damages someone.

“(3) Metaphor requires further thought and exploration. It is a word of invitation more than destination which, we observed earlier, is crucial for gathering up the debris of depression.”

The Bible communicates a creator God Who completely understands His creatures and the plights we face.

“A larger story about God exists that possesses within it a language of sorrows so that the gloomy, the anguished, the dark-pathed, and the inhabitants of deep night are given voice. Such a god-story is neither cruel nor trite. Such a story begins to reveal the sympathy of God.”

Divine sympathy is your teacher, dear caregiver; your ally and friend, dear sufferer. Let His sorrow’s language help you.

Chapter 7

Four ways we can make things worse:

“1. We judge others according to our circumstances rather than theirs. “There are a great many of you who appear to have a large stock of faith, but it is only because you are in very good health and your business is prospering. If you happened to get a disordered liver, or your business should fail, I should not be surprised if nine parts out of ten of your wonderful faith should evaporate.” Jesus teaches us about those who lay up heavy burdens on others but do not lift a finger to help (Matt. 23:4).

“2. We still think that trite sayings or a raised voice can heal deep wounds. A person “may have a great spiritual sorrow, and someone who does not at all understand his grief, may proffer to him a consolation which is far too slight.” Like a physician who offers a common ointment for a deep wound, we “say to a person in deep distress things which have really aggravated him and his malady too.” In this regard, Charles teaches us the Scriptures, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” (Prov. 25:20).

“3. We try to control what should be rather than surrender to what is. We must not “judge harshly, as if things were as we would theoretically arrange them, but we must deal with things as they are, and it cannot be questioned that some of the best believers are at times sorely put to it,” even “to know whether they are believers at all.” The Scriptures teach us about Job’s friends who struggled at this very point.

“4. We resist humility regarding our own lack of experience. “There are some people who cannot comfort others, even though they try to do so, because they never had any troubles themselves. It is a difficult thing for a man who has had a life of uninterrupted prosperity to sympathize with another whose path has been exceedingly rough.” The Apostle Paul teaches us to comfort others out of the comfort that we ourselves have needed and received (2 Cor. 1:4).

“According to the Bible, when we encounter someone who weeps, we too are meant to weep (Rom. 12:15). When someone encounters adversity they are meant to reflect and meditate, and we with them (Eccles. 7:14). Without this together-sympathy our attempts to help others can lose the sound of reality. The loss of this sound of reality forges the larger reason for our harshness.”

Chapter 8

I wrap up with the author’s review of how our Savior relates to us. The common passage, Hebrews 4:14-16 (Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.) emphatically tells us that Jesus has suffered temptation and is able to sympathize with us – and He bids us come to Him! He is the cure what ails our souls and minds. This is not, as we are told, only in the here-after – the Lord is our comfort in this age. For in this age we are hated by the world, attacked by our flesh, and wearied by all the effects of sin that inhabit us and our environment. Jesus is our ever present helper and that’s where I want to end.