The Pilgrim’s Progress
By John Bunyan
Barbour Publishing, 1988 (originally published in 1678)
Category: Puritan Fiction / Christian Living
In 1660 a young preacher burning with a passion for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was arrested and imprisoned in the “County Goal” in England. His crime? Non-conformity to the rules of the state religion. During the next twelve years of his sentence, John Bunyan wrote some of the greatest works of all time, and, having something more to articulate than to simply to get your best life now, many of these books are still being published over 340 years later! The Pilgrim’s Progress was officially published in 1678 and is continuing to minister to the hearts and minds of its readers – fellow Pilgrims along the path – and I am the latest Pilgrim to benefit.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegorical tale of the Christian’s life following his conversion. For those unfamiliar, an allegory is “a literary, dramatic, or pictorial device in which each literal character, object, and event represent symbols illustrating an idea or moral or religious principle” (American Heritage Dictionary). This work is a masterwork because Bunyan masters the allegory as it relates to the Christian’s life. Every detail, every character, and every scene rings true with the Christian’s soul even today. Every character’s name represents his or her personality. We meet folks such as Evangelist, Faithful, Hopeful, Ignorance, Mr. Honesty, Mr. Great-Heart, and the main character of the first part, Christian. Christian is his name because that is what he is, a Christian. And the events circling his life are in every way the events that you and go through from time to time. Every location is named in association with the activity that occurs there. Christian (in the book and Christian’s in real life) meet with places such as The Slough of Despond [depression, dejection], Hill of Difficulty, Valley of Humiliation, and Doubting-Castle. I kept reading thinking, surely, at some point Bunyan would slip and fall out of his allegorical mystery, but as the master that he is, he staid the course until the very end.
Bunyan writes in his apology for the book before Part I begins, “This book will make a Traveller of thee, / If by its Counsel thou wilt ruled be; / It will direct thee to the Holy Land, / If thou wilt its Directions understand: / Yea, it will make the slothful, ,active be; / The Blind also delightful things to see” (13). I wrote in the margin of my book after this statement, “What a claim for a book!” Indeed, a high and lofty claim for one to make about his own book, that it will direct me to the Holy Land and it will cause me to see in ways that I had never thought possible. Having now arrived at the Celestial City at the end of his work, I gladly confess that Bunyan was dead on.
Pilgrim’s Progress is divided into two parts and the version that I read does not have chapters or any other divisions other than Part I and Part II. Part I chronicles the life of Christian, a man who sets out on his pilgrimage, leaving his wife and children because they would not have him in his new self. Part II illustrates the life of Christiana, Christian’s wife, along with there four children who, after hearing tale of Christian’s travels, set out the course to find this Celestial City for themselves. Being that this writing is now in public domain, countless publishers have included it with their repertoire. There are versions in “modern English” and others for children. I chose the version by Barbour because I wanted to read Bunyan in (what I think to be) the original tongue. This version is also helpful because there are some editorial comments made in the margins and even Scripture references when the need arises. The copy I read is a hardbound edition, but I must mention that if you are looking for a ultra-high quality piece of bookmanship, you should check the edition published by Banner of Truth. Plus, its never a bad idea to help my friend Steve Burlew eat. While you're there, ask how you might qualify for free shipping!
I will not attempt to make a vast summary of Bunyan’s work for I am convinced that I will not give its due justice, to say the least. Therefore, I have chosen to select a few passages and highlight them for you to give you a flavor if you have not read this wonderful work.
Christian had left his wife and children having “put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life! Life! Eternal Life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the Plain” (17). This occurred after Christian begun to read the Word of God and asked Evangelist, “What shall I do to be saved? (16). Many can identify with such a testimony that the Word of God is what has convicted men throughout the ages to come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. For, indeed, without the Word of Christ, no man will be saved, as Paul declares “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). And thus Christian sets out on his pilgrimage onward towards the Celestial City.
During his time in the Valley of Humiliation, Christian meets with one who is known as Apollyon, his first enemy:
“Now the monster was hideous to behold: He was cloathed with scales like a fish; (and they are his Pride) he had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question with him.
Apollyon. Whence come you? And whither are you bound?
Christian. I am come from the City of Destruction, which is the Place of all Evil, and am going to the City of Zion.
Apol. By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the Prince and God of it. How is it then that thou has run away from thy King? Were it not that I hope thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground.
Chr. I was born indeed in your Dominions, but your Service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the Wages of Sin is Death; therefore, when I was come to years, I did as other considerate persons do, look out, if perhaps, I might mend myself. […]
Apol. …But it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves his Servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me: Do thou so too, and all shall be well […]
Chr. What I promised thee was in my non-age; and besides, I count that the Prince under whose Banner now I stand, is able to absolve me; yea, and to pardon also what I did as to my Compliance with thee: And besides, (O thou destroying Apollyon) to speak Truth, I like his Service, his Wages, his Servants, his Government, his Company, and Country, better than thine; and therefore leave off to persuade me further, I am his servant, and I will follow him” (59-60).
Apollyon obviously represents Satan, or at least one of his minions and his prime duty is to detract pilgrim’s from the way, bring guilt and shame upon them, and inflict as many wounds as they possibly can. I love how Christian chooses to respond to Apollyon, calling him by name, as though he were calling all truth into light. And he gives Apollyon the understanding that Christian has so far of his new relationship with Christ. He likes the Service (serving Christ), his Wages (eternal life), his Servants (the Lord’s Church), his Government (willing to live under the Lordship of Christ as He rules in a spirit of grace), his Company (the pleasantness of being with Christ and being known by Christ), and his Country (the general state of knowing that the Lord is sovereign).
Apollyon is none too thrilled that he has run upon a defector. Here is a portion of their battle:
“Apollyon fast made at [Christian], throwing Darts as thick as hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot. This made Christian give a little back…But, as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching his last blow, thereby to make full end of this good man, Christian nimbly reached out his hand for his Sword, and caught it, saying, Rejoyce not against me, O mine Enemy! when I fall I shall arise; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that, made at him again; saying, Nay, in all these things we are more than Conquerors, through him that loved us” (62).
Again, when under the attacks of Satan, it initially seems as though we are powerless. He afflicts blows to our head (our minds, our understanding, and our assurance), our hand (our effectiveness for ministry), and our foot (limiting the fruitfulness of our spiritual walk with Christ). But the growing Christian will understand that he has the ability to fight back with the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. Christian quotes from Micah 7:8 and Romans 8:37 in his final defeat of Apollyon. Christian escaped this battle alive, but it was a battle that he would never forget again.
Again, it is almost magical the way that Bunyan causes the narrative to flow along the lines of the Pilgrim’s path. His theology shines through the characters that he brings in and there is always the element of truth that cannot be escaped. While Christian was on the road with his friend, Faithful, they run along another traveler named Talkative. Talkative lives up to his name in that he is simply one who likes to talk of matters of truth, but when it comes to applying them and living them, he does not see the benefit. Here is a portion of their discourse together:
“Talkative. For to speak the truth, there are but few that care thus to spend their time (as they are in their Travels) but choose much rather to be speaking of things to no profit; and this hath been a Trouble to me…If a man doth delight to talk of the History, or the Mystery of things; or if a man doth love to talk of Miracles, Wonders, or Signs, where shall he find things recorded so delightful, and so sweetly penned, as in the Holy Scripture?
Faithful. That’s true; but to be profited by such things in our talk, should be that which we design.
Talk. That is what I said; for to talk of such things is most profitable; for by so doing, a man may get Knowledge of many things; as of the vanity of Earthly things, and the benefit of things Above…the necessity of the New birth; the insufficiency of our Works; the need of Christ’s righteousness, etc. Besides, by this a man may learn what it is to repent, to believe, to pray, to suffer, or the like…” (77).
The conversation starts out well, but as Faithful turns to Christian it is revealed, “This man, with whom you are so taken, will beguile, with this Tongue of his, twenty of them that know him not” (78). Christian then explains to Faithful that this man, Talkative, is all talk and no action. Therefore, Faithful engages Talkative in conversation that is intended to induce action, but the actions never come. Christian quips,
“Hearing is but as sowing of the seed: Talking is not sufficient to prove that fruit is indeed in the Heart and life; and let us assure ourselves, that at the day of Doom, men shall be judged according to their Fruit: It will not be said of then, Did you believe? But were you Doers or Talkers only? And accordingly they shall be judged…
Faithful. This brings to mind that of Moses, by which he described the beast that us clean. He is such an one that parteth the hoof, and cheweth the cud; not that parteth the hoof only, or that cheweth the cud only. The hare cheweth the cud, but yet is unclean; because he parteth not the hoof. And this truly resembleth Talkative; he cheweth the cud, he seeketh Knowledge, he cheweth upon the Word; but he divideth not the hoof, he parteth not with the Way of Sinners; but as the hare, he retaineth the foot of a dog or bear, and therefore is unclean” (81).
This was indeed something that I had never thought before. I am not sure if Bunyan is making this allusion simply to fit his narrative, or if this indeed was the thrust behins the provisions Moses was given as to the cleanness and uncleanness of animals. Wow.
To sum up, Christian finally makes it to the Celestial City (Heaven). Part II begins with his wife and children setting out on their pilgrimage for they have decided that life in the City of Destruction is not profitable and will end in sure death. Christiana seems to have a much better trip as she does not go this alone. She takes her friend Mercy with her, as well as her four sons. Also, she enlists the help of a man, Great-Heart, who will accompany her and protect her throughout the entire journey. What a great picture that this gives us as to how the fellowship of the Body of Christ should be lived together in community. We are all part of one another and should “live life together”, fighting battles and blazing this trail that is set before us.
I will share only one lengthy passage regarding Christiana’s pilgrimage to the Celsetial City as she crossed over the same ground as her husband did before, but without as much difficulty as he had while there. Christiana’s friend Prudence (whom was met along the way) was given leave by Christiana to catechise her four sons to “see how Christiana had brought up her children” (217). What follows is truly great teaching and theology all wrapped up in a succinct conversation. I hope my children will be able to fair as well as these four did:
“Prudence. And she said, Come, James, canst thou tell me who made thee?
James. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
Prud. Good boy. And canst thou tell me who saves thee?
James. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
Prud. Good boy still. But how doth God the Father save thee?
Jam. By his Grace.
Prud. How doth God the Son save thee?
Jam. By his Righteousness, Death, and Blood, and Life.
Prud. And how doth God the Holy Ghost save thee?
Jam. By his Illumination, by his Renovation, and by his Preservation.
Then said Prudence to Christiana, You are to be commended for thus bringing up your children. I suppose I need not ask the rest these Questions, since the youngest of them can answer them so well. I will therefore now apply myself to the youngest next.
Prud. Then she said, Come, Joseph, (for his name was Joseph) will you let me catechise you?
Joseph. With all my heart.
Prud. What is Man?
Jos. A reasonable Creature, made so by God, as my brother said.
Prud. What is supposed by thie word Saved?
Jos. That Man, by Sin, has brought himself into a state of Cpativity and Misery.
Prud. What is supposed by his being saved by the Trinity?
Jos. That Sin is so great and mighty a Tyrant, that none can pull us out of its clutches, but God; and that God is so good and loving to Man, as to pull him indeed out of this miserable state.
Prud. What is God’s design in saving of poor men?
Jos. The glorifying of his Name, of his Grace, and Justice, etc. and the everlasting Happiness of his Creature.
Prud. Who are they that must be saved?
Jos. Those that accept of his Salvation.
Prud. Good boy, Joseph, thy mother has taught thee well, and thou hast hearkened to what she has said unto thee.
Then said Prudence to Samuel, who was he eldest but one:
Prud. Come, Samuel, are you willing that I should catechise you also?
Samuel. Yes, forsooth, if you please.
Prud. What is Heaven?
Sam. A Place and State most blessed, because God dwelleth there.
Prud. What is Hell?
Sam. A Place and State most woful, because it is the dwelling-place of Sin, the Devil, and Death.
Prud. Why wouldst thou go to Heaven?
Sam. That I may see God, and serve Him without weariness; that I may see Chrust, and love him everlastingly; that I may have that fullness of the Holy Spirit in men, that I can by no means here enjoy.
Prud. A very good boy also, and one that has learned well.
Then she addressed herself to the eldest, whose name was Matthew; and she said to him, Come, Matthew, shall I also catechise you?
Matthew. With a very good will.
Prud. I ask then, if there was ever any thing that had Being antecedent to, or before God?
Matt. No, for God is Eternal; nor is there any thing, excepting Himself, that had a being, until the beginning of the first day. For in six days the Lord made Heaven and Earth, the Sea, and all that in them is.
Prud. What do you think of the Bible?
Matt. It is the Holy Word of God.
Prud. Is there nothing written therein, but what you understand?
Matt. Yes, a great deal.
Prud. What do you do when you meet with places therein that you do not understand?
Matt. I think God is wiser than I. I pray also that he will please to let me know all therein that he knows will be for my good.
Prud. How believe you as touching the Resurrection of the Dead?
Matt. I belive they shall rise, the same that was buried; the same in Nature, tho’ not in Corruption. And I believe this upon a double account. First, Because God has promised it. Secondly, because he is able to perform it.
Then said Prudence to the boys, You must still hearken to your Mother, for she can learn you more. You must also diligently give ear to what good talk you shall hear from others; for your sakes do they speak good things. Observe also, and that with carefulness, what the Heavens and the Earth do teach you; but especially be much in he meditation of that Book that was the cause of your Father’s becoming a Pilgrim. I, for my part, my children, will teach you what I can while you are here, and shall be glad if you will ask me questions that ten to Godly edifying” (217-219).
Absolutely incredible. My heart leaps for joy as these truths are repeated as I see the Lord’s truth coming through a man who has long since passed into the Celestial City. This is a marvelous book that can not be described, it must be experienced. For, as you read through the progress of another Pilgrim, you will indeed see similarities to your own pilgrimage and have new ways of defining the invisible war that exists between the Darkness and the Light. May we always be progressing, Pilgrims.
Also, for a great series of sermons, using the Pilgrim’s Progress as a guide, refer to Jackson First Presbyterian where Dr. Derek Thomas will take you through the Pilgrim’s journey and, in his words, “point you to the Scriptures from whence Bunyan draws those truths.” In addition, while you are there, you will be edified by listening to or reading just about anything that he or Dr. J. Ligon Duncan have to offer!
For more on John Bunyan, click here, here or the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, where you can read or listen to some of Bunyan’s works or many other great theologians of yesteryear.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
After looking over my journal that has now come to a close, I saw a theme emerge that I would hope will be theme of my life: I want Christ. I want to stand in the affirmative of Paul’s triumphant thesis: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20 ESV). I recognize that it is my own sinfulness that prevents me from coming to full actualization of this truth, but it is my longing nonetheless. As Bach has said that Jesus is the “joy of man’s desiring,” Bernard of Clairvaux has said that He is the “joy of loving hearts.” Lord, may You be my Joy as well and that I may “find Thee all in all.”
“Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” written by Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1150)
“Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood;
Thou savest those that on Thee call;
To them that seek Thee Thou art good,
To them that find Thee all in all.
We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountain-Head,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.
Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Where’er our changeful lot is cast;
Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,
Blest when our faith can hold Thee fast.
O Jesus, ever with us stay,
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed o’er the world Thy Holy Light.”
Bernard of Clairvaux was a 12th century monk who dedicated himself to seeing and savoring Jesus Christ. As predecessor to the reformers, he was indeed Catholic by label, but reformed by definition. His understanding of the doctrines of grace, the sufficiency of the Word of God, and his desire to personally and intimately know the Savior who rescued him from the kingdom of darkness and transferred him into a kingdom of light runs parallel to the great reformers who followed four hundred years in his stead. Bernard’s “Last Page” was read about three years after he wrote this worshipful, Christ-centered hymn.
For more info click here
Monday, January 22, 2007
Once upon a time, long before the technosphere of blogging, there was the much more primitive act of thought collecting and writing called “journaling.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, journals typically have something we call “paper.” In the suburban days where HTML and PDF are understood languages, the term “paper” does not readily come to forefront of the vocabulary. This paper is actually made from something we call “trees,” if you have not seen any in awhile. If you just so happen to conjecture why it seems more difficult to breathe in this lovely suburbanite landscape, it is quite possibly because we have removed those pesky “trees” in the name of progress. Or is it those monster trucks that have mutated? This is a post for another time… In a journal, paper is usually bound by some apparatus or covering and you use a “pen” or “pencil” to hand write. This may be a new concept for you, so do not be overwhelmed – electro communication is here to stay.
“The Last Page” is something that I have chosen to write above (as though the obvious were not implicit) the last page of my journals when I come to, well, the last page. I have thus arrived at this position in my latest journal and it is time for me to decide what I should include for the reserved and touted “Last Page” entry. No one else cares about this besides me, since no one reads my journals anyway, but I must confess that there is more than one entry that ponders the questions as to whether they will be published posthumously (translation: when I’m dead). I presume the requirement for such, however, would be that I accomplish something worthwhile in the meantime…
All this said, the “Last Page” entry is reserved to attempt to be a summation of life’s events throughout the duration of the journal itself. This is not intended to be a time where I simply recollect the calendar that has transpired, but rather, a time where I read over the past journal, note trends of thought, discovery, or struggle and I providentially begin to see a theme emerge from within. I then search for some writing that can attempt to act as a synopsis of what has been or will be the general progression of my life. At times the “Last Page” has included worship songs, Scripture, poems, quotes, or a challenge from myself to myself. Here are just a few examples (all that appear below in block quotes is the actual text as it appeared in my journal):
Journal ending 11/28/04 (it was during this time that I experienced one of the greatest seasons of spiritual growth and finally surrendered to the call of the Gospel ministry):
“Deut 30 11 "For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. 15 "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God a that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them." (Deut 30:11-20 ESV)
This pretty much sums up where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. He has laid it out for me, and now I must choose to trust Him to lead me where He wants me to go. Crossing the Jordan…”
(this was actually written in my journal using the NASB and the above is the ESV, but I am too lazy to take the time to write it out)
Written 2/17/04 (attempting to come to an understanding of grace, sin, forgiveness, and the sinners response to them all):
A Hymn to God the Father by John Donne (1572-1631)
“Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow'd in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.”
(Quoted from Literature, Structure, Sound, and Sense. 8th Edition – this is all the information I have written)
Journal ending 7/24/03 (apparently while reading AW Tozer’s The Knowledge of The Holy, I believe I was struck by the reality that there are those who actually suffer for their faith):
“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only begotten Son of God,
Begotten of Him before all ages,
God of God, Light of Light,
Very God of Very God
Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made…
I believe in the Holy Spirit
The Lord and giver of life,
Which proceedeth from the father and the Son,
Who with the Father and Son together
Is worshipped and glorified”
From the Nicene Creed as quoted by AW Tozer The Knowledge of The Holy (p 20): “During the Arian controversy 318 church fathers (many of them maimed and scarred by the physical suffered in earlier persecutions) met at Nicaea and adopted a statement of faith.”
I have since come to an understanding that the Apostle's Creed is a better statement of faith, but being raised in a non-liturgical, non-regulatory principle kind of church, I was unfamiliar with either at the time of journal "publication."
Journal ending early May 2005 (just before I married my most excellent wife):
“Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene,
The American has no time to tie himself to anything;
He grows accustomed only to change and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man.
He feels the need of it, more he loves it; for the instability, instead of meaning disaster to him seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.”
-- Alexis de Tocqueville (I did not write down where I took this from, so I can not give credit)
Change has not always been welcomed into my life. The forthcoming change (less than 30 days later), however, was the most welcomed change that this man has experienced in the 21st century. I hope to prove de Tocqueville's thoughts wrong as I have chosen to "tie" myself to Kimberly, and by the incredible gospel-grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, will never loosen that knot.
I have yet to find the précis for this latest journal’s ending. Should it come in the next few days I will post it here, but not before I use those archaic instruments of laborious communication called “pen” and “paper”. And come the day that my life's Last Page is finally read (for it has already been written), I hope in the Lord Jesus that on that Day it will be said "Well done...enter into the joy of your master" (Matt 25:23 ESV).
Friday, January 19, 2007
The Green Letters: Principles of Spiritual Growth
By Miles J. Stanford
Zondervan Publishing House, 1964, 1975
Category: Spirituality / Christian Living
I am sure that this is one of those books that is the classic in many minds, however, I must confess that I had never heard of it until a few months ago. This was recommended to me first by an associate pastor, and then, within a few weeks time, I was asked by another gentleman if I had read Stanford’s book. As I had some time this past week, I set it as a priority to read this short work and I am thankful that I did.
The Green Letters was a refreshing book to read as it examines some of the simple, yet complex, truths of Christianity. This is the first in a series of five books documenting the growth of a Christian as he moves into an understanding of the statement “Not I, but Christ.” After reading the first installment, I will be sure to look for the remainder as well.
Stanford’s book rests heavily on the wisdom of others. He offers some of his own thoughts, but is quick to quote from various sources in order to illustrate his point. One might assume that his philosophy is that he was not intending to write anything new, but rather assemble a collection of “letters” from the wise voices who have gone on before. Although I would not agree with all of the theological positions of some of the contributors, I am thankful that Stanford states from the onset: “The many authors quoted have been carefully selected for the explicit purpose of this book; however, this does not necessarily mean that we advocate all that these writers teach” (Preface). I needed to be reminded of this fact when, much to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with those whom I would normally disagree with in other areas of study. This thought primarily holds true for those who hold a different eschatological position than I do. This was a great reminder for me that there is always something to learn from those who think differently than I, for I am far removed from being an expert in any field.
One of the great reminders that I gained from this book is that spiritual growth takes time. Sanctification is a lifelong process and even though I would like to say that I have finally “arrived,” I will never be able to affirm such a statement on this side of eternity. Stanford quotes George Goodman as saying, “To taste of the grace of God is one thing; to be established in it and manifest it in character, habit, and regular life, is another” (14-15). Later Graham Scroggie chimes in stating,
“All growth is progressive, and the finer the organism, the longer the process…There are great days, days of decisive battles, days of crisis in spiritual history, days of triumph in Christian service, days of the right hand of God upon us. But there are also idle days, days apparently useless, when even prayer and holy service seem a burden. Are we, in any sense, renewed in these days? Yes, for any experience which makes us more aware of our need of God must contribute to spiritual progress, unless we deny the Lord who bought us” (15).
Oh if it could just happen overnight! But our Lord in His wisdom has chosen to grow us slowly and in intermittent intervals so that we might learn to trust Him wholly with and for our future. He alone is sovereign.
Stanford then asks
“two questions that every believer must settle as soon as possible. The one is, Does God fully accept me? and, If so, upon what basis does He do so? This is crucial. What devastation often permeates the life of one, young or old, rich or poor, saved or unsaved, who is not sure of being accepted, even on the human level” (18). Indeed, how one answers these two questions will have ramifications that may be traced to every aspect of the individual’s life. Our complete identity and everything about us may be revealed in our own concept of who God is. If I am accepted by God, this means that I have been given a new nature and experienced the new birth (2 Cor 5:17). If I am not accepted by God, however, it is because I am still unregenerate, unrepentant, and dead in my trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). Therefore, if I am repentant and I am placing my trust in Christ and Christ alone for my salvation, I can be assured of my acceptance in Christ by God the Father. Understanding that I am accepted in Christ, does not remove the old man of my sinful nature, and in that area as well, I must see Christ and Christ alone. Stanford quotes William R. Newell at this point with “To ‘hope to be better’ (hence acceptable) is to fail to see yourself in Christ only.” “To be disappointed with yourself is to have believed in yourself.” “To be proud is to be blind! For we have no standing before God, in ourselves” (21). It is this “hope to be better” that I find myself reciting, oft times seemingly unknowingly. I say or think things along the vein of “Lord, help me to be better.” Or, “God, I want to try to fight harder against sin next time.” My, what a dangerous thought process this is, and is sinful at its core. For, it is not some unharnessed power within me that is able to fight sin, but it is Christ Jesus Himself. Paul declares, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). It is this verse that Stanford formulates his thesis around. It is not I, but Christ who has the power to defeat sin, and it is He Himself who has indeed defeated sin once and for all.
Stanford later offers this quote from Norman Douty in regards to our devotion to the Lord. As one who fights the temptation to reduce God to an object to be studied, rather than the Christ to be worshipped, this was of utmost encouragement:
“…You cannot do it; just withdraw; come out of it. You have been in the arena, you have been endeavoring, you are a failure, come out and sit down, and as you sit there behold Him, look at Him. Don’t try to be like Him, just look at Him. Just be occupied with Him. Forget about trying to be like Him. Instead of letting that fill your mind and heart, let Him fill it. Just behold Him, look upon Him through the Word. Come to the Word for one purpose and that is to meet the Lord. Not to get your mind crammed full of things about the sacred Word, but come to it to meet the Lord. Make it to be a medium, not of Biblical scholarship, but of fellowship with Christ. Behold the Lord” (26).
I do not have much that I may add to this wise counsel. The idea of truly beholding the Lord for Who He is is marvelous and magnificent and is the essence of true worship. May we all worship the Lord as we meet Him in His Word.
Stanford then sets out through the remainder of The Green Letters to help the believer understand his completeness in Christ, his identification with and in Christ, and the denial of self so that we may proclaim, “Not I, but Christ.” And at every turn, Stanford is quick to remind the reader that it is no self-actuating power that enables us to be victorious in our quest to fight sin and know Christ. Rather, it is the reality that we must be crucified with Christ. Watchman Nee notes, “God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene of action” (83). Having set forth the need, the reader is left wanting for the “how.” This, I believe, beckons the need for the continuation of the series and I hope to have my hands on a copy soon.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
“…you eat but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill…” (Haggai 1:6 ESV)
You do not have to be overweight or obese to say that you struggle with you. You do not have to anorexic to say that food is a stumbling block for you. I believe that I am in fairly decent health (weight-wise) and I do not think that I need to gain or lose any poundage. (My distribution, however, is another story…) ANYWAY, if I am honest with myself, however, I still have to admit that I try to medicate myself with food or drink (non-alcoholic, for the record – usually coffee). When I am sad, I love to eat. Chocolate, brownies, cookies, even yogurt-covered granola bars – which are now my wife and doctor approved snack (only 2g of sat fat!!). However “healthy” they may be for me, however, they cans till be a vice. I like to eat to medicate my problems. I may not be addicted to heroin, but the draw can be just as severe. I eat, but I never have enough. I lie to myself that this one bite of _____ or just one sip of _____ or if I just had _____ then my life would finally achieve total satisfaction. That one perfected cup of coffee that is rightly blended and sweetened that allows me to wade in into the delights of pleasure. But that java never jives. Why? Because I have not looked hard enough, blended with enough coffee shops, or attempted enough espresso on the expressways of life? Hardly. This lasting pleasure never comes but it will never come. The only One who can provide such satisfaction is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He says, “Taste and see that [I am] good! Blesses is the man who takes refuge in [me]!” (Psalm 34:8). He desires that I would take refuge in Him, not my refrigerator.
OK, as a Christian I “know” this truth because I know that He is only way to eternal peace. But why then, do I still attempt to satiate my desires with thins other than Him? Why do I run after petty things of this world all the while thinking consciously in my own mind “This will never satisfy…this will never satisfy…this will never satisfy…never satisfy.” I think that the only answer that I can muster is that somewhere within me, I really don’t trust that He is able to satisfy my every need. I still think that He somehow can not give me what I really want. In actuality, this is problem true, for what I think that I “really” want is probably sinful and He will never give me that which is contrary to the goodness and holiness of His character. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things [“the Holy Spirit” in Luke 11:13] to those who ask Him” (Matt 7:11).
So, the question is this: Why do I not desire God the way that He wants me to? The ONLY answer to this can be because of my own sinfulness and the depravity of not only the entire human condition, but of my human condition specifically. It can never be because He lacks a measure of goodness or that He has ever actually proved Himself to be unfaithful – He is ALWAYS faithful (Rom 3:3; 2 Tim 2:13)! It can ONLY be because my sinfulness prevents me from seeing Him as He longs for me to see Him – as an all-satisfying Father who desires for me to know Him intimately. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Therefore, I must come to terms as the apostle Paul did and echo his hearts cry: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Ad the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Further,
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:8-11).
Father, please cause me to know You and seek the fullness of my satisfaction in You. May I not seek to find refuge and medication in anything but You. Not food, drink, earthly relationships, wealth, work, or other things that will not withstands the fires of time. Urn within me a passion so fierce and so hot that I may not rest until I find the fullness of my everlasting rest in You. Glorify Your name in all the earth and begin with me for the sake of Jesus’ name. Amen.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
It has come to my attention that there are actually a few people who read this little hobby of mine. Welcome and I will enjoy your company while you are here, or were here…whichever the case may be. ANYWAY, I am hoping to have this new format for Blogger figured out over the next few days; so please pardon the progress in the meanwhile. The claims are that this is the improvements will make for easier posting, editing, etc, but I have not found that to be the case as of yet. But, as I am a slow learner, in due time I trust that I will be enlightened to the process. Any comments or suggestions that you may have are always welcome. In an ideal world, I would love to say that I could post something worthwhile 2-3 times per week. This doesn’t happen because I do not possess the writing prowess and fervor to accomplish such a feat and sometimes it may just be best for all if I were to keep my mind shut.
In the meanwhile…welcome to my world. And if you know how to do "peek-a-boo comments" or "toggle comments" in this new Blogger Layout, I would love to know!!
Friday, January 12, 2007
Christian Focus Publications, 2006 (originally written in 1699)
Category: Puritans / Evangelism / Christian Living
104 pages including Introduction by JI Packer
JI Packer writes in his introduction that “as Boston had a sensitive spirit, so he had a first-class mind, a retentive memory, and a way with words” (9). This is indeed appears to be the case as The Art is my first introduction to Boston. A minister of the gospel in Scotland, he came to trust in Christ as Lord under the ministry of Henry Erskine when he was eleven years old. Hungry for the word of God, Boston said that he often traveled the four miles to hear Erskine preach, “without so much as the benefit of a horse to carry me through Blackadder water, the wading whereof in sharp frosty weather I very well remember. But such things were then easy, for the benefit of the word, which came with power” (8). This devotion to the ministry of the word of God prompted Boston to write The Art while he was yet twenty-two years old.
Boston begins The Art with a confession that he is unworthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ let alone to be a minister of it. “[I] am a poor fool, having a weak heart and a shallow head; who might rather be learning of others than teaching them…But yet seeing I am called out to preach this everlasting gospel, it is my duty to endeavor, and it is my desire to be (Lord, thou knowest) a fisher of men” (20). And thus, Boston makes his first assertion that a fisher of men, must be humble to confess that it is not the minister who works in his own power, but one who relies on the power of Christ. The effective minister must first realize than any efforts he puts forth in his won strength will be an eventual failing, compared to the surety that the power of Christ affords. “O my soul, then see that gifts will not do the business. A man may preach as an angel, and yet be useless. If Christ withdraw His presence, all will be to no purpose” (28). And later,
“What thinkest thou, O my soul, of that doctrine that lays aside this power of
the Spirit, and makes moral suasion all that is requisite to the fishing of men?
That doctrine is hateful to thee. My soul loaths it, as attributing too much to
the preacher, and too much to corrupt nature in taking away its natural
impotency to good, and as against the work of God’s Spirit, contrary to
experience; and is to me a sign of rottenness of the heart that embraces it.
Alas! that it should be owned by any among us, where so much of the Spirit’s
power has been felt” (30).
Boston then moves on to ask and answer the question “What following Christ supposes and implies.” He answers this by stating, “It presupposes life” (47), “implies a knowledge of the way that Christ took” (56), “supposes sense of weakness, and the need of a guide” (57), “renouncing of our own wisdom” (59), and “that we must not make men our rule, to follow them any farther than they follow Christ” (65). As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…But God…made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:1, 4, 5), Boston rightly asserts that the Christian’s life is characterized by life, as those who are without Christ remain dead. Boston, like many, questions the validity of his won salvation because of what he calls “the prevailing of corruption” (47). However, through further examination he may give witness to the transforming grace of Christ because he testifies
“I have light that sometimes I had not…It lets me see my heart sins, my
imperfections and shortcomings in the best of my duties; so that God might damn
me for them…It makes me to see Christ precious…preferable to the world…It lets
me see my need of Him…I feel help in duty from the Spirit…I find a threefold
flame, though weak, in my heart. A flame of love to Christ…A flame of desires
after the righteousness of Christ…some heat of zeal for God, which vents itself
first, by endeavoring to be active for God in my station…I am more acquainted
with Christ and His ways than before…I think I discern a growth
of…love…faith…watchfulness…[and] contempt of the world (48-56).
When we get to a point where we ask ourselves, “Where is the evidence of grace in my life?”, what a pleasant reminder it is to ask such probing questions that direct us back to the cross and relive our first experiences of grace. What a marvelous treasure this is!
Boston then moves on to his second chief question, “Wherein is Christ to be followed?” This section of the book hit home with me the most. It may very well be that it is because I am one who senses the call into the gospel ministry and desires to do so with the right intentions. Boston attempts to examine how the Lord Jesus approached His earthly ministry and imitate certain aspects it.
“I am not called to follow Him in converting sinners by my own power; to work
miracles for the confirmation of the doctrine that I preach, etc. But there are
some things wherein He is imitable, and must be followed by preachers, if they
would expect to be made fishers of men” (67).
Boston concludes that all preachers should have a call to preach, or a call to gospel ministry, whichever term is more preferable, given that not all are called to preach in its formal setting, but all are called to proclaim the gospel message and Christ as its central figure. A minister’s call to vocational ministry should include “knowledge of the doctrine of the Christian religion above that of ordinary professors”, “aptness to teach”, “a will some way ready to take on the work of preaching the gospel” unless there is a “want of clearness for entering on such a great work at that time”, and “the call of the church” (68-69).
Boston next seeks to assert that the minister must seek not his own glory, but only the glory of the Christ he proclaims lest he be considered hypocritical and an object of vileness in the eyes of God. This preaching is self centered and deplorable. Paul says that “some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will…What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil 1:15, 18), but these preachers will still incur a greater judgment.
“Thou pretendest to preach Christ to a people; but seeking they own glory, thou
preachest thyself, not Him” (72). Boston further warns, “look not after popular
applause; if thou do, thou hast thy reward (Matt 6:2), look for no more…trample
on thy own credit and reputation, and sacrifice it, if need be, to God’s honour”
(70). “Consider that the applause of the world is worthy nothing…and when it is
got, what have you? A vain empty puff of wind. They think much of thee, thou
thinkest much of thyself, and in the meantime, God think nothing of thee…Let
this scare thee from seeking thyself” (72).
Following this is the greatest portion of the book that is devoted to “evangelism” per se. However, any speaking engagement where Christ should be presented is always to be evangelistic in some measure. Even though it may not be characterized by the tent meeting or revival service that we have become so acquainted with from the previous era, this should not be the first thought when one thinks of an evangelistic message. To be evangelistic simply means to present the need for Christ to be supreme in all areas of life. For a non-believer, this begins by confessing Christ as Lord. Before this is done, Christ is of no eternal benefit if He is sought after only to following His teachings on morality and service. Thus, Boston stated before that following Christ “presupposes life.” The basic premise of this section is that all preaching should be centered on Christ and the sinners need for Him. Every preacher, and every Christian for that matter, should be concerned with the souls of men. I must confess that all too often, I am concerned with my own affairs and do not give a passing thought to the eternal affairs of men. I began to think today about a friend of mine who died when he was twenty-one. To my knowledge, he had never made a profession of faith in Christ, and for all that I know, he is to spend an eternity apart from Him. I confess that I do not often think this way, and I should “let the good of souls be before thee; when thou preachest, let this be thy design, to endeavor to recover lost sheep, to get some brands plucked out of the burning” (75).
Boston then turns to the importance of prayer in the gospel ministry if we are to be effective witnesses to Christ. “Thou wilt not dare study without prayer, nor yet pray without study, when God allows the time for both. It is a weighty work to bring sinners in to Christ, to pluck the brands out of the fire. Hast thou not great need then to be serious with God before you preach?” (86). Prayer should be central to any minister’s life and is an area of mine that is more than wanting. Boston even goes so far to say that after the day’s preaching, a minister should not retire to the fellowship of the brethren, but rather, should persist in a state of prayer throughout the rest of the afternoon.
“It is better to do this, than go away with the great people in the afternoon,
which I shun as much as I can…Pray to God, O my soul, that thy labours be not
unsuccessful; that what thou hast delivered may not be as water spilt on the
ground. Pray for pardon of thy failings in public duties…that He would not
withdraw His blessing because of thy failings…Think not, O my soul, that thy
work is over, and thou hast no more to do when the people are dismissed…the
devil was as busy as thou wast, when thou wast preaching; and afterwards He is
not idle” (88, 89).
I would be delighted to have a tenth of the devotion that it appears Thomas Boston had to the ministry of the word and the ministry of prayer. This was a powerful little book delving into the mind of a twenty-two year old preacher that all of us could stand to imitate.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Found today on Library Things’ Unsuggester Page…
Did you like?
Then you will not like:
Should this really surprise me? Ahh, the humors of the techno-evangelical world and the rest of us who are easily amused.
LibraryThing's (un)suggestions are © 2005-2006 LibraryThing.com, LLC. Obviously all manner of discussion and excerpting is permitted and encouraged. Copying them wholesale and in bulk is not.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
(Psalm 4:7 ESV)
Wow. What a statement! Kimberly and I read this last night while we were stretching and this verse jumped out at me. However, it is quite discouraging that even though I know this truth, I still long for the lifestyles of them whose “grain and wine abound.” I desire the lifestyle of those who are comfortable - those who have money and land and houses and the other accoutrements of this world. Yet it is still difficult for me to think about who I was even when I was seeking after these things. For, there was a time when I sought after the party lifestyle – promiscuity, strong drink, and whatever else made me feel good at the time. I thank the Lord that He chose to reveal to me that the way of this life ends in death and that there is a better way: the Way of the Master. Yet even acknowledging this truth, I also acknowledge that I am still tempted to leave this life of mine in hopes of something “easier,” less stringent, and more “freedom.” Yet I also know that this so-called “freedom” is really bondage to sin.
“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regards to righteousness.
But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are
now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have
been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to
sanctification, and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans
Lord Jesus, please make this a true desire of my heart and may I truly see You as Joy eternal and Joy inexhaustible. May You alone satisfy this longing for Joy. In Your name I come to the altar of my God, my exceeding joy. Amen.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself
By John Piper
Crossway Books, 2005
Category: Theology / Christian Living
Hardcover with Dust Jacket
179 pages plus Subject Index and Scriptural Index
If there has ever been a book that has one central theme and every chapter, section, page, paragraph, sentence, and word attempts to hammer that theme one inch further – God Is the Gospel is the one. This is – in a complimentary way – redundancy at its finest. Piper’s theme here is this:
“The acid test of biblical God-centeredness – and faithfulness to the gospel –
is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at
the cost of His Son, He enables you to enjoy making much of Him forever? […] If
the enjoyment of God Himself is not the final and best gift of love, then God is
not the greatest treasure, His self-giving is not the highest mercy, the gospel
is not the good news that sinners may enjoy their Maker, Christ did not suffer
to bring us to God, and our souls must look beyond Him for satisfaction […] When
I say that God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good
of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God
in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment” (11, 12, 13).
And thus follows the theme of this book. Every paragraph is dripping with the intensity of understanding that God Himself is the greatest good. God Himself is what we get when He chooses to grant us salvation. Salvation was never intended to be reduced merely to a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. Rather, God grants us that which is the highest, greatest, and best treasure that the world has ever or will ever know – Jesus Christ Himself. Yes, we get spiritual gifts. Yes, we receive new life, but the greatest treasure of the gospel, that which truly makes it “good news,” is the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Phil 3:8). He is the all-sufficient, all-satisfying, all-encompassing reality of everything that we could ever want or need. I must confess that although I know this theological truth, I often do not live this way. But, Lord willing, I am moving toward a greater understanding of the practical implications that this has for my life and God’s glory.
The chief text from which Piper draws his conclusion comes from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth:
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,
to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is
the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as
Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let
light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6
During one of our group discussions, our executive pastor made the comment that he had never thought of his own salvation in context of creation when God said “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). And neither had I. But Paul makes it clear in this passage that there is a parallel to be drawn between the creation of the heavens and earth and the creation, of a new creature in Christ. One nanosecond before I became a Christian, I was spiritually dead in my trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). I was also “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col 1:21). But at the appointed time the Lord chose to “let light shine out of darkness” and suddenly, praise the Lord, I knew Him and have known Him ever since.
Piper then explains the use of the term “εὐαγγέλιον” [euangelion, or “gospel”, or “good news”]. It is crucial to our understanding of the gospel, of the “good news” what it is and what it is not, for us to understand the plan of redemption. It should be understood that the “gospel” is more than Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. We should the see the gospel as God’s revelation of Himself beginning in Genesis and concluding in Revelation. God did not have to reveal Himself to anyone. He was and is completely self-sufficient and needs nothing to complete Him; He is complete in and of Himself. Yet, for the purposes of His own glory, He has sovereignly chosen to reveal Himself throughout history, and our authority for this understanding comes from His divinely inspired Scriptures. According to Piper, then, the God’s revelation of Himself then is to be understood as including the following components at a bare minimum (26-37:
1. There is a Living God
2. The Arrival of God’s Imperial Authority
3. Jesus: A Savior Who is Christ, the Lord
4. Christ Died for our Sins in Accordance with the Scriptures
5. Jesus, Risen from the Dead
6. The Gospel is Not Good News without the Promise of the Spirit
7. The Promise of Salvation for All Who Believe
8. What the Cross Purchased Makes the Cross Good News
9. The Good News Promises Eternal Life
10. All Nations Will Be Blessed Through Abraham’s Seed, Jesus Christ
11. Jesus’ Death Makes God’s Gospel Grace Just
12. The Grace of the Gospel Is the Ground of Every Good Promise
13. No Good Thing in the Gospel Is Good Without the Final Supreme Good: God
To this final point Piper adds:
“That good is God Himself seen and savored in all His glory. Focusing on facets
of a diamond without seeing the beauty of the whole is demeaning to the diamond.
If the hearers of the gospel do not see the glory of Christ, the image of God,
in all the events and gifts of the gospel, they do not see what finally makes
the gospel good news. If you embrace everything that I have mentioned in this
chapter about the facets of the gospel, but do it in a way that does not make
the glory of God in Christ your supreme treasure, then you have not embraced the
gospel. Until the gospel events of Good Friday and Easter and the gospel
promises of justification and eternal life lead you to behold and embrace God
Himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God. You have
embraced some of His gifts. You have rejoiced over some of His rewards. You have
marveled at some of His miracles. But you have not yet been awakened to why the
gifts, the rewards, and the miracles have come. They have come for one great
reason: that you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by
beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and by
delighting display His supreme beauty and worth with ever-increasing brightness
and bliss forever” (37-38).
To this, I must clarify what I hope to be what Piper is and is not saying. Many in our discussion group were perplexed as to intention of this paragraph. Most heard Piper to say something to the effect that in the moment of our conversion, we must have a full understanding of our need to treasure Christ above all things and we must focus our entire being on what we get (Christ) as opposed to what we do not get (Hell) in order for a genuine salvation experience to have occurred. Most opinions of this sort were centered on Piper’s comment that if we do not “embrace God Himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God.” Further, the understanding of embracing the gospel was embracing for salvation. Having revisited this statement in its context, I believe that Piper is using “embrace” not as a term synonymous with the initial receipt of salvation, but embracing as coming into a deeper of understanding of how redemption has been accomplished and applied, thus leading us to further revel in the glory of God as revealed in the face of Christ. As one of the brightest and thorough Biblical expositors in the last half century, I do not see Dr. Piper moving what has been clearly revealed in Scripture. I believe that he would attest that our salvation is not dependent on us embracing the gospel, but rather that the gospel has embraced us. The only understanding that we have in our salvation experience is that which God graciously chooses to give to us when He “[gives] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). We are saved by grace; not by knowledge, understanding, or intellectual affluence or ability. Merely, but gratuitously, as result of His sovereign good pleasure. Having said this, if our salvation is reduced to nothing more than not going to Hell, and remains with the “elementary doctrine of Christ” without “[going] on to maturity” (Heb 6:1), then we have missed the abundant life that the Lord came so that we may have. All the while, we realize that He is life, not merely an aspect of it. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
And this is the theme of God Is the Gospel - hammered over and over and over again. I had been having similar thoughts regarding the message of the gospel prior to reading this book, and was delighted to find many of them confirmed through Piper’s writing. I could never have eloquently penned them in such a way as Piper did, but my thoughts were birthed after someone asked me the question what does it mean to be “ashamed of the gospel.” I began to think that the gospel had to be much more than what was found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If the gospel were to truly be good news, then the rest of Scripture had to play a part as well, else all we would have would be the first four books of the New Testament.
Piper concludes the fourth chapter with an analogy that collided with my own experience. “When God declares the omnipotent word of creation and ‘shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,’ the curtains are pulled back in the window of our Alpine chalet, and the morning sun, reflected off the Alps of Christ, fills the room with glory” (74). What a majestic thought that, for me, originated while honeymooning with my wife at Mt. Hood in Oregon. Kimberly, who had never seen a mountain before, made a stunning comparison to the appearance of Mt. Hood with the glory of God. It was so bright, so radiant, and so awe-inspiring. And what drove it home is that even though the brightness, radiance, and brilliance was blinding, there was a sense in which it was not that we could not look, it was the reality that we could not not look. May the glory of the Risen Lord draw each of us to Himself to behold His glory!
I believe this book to be a must read for all Christians who have the twinge of desire for something of a greater understanding of the glory of God as revealed in the face of Christ. I believe that all believers have the desire, but many of us are content to remain where we are with the elementary doctrines of Christ and not move on to maturity. I echo the wisdom of Paul when he affirms,
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to
make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not
consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies
behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for
the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are
mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal
that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Phil 3:12-16)