Can the Ungodly or Atheist be ‘Nice’?

On a BBC Radio 5 Live broadcast yesterday, the discussion (phone in) was to do with the dismissal of Sarah Kuteh by the NHS for offering to pray for a patient. Let me set that aside for a moment. But a rather strident Atheist called in and said he would be apoplectic if someone offered to pray for him or his loved one when they were at their lowest. I have some sympathy with that. But what struck me was his claim that believers, Christians in this case, didn’t think Atheists are capable of doing ‘good’. I was glad that another caller attempted to correct him, but the guy was so wound up it probably fell on ears that were at that time unable to hear it. I have heard this claim before. It certainly isn’t something I believe and I’m not aware of ever being taught it either. Let me say now: If Christians say Atheists are incapable of doing good or being nice, those Christians are quite frankly, wrong.

This morning I read the following in Acts. Before I briefly comment on it here’s the passage;

Act 28:1-10
(1) After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta.
(2) The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.
(3) When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand.
(4) When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”
(5) He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
(6) They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
(7) Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.
(8) It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him.
(9) And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.
(10) They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

Notice in verse 2 that Paul records how ‘the native people showed us unusual kindness’. The people of Malta welcomed them all. The people on Malta did not believe in the God of Paul, that is, the ONLY True God, the Christian God. Either way you look at it, from the perspective of Paul these people were at best pagans. And yet he describes them as having shown unusual kindness. Also, notice in verse 7 how ‘Publius… received us and entertained us hospitably for three days’. It seems the people of Malta were kind and hospitable. And Paul records the fact of it. So, I have no idea where people like the ‘phone-in’ Atheist get the idea from that Atheists cannot perform acts of kindness, but it isn’t from the Bible. The fact is, God in His kindness has poured Common Grace into our world and into the lives of the people who live in the world. So much so that I can recognise that there are many many kind people out there that aren’t Christians and can even be full-blown antagonistic Atheists that are hospitable, kind and welcoming. I have experienced kindness from many an Atheist and I’m thankful for it and for them.

What the Atheist cannot do is explain their acts of kindness. Where does this kindness come from? As a Christian, I can explain it. I see works of art, I hear incredible music, read amazing stories, see films that are masterpieces of art and I can explain where it all comes from. And many of these things come from the creative genius of Atheists. Where from? Who decides good and bad in an impersonal uncaring universe? Vlad the impaler? Hitler? Stalin? Polpot? No. There’s a standard. And my dear Atheist friends cannot live in an impersonal uncaring world, and truth be told they wouldn’t want to either. And because of the Common Grace of God; most of the time we don’t live in an uncaring world. And we should all be thankful for that.

I do take the point that dealing with people at their lowest requires great sensitivity. And we can all fail at that. But as for the apoplexy of our Atheist friend at the offer of prayer. What would he rather have? I suppose silence and a gentle squeeze of the arm can do a lot of good. Nothing can stop us praying for people. We don’t always have to tell them we are praying for them as if God needs some psychology to help. But in an Atheist world, the approaching death of a loved one, or a serious illness can honestly be met with a, so what. But who would want that? No one. Only the cruelest of people would say that. And yet, we hear that very thing argued by Atheists. They might argue it, but they can’t live it.

Contrary to what I said above, I do have an idea where the notion comes from. That Atheists can do no good. What has happened is a category error (If I have that right). When it comes to Salvation and doing good to impress God enough to let us into heaven; there isn’t one of that can do that. And I mean No One. The fact that none of us can perform anything, including acts of kindness, meant God Himself had to intervene. We daily see and experience acts of kindness. Atheists can be kind just like anyone else. But their kindness will not get them into heaven. And neither will mine. There’s the category error right there.

So just how did God intervene? Well, this is what Christmas is all about. It’s about God sending a Saviour. I’m sure many an Atheist will be singing about it over Christmas. And some will be glad to sing of God being made incomprehensibly man. Of Jesus being born that man no more may die, of the Incarnate Deity. God entered into history. These things were not done in a corner. They didn’t happen secretly. The Gospels in the New Testament record these events. It’s astonishing, but all we are required to do is place our trust in what God has done – especially in the Cross. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. This Christmas, may you believe and be saved. AMEN.

The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin – Foreword by Michael Reeves

IMG_0593The other day I was given a copy of Thomas Goodwin’s book The Heart of Christ, from the Puritan Paperback series from Banner of Truth.

The foreword by Michael Reeves was so moving I wanted to share it. The full title is: The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth.

How can Thomas Goodwin be so forgotten? Once ranked as a theologian alongside Augustine and Athanasius, even hailed as ‘the greatest pulpit exegete of Paul that has ever lived’, he should be a household name. His writings, while not easy, always pay back the reader, for in Goodwin a simply awesome theological intellect was wielded by the tender heart of a pastor.

As it is, Goodwin needs a little re-introduction. He was born in 1600 in the small village of Rollesby in Norfolk. His parents were God-fearing, and at the time the Norfolk Broads were well-soaked in Puritanism, so unsurprisingly he grew up somewhat religious. That all wore off, though, when he went up to Cambridge as a student. There he divided his time between ‘making merry’ and setting out to become a celebrity preacher. He wanted, he later said, to be known as one of ‘the great wits’ of the pulpit, for his ‘master-lust’ was the love of applause.

Then in 1620 – having just been appointed a fellow of Katharine Hall – he heard a funeral sermon that actually moved him, making him deeply concerned for his spiritual state. It started seven grim years of moody introspection as he grubbed around inside himself for signs of grace. Only when he was told to look outwards – not to trust to anything in himself, but to rest on Christ alone – only then was he free. ‘I am come to this pass now,’ he said, ‘that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much to habitual grace for assurance of justification; I tell you Christ is worth all.’

Soon afterwards he took over from Richard Sibbes’ preaching at Holy Trinity Church. It was an appropriate transition, for while in his navel-gazing days his preaching had been mostly about battering consciences, his appreciation of Christ’s free grace now made him a Christ-centred preacher like Sibbes. Sibbes once told him ‘Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus’ – and that is just what Goodwin now did. And, like Sibbes, he became an affable preacher. He wouldn’t use his intellectual abilities to patronise his listeners, but to help them. Still today, reading his sermons, it is as if he takes you by the shoulder and walks with you like a brother.

All the while, Archbishop Laud was pressing clergy towards his own ‘high church’ practices. By 1634, Goodwin had had enough: he resigned his post and left Cambridge to become a Separatist preacher. By the end of the decade he was with other nonconformist exiles in Holland. Then, in 1641, Parliament invited all such nonconformists to return, and soon Goodwin was leading the ‘dissenting brethren’ at the Westminster Assembly. ‘Dissenting’, ‘Separatist’: it would be easy to see Goodwin as prickly and quarrelsome. In actual fact, though, while he was definite in his views on the church, he was quite extraordinarily charitable to those he disagreed with, and managed to command widespread respect across the theological spectrum of the church. Almost uniquely, in an age of constant and often bitter debate, nobody seems to have spoken ill of Goodwin.

If there was a contemporary Goodwin overlapped with more than any other, it was John Owen. In the Puritan heyday of the 1650s, when Owen was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Goodwin was President of Magdalen College. For years they shared a Sunday afternoon pulpit, both were chaplains to Cromwell, together they would co-author the Savoy Declaration. And both had their own sartorial whimsies: Owen was known for his dandy day-wear, his snake-bands and fancy boots; Goodwin, it was giggled, had such a fondness for nightcaps that he is said to have worn whole collections on his head at once.

First and foremost, Goodwin was a pastor at heart. Students at Magdalen College soon found that, should they bump into Goodwin or his nightcaps, they could expect to be asked when they were converted or how they stood with the Lord. And when Charles II returned in 1660 and Goodwin was deprived of his post, it was to pastor a church in London that he went.

The last twenty years of his life he spent pastoring, writing treatises and studying in London (the study sadly interrupted in 1666 when the Great Fire burned more than half of his voluminous library). Then, at eighty years old, he was gripped by a fatal fever. With his dying words he captured what had always been his chief concerns: ‘I am going’, he said,

‘to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion… My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness; I am found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up in God… Now I shall be ever with the Lord’.

The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth was, almost immediately, Goodwin’s most popular work. It is also exemplary of his overall Christ-centredness and his mix of theological rigour and pastoral concern. Published in 1651 alongside Christ Set Forth, the two were written for reasons dear to Goodwin: that is, he felt that many Christians (like himself once) ‘have been too much carried away with the rudiments of Christ in their own hearts, and not after Christ himself’. Indeed, he wrote, ‘the minds of many are so wholly taken up with their own hearts, that (as the Psalmist says of God) Christ “is scarce in all their thoughts.”’ Goodwin wanted us ‘first to look wholly out of our selves unto Christ’, and believed that the reason we don’t is, quite simply, because of the ‘barrenness’ of our knowledge of him. Thus Goodwin would set forth Christ to draw our gaze to him.

Of the two pieces, Christ Set Forth and The Heart of Christ in Heaven, the latter was the cream, he believed, for through it he would present to the church the heart of her great Husband, thus wooing her afresh. His specific aim in this essay is to show through Scripture that in all his heavenly majesty, Christ is not now aloof from believers and unconcerned, but has the strongest affections for them. And knowing this, he said, may

‘hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart, though he is now in his glory, is inclined towards them’.

Goodwin starts with Christ on earth and the beautiful assurances he gave his disciples. In John 13, for example, knowing that he was shortly to return to his Father, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as a token of how he would always be towards them; he told them of how he would go like a loving bridegroom to prepare a place for his bride; after the resurrection, the first thing he calls them is ‘my brothers’; and the last thing they see as he ascends to heaven is his hands raised in blessing.

It is as if he had said, The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, that so we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it… Poor sinners, who are full of the thoughts of their own sins, know not how they shall be able at the latter day to look Christ in the face when they shall first meet with him. But they may relieve their spirits against their care and fear, by Christ’s carriage now towards his disciples, who had so sinned against him. Be not afraid, ‘your sins will he remember no more.’ … And doth he talk thus lovingly of us? Whose heart would not this overcome?

It is moving stuff, and it is strong stuff. In fact, Goodwin presents the kindness and compassion of Christ so strikingly that, when reading him, I find myself continually asking ‘Is Goodwin serious? Can this really be true?’ He argues, for example, that in Christ’s resurrection appearances, because he had dealt with the sin of his disciples on the cross, ‘No sin of theirs troubled him but their unbelief.’ And yet Goodwin is so carefully scriptural that one is forced to conclude that Christ really is more tender and loving than we would otherwise dare to imagine.

Then Goodwin takes us to the heart of his argument: his exposition of Hebrews 4:15, which

‘doth, as it were, take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory – the very scope of these words being manifestly to encourage believers against all that may discourage them, from the consideration of Christ’s heart towards them now in heaven’.

Goodwin shows that in all his glorious holiness in heaven, Christ is not sour towards his people; if anything, his capacious heart beats more strongly than ever with tender love for them. And in particular, two things stir his compassion: our afflictions and – almost unbelievably – our sins.

Having experienced on earth the utmost load of pain, rejection and sorrow, ‘in all points tempted like as we are’ Christ in heaven empathises with our sufferings more fully than the most loving friend. And more: he has compassion on those who are ‘out of the way’ (that is, sinning; Hebrews 5:2). Indeed, says Goodwin,

‘your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’

The focus is upon Christ, but Goodwin was ardently Trinitarian and could not abide the thought of his readers imagining a compassionate Christ appeasing a heartless Father. No, he said, ‘Christ adds not one drop of love to God’s heart’.11 All Christ’s tenderness comes in fact from the Spirit, who stirs him with the very love of the Father. The heart of Christ in heaven is the express image of the heart of his Father.

How we need Goodwin and his message today! If we are to be drawn from jaded, anxious thoughts of God and a love of sin, we need such a knowledge of Christ. If preachers today could change like Goodwin to preach like Goodwin, who knows what might happen? Surely many more would then say as he said ‘Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do’.

Michael Reeves
August 2011


What Is Reformation Day? | 5 Minutes in Church History

What is Reformation Day? In this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols explains the significance of October 31, 1517 and why Christians

Source: What Is Reformation Day? | 5 Minutes in Church History

A great thing about Reformation Day is that it is NOT an alternative to Halloween. An excellent 5 minutes of your time.


Logic on Fire – Review by Carl Trueman

Today I was pointed to this review (Link Below) of the ‘Logic on Fire’ Documentary of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. A really excellent review – and I agree with every single word. I didn’t realise it until Dr Trueman pointed it out, but it is done very well in the style of a Ken Burns documentary. I too will be watching this many times and will be encouraging others to watch it. The lessons are timeless.

This weekend I spent an afternoon watching the new DVD from Media Gratiae which is being promoted by Banner of Truth, Logic on Fire.  With this, and the Bannerman volume, in the space of two weeks, the Banner is at the top of its game.

Source: Logic on Fire

It’s available to buy in the UK HERE or HERE.

Logic on Fire – Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones Documentary

Lloyd-JonesLast evening we watched Logic on Fire – A documentary film about Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Just incredible! It showed very powerfully what is lacking today. If you haven’t you seen it, you need to see it! Especially if you are a preacher. It was a privilege and a blessing to watch it. I need to watch it again.
(Watch trailer below)

Almost everything that was said is antithetical to the direction of the Church today. I dread where it will be in 20 years. It always seems to be looking for something new, something relevant that will be attractive to people today. When will we understand that people are DEAD in trespasses and sins. Nothing, NOTHING but the power of God can give a sinner life. That is message that is reiterated over and over and over again in the Documentary and is what Dr Lloyd-Jones emphasised through his ministry because it is the message of the Bible itself.

We (my wife and I) came to faith on the coat-tails of that period. MLJ was still alive when I became a believer and his influence was still very powerful in the Church. In fact the Church I attended was heavily influenced by him. One of the founding members and his wife were personal friends of The Dr. I think he preached the opening sermon. The first minister of the Church (REFC) was Rev Kenneth Howard (more of him another time) and came highly recommended by Dr Lloyd-Jones. And I believe Peter Jeffery was also recommended or at least known by him – one of ‘Lloyd-Jones boys’ (will check facts for this).

There are some great contributions by many that knew him. And it was encouraging to see younger preachers being blessed and encouraged through his life and ministry.

If you have never heard him preach go to The MLJ Trust and download some of his sermons. They are timeless because The Gospel is timeless and still very powerful. I listened to one of the sermons recently and it could have been preached today even though it was preached 50 years ago.

Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace – A Brief Review

Cold Case ChristianityI knew about the book, but to be honest, I bought the book because I saw it cheap as a Kindle book for just £1.49.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but when I started reading it Wallace hooked me right in. It reads very well and his experience as a ‘cold-case’ detective works brilliantly. The stories (cases) are brief but are written in such a way to make them really interesting; and the way he relates them to his apologetic is excellent.

The top points of the book are the way it relates to the real world. We hear some rubbish about ‘the real world’ and the like but here Wallace draws from hard experience that has probably seen the awful things this wicked world has to offer and what people can do to one another. As a detective there’s not much he hasn’t seen. And in the world of detective work ‘abductive reasoning’ has to work. You can see examples of it on a program like CSI. All his examples and the way he deals with objections, especially to the resurrection work well. We can all use the answers when speaking to unbelievers. And he’s right, he does show that these answers to sceptics is entirely reasonable. It is a reasonable faith.

I particularly like his first point from the ‘tool-kit. Ch 1. Don’t be a “Know-it All”. No-one likes a know it all so best not to be one. As with all the chapters it comes with a real life illustration. In this case of how an experienced detective got it spectacularly wrong by thinking he knew it all. We should take it to heart.

It’s a fascinating book written by someone who knows what he’s talking about. The chapter on Circumstantial Evidence is very interesting and with all the other chapters does make an extremely powerful case. I have no doubt this book will have been used and will continue to be used to demonstrate the case for the Christian faith. I pray it will be so.

The chapter on Forensic Statement Analysis shows how a close reading of any text is critical. It also shows how as Christians we have nothing to fear from anyone wanting to take a close look at the Scriptures. The biggest problem is most people don’t tend to read it closely – including Christians. It challenges me. I need to pay close attention to the text. God has chosen to communicate through words and we should take notice of them.

There’s a But coming….

However, for all its good points, and there are many, it falls short. There are a few things it fails to address, there are a few things that are plain wrong and it shows why the ‘Evidentialist’ apologetic can’t quite get the boulder up the hill. I’d like to think what follows could be added to or supplement his method, but that would undermine his whole apologetic. Maybe the book needs an extra chapter ‘How to use Evidence with the Presupposisional Apologetic Method’. Actually there is such a book (Van Til & The Use of Evidence by Thom Notaro).

1. Where it fails to address.

There’s a lot of appeal to Evidence – the nature of the Book – but little appeal to Scripture or to the authority of Christ. This is where his criticism of ‘Circular reasoning’ or sometimes called ‘begging the question’ is wrong. It’s actually impossible to avoid. As Wallace points out everyone is Biased. It’s actually impossible to avoid because everyone reasons in a circle. Nowhere does Wallace appeal to Christ or the Scriptures as the final authority, and that’s a problem. Putting it bluntly, with this methodology Evidence trumps Revelation.

2. Where it’s plain wrong.

i) On this point I was actually quite surprised. Maybe it’s a mistake and I’m more than prepared to cut him some slack. I’m sure he is a good guy. But Wallace gives a definition of ‘faith’ that is at odds with how the Bible defines it. The Bible doesn’t use faith in the way he defines it. He says at the end of Chapter 2, p52. ‘… the biblical definition of faith is a well-placed and reasonable inference based on evidence’. No it isn’t. One of my favourite hymns puts it like this:

Faith, see the place, and see the tree
Where heaven’s Prince, instead of me,
Was nailed to bear my shame.

That is much more than an inference! But we don’t get our theology from Hymns. What he has done is interpret Hebrews 11:1 to fit with his Evidential Apologetic. Yes, it uses the Word ‘evidence’ but it doesn’t mean what Wallace is making it say. Faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8) and saving faith is from the Holy Spirit alone (John 3:). We exercise a God-given faith in response to the preached (Heralded) Word of God, The Gospel. Our minds are presented with the claims (not inferences) of the Gospel and we are commanded to repent & believe (Mark 1:15; Acts 17:30 ). There’s an excellent Chapter on Faith in God’s Words by J. I. Packer p. 128, IVP, 1981.

ii) There’s quite a serious error on page 122 of 290 (Kindle edition) where he says the Bible Gospels ‘were established as Scripture at the Council of Laodicea in AD 363’. This would put the council over the Self Authenticating authority of the Bible. Words are important and maybe it’s just a typo but it’s quite a serious one. The Historic Church Councils didn’t establish the Gospels as Scripture but recognised them as Scripture. You might think this is nit-picking but the difference is quite profound. The 1689 Baptist Confession and The Westminster Confession are in agreement on this. The Holy Scriptures 1:4 (1689) ‘The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God its Author (Who is Truth itself). Therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.’ Not received because it has been established through the evidence or the ‘chain of custody’. Evidence is a good thing but we do not place it over Scripture, and that’s the difference between ‘establishing’ and ‘recognising’. There isn’t space here but the Council (Synod) of Laodicea 363 AD isn’t one of the 7 Ecumenical Councils but was a local council comprising some 30 leaders, and I would fault him for using it here as evidence. [BTW: If anyone has more information on this particular Council I’d be interested.]

3. Why it doesn’t go far enough.

Unfortunately, it falls short of certainty. It can only ever be a possible explanation, an ‘inference to the best explanation’ or abductive reasoning. Dealing with the grimy world of homicide and dealing with the Scripture is a whole other ball game. The Bible is in a completely different category – a category on its own and must be treated in that way. [That doesn’t mean we do not address difficulties, we do. Van Til said we must. Presuppositional scholars engage in Textual Criticism at an academic level] The Scripture is the Only Explanation. God is the Only True God. I’m sure Wallace believes this to be so, but his apologetic won’t allow certainty. The most it can give is to be ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. [Otherwise there would be no mistaken convictions – but there are. Juries can get it wrong.] Using ‘evidence’ in this way it can only ever be a possibility. Can Christ only be a possible Saviour, a possible explanation? Or even to be a Saviour ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Surely not! The Bible speaks of certainty.

The problem is, it will not matter how much evidence you gather, nor how reasonable a case, rebellious men and women would rather believe the lie (Rom 1:25; 2 Thes 2:11-12) than believe in the word of God. There will always be another piece of vital evidence produced – the killer evidence that will prove the Bible to be a fiction. The problem is not an evidential or intellectual one, it’s a spiritual one. We must start with the Word of God as the Word of God. The unbeliever will grasp hold of any contrary evidence no matter how fantastic. And even if the evidence is accepted it’s on the basis that the reason of man has been elevated to the position of Judge. In this book, we are the Judges, we are the Jury and the Word of God and the very existence of God Himself is in the Dock. The reality is very different. We are in the Dock, we are being judged, and a verdict has already been passed – Guilty! Guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God is He’.

Cutting to the chase

Would I recommend the book? I think it would be helpful for Christians. There’s a lot of good and useful information. My view is that it needs an explanation as to WHY the evidences are there. Wallace doesn’t, and his methodology will not allow him to explain evidence this way. The very fact that any investigation can take place ALREADY proves there is a God and the reliability of the Scriptures. Building a case by finding evidence presupposes order and rationality before finding one shred of evidence. If there was an introduction to the book that laid out these assumptions that are already there, then the book would carry much more weight. Every page that is turned and the fact of language and communication already proves the truth of the Bible. In fact just picking up the book, without even opening it proves what Wallace spends the whole book trying to prove. The evidence is already there.

A final word.

We are called to the work. But no matter what your apologetic, no matter how good, or even how bad your arguments are, there’s only one way an individual will become a Christian – that’s through the operation of The Holy Spirit on the sinner. We dare not think that if we can muster our best arguments and make the case in as loving and earnest manner as is humanly possible it will – voilà, make the person become a believer, a Christian. It is not so. We do not help the sinner by making them put their faith in a methodology or in evidence. Our faith must be in Christ. That is the Christ of Scripture, of history, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Evidence and even presuppositional apologetics is good but it doesn’t save. Only God can do that. Thankfully He uses our efforts – including this book – for His Glory. But His Glory He will not share with another. Christ Alone is our watchword.

The Belgic Confession – Article 23 Extract

The Belgic Confession – Article 23: About Our Justification, by Which We Stand Fast in God’s Presence.

“Certainly it is proper that if we were to stand in the presence of God, relying ever so little upon ourselves or any other creature, it is certain that we would be instantly engulfed in wrath. For this reason, it is preferable for each of us, in turn, to call out with David: “Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servant, because any living thing will not be justified in your gaze.” (Extract)

Where it says ‘ever so little’ is a quaint way – that I quite like – of saying we cannot trust in anything at all, nothing, no good works, no secret small island of our own righteousness, not our church (however good and faithful it is) or our attendance, even our praying or our Bible reading, but we stand solely on the righteousness of Christ Alone for our Justification. Trusting to any of these other things will engulf us in the Wrath of God.

I’m slowly reading through some of the historic confessions. Very profitable – I recommend it.


July 8th – Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God – Jonathan Edwards

English: "Sinners in the Hands of An Angr...

I can’t believe this has sat in my ‘Drafts’ box for almost a year. It’s true. So with a few edits and additions it should still make sense as this year I aim to hit the deadline!

July 8th is the anniversary of the most famous – or infamous – sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards at Enfield, Connecticut July 8, 1741 on the text ‘Their foot shall slide in due time’ Deut. 32:35 with the title; ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’.

On July 7th (2014) I was talking to a Christian work colleague about this sermon though completely unaware of the date. They had never heard of it. The very next day I discovered ‘Issues etc’ had reviewed the sermon on July 7th (2014) in ‘celebration’ of the following historic day. I related this the following day at work. Then on that Sunday evening (2014) it was mentioned again (unaware of the date I think) as part of the introduction to the ministry at our Church. So as the sermon is ‘still’ on my mind I’ll get to it..

It’s been some while since reading the sermon and because I suspect a good number of people will be completely unaware of the sermon by Edwards I mention it here. Before saying much I needed to re-read the sermon. The sermon text is formatted very well for reading or printing HERE.

You will find the sermon text appearing in anthologies in many University departments, and not just in Departments of Religion but in English & History departments and will probably find it in Psychology as well. Check out your University Library catalogue. It will mostly be an object of wonder and incredulity that such a great mind was able to produce something so utterly horrific – so would say the secular mind and sadly I suspect many Christians. The fact that Edwards was one of the greatest minds America has ever produced was a source of amazement to Perry Miller. Miller thought Edwards religion ‘a waste of an intellect’. I think this quote is in Millers’s volume on Edwards. Funny how it didn’t stop Miller spending most of his life studying him and The Puritans though!

I was surprised to find Issues etc both critiquing and criticising the sermon, especially for its lack of Gospel content. It was an eye opener for me (my naivety) regarding Lutheranism – at least that section of it. I completely disagree. Set in the context of Edwards target parishioners, the sermon and the fact that it wasn’t his regular topic should make us cautious in analysing the sermon. Back in Edwards day there was an acceptance that God hates and judges sin. I also disagree as to its Gospel content or application. It blazes out against the backdrop of God’s wrath. The context of the sermon is that in the midst of a ‘Revival’ where many sinners are turning to Christ for salvation the people in Enfield are careless about the things of God, careless for their souls and are not embracing the Saviour by responding to the Gracious invitation of The Gospel. This is stated in the very first sentence of the sermon – ‘…. God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as in verse 28) void of counsel, having no understanding in them’.

For more on this sermon see George Marsden’s book ‘Jonathan Edwards: A Life‘ pages 219 – 226. Note page 224:

‘When Isaac Watts received the printed version of the sermon he wrote on his copy: “A most terrible sermon, which should have had a word of Gospel at the end [of] it, though I think ’tis all true”. Edwards had offered this one brief Gospel word, but if one had taken this sermon as characteristic of his preaching, it would have been dreadfully out of balance. Edwards could take it for granted, however, that a New England audience knew well that Gospel remedy. The problem was to get them to seek it.’

Also see Iain Murray’s book ‘Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography’ page 169 ff.

The sermon is mentioned on page 87 in ‘America: A Narrative History’ by George Brown Tindall & David Emory Still (1997, 4th Edition) as ‘his most famous sermon’. ‘America’ was a course textbook for A History of America course that I took while studying for a BA at Warwick University.

The sermon was preached by Edwards several times, at least twice anyway. According to Harry S. Stout it was preached at Edwards church in Northampton with little effect (The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, Hart, Lucas, Nichols, Eds. p.43). But when it was preached at Enfield ‘the effects were extraordinary’. An eye-witness account by the Reverend Stephen Williams tells that, ‘before ye sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying out throughout ye whole House. What shall I do to be saved-oh I am going to Hell-oh what shall I do for a christ etc. etc.-so that ye minister was obliged to desist. [The] shrieks and crys were piercing and Amazing. (p.43)’. It seems then, Edwards was unable to finish the sermon due to cries of the affected people crying out for mercy.

Rev. Jonathan Edwards, a leader of the Great A...
Rev. Jonathan Edwards, a leader of the Great Awakening, is still remembered for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll just make a few observations with appropriate quotes from the sermon. Followed by a closing application.

Before moving on however, let’s note the title. Three words that do not sit well with our modern world – Sinners, Angry & God.

Once the meaning is grasped and even if it isn’t, people do not like the idea of being called a ‘sinner’. Never have, and never will. Why do people take umbrage and think there is something special about them that entitles a free pass? It’s our pride that is offended; though there is nothing to be proud of before Almighty God. We are all in the same boat. The Bible plainly tells us ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God’. Apart from the Grace of God we are all condemned. It’s a great leveler.

Being angry these days is not an option. Anybody that is angry is in danger of receiving at the very least a bad press or even the sack. But we should be very careful and never think that God’s anger is like ours. God’s anger is always a Righteous & Holy anger. The object of His anger is anything that doesn’t conform to His Glorious character – that’s us. We are rebel sinners, shaking our fists at God – either consciously or unconsciously. And we don’t like anyone pointing that out to us. Frankly, if we had any sense and were in our right mind, this sermon should scare the pants off us and drive us to Christ in repentance and faith.

Note Edwards God (The God of The Bible) is not the modern manifestation of God – a whimsical fluffy deity able to be manipulated by His creatures. Typically, recent discussions in the CofE and the ‘Gay’ marriage debate vision a God that moves with the times without a care for what He has said in His Word (The Bible).

The Sermon

Note the following passages that should disabuse sinful pretentious men of a fluffy view of The Almighty in their rebellion against God:

‘The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this.
“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell,
but the mere pleasure of God.” By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his
sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation…’

Edwards moves on setting out several ‘considerations’ that back up this truth about God:

‘…. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands.-He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defense from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. ….’

God stands as the Potter. We are but clay. Rebellious clay at that. These are terrible truths. In the last paragraph of the section where he lays out our plight before God, he writes:

‘…. thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, ….’

Edwards moves into his application and tells us again the purpose of the message. ‘The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ.’ Sometimes we hear sermons and it can be difficult to know just who the preacher is addressing. Not so with Edwards. It’s those people in the congregation that are rejecting the Gospel and yet still presume come the day of wrath God will welcome them into heaven. This is a sermon of compassion, of love for the people and love for the honour of God and His truth as found in the Gospel of Christ.

Monument in Enfield, Connecticut commemorating the location where Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was preached

To hear sermons on this topic today are relatively rare. Are they rare because as people, including preachers, we are not so conscious or aware of God’s Holiness and His burning purity or hatred of sin. That’s a bad thing. The fault is in us, not with Edwards. And yet probably like you I’ve sat under so-called Hell-Fire’ preaching where the people are completely unmoved. Some years ago I had the opportunity of preaching to a congregation of elderly people. This meeting would happen once a month. As you stand at the end and they file past to have their cup of tea they say something along the lines of ‘lovely sermon’. You have just preached to them the dreadful consequences of being lost, of not repenting, of rejecting Christ and they say ‘lovely sermon’. They are unmoved – at least outwardly. O how we need the Spirit of God to move in the hearts of the unregenerate, to awaken them (maybe you) to their need. I do not criticised these things, but it’s not our polished delivery, it’s not our pulpit eloquence or our deep learning that raises the dead – it’s the Spirit of God.

Edwards in the final sections of the sermon urges his hearers;

‘And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition? Are not your souls as precious as the souls of the people at Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ?’

and also;

‘And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now harken to the loud calls of God’s word and providence’.

And finally:

‘Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”‘

Observations & Comments

It’s true, it is a terrifying sermon. And yet, it will continue to be dissected, critiqued and criticised. It will also be ignored. Did they not do this with Jesus too when upon the earth.

Even many Christians have never heard of it. Are we embarrassed by it? By its plainness of speech. Does not Edwards accurately describe our condition before a Holy God. Does not Edwards rightly expose us all to the God of the Bible? This is no whimsical deity that can be manipulated by our supposed good deeds. There is only one remedy for our hopeless estate – the blood of Christ!

An Application for Today

Just as Edwards people were not embracing the Gospel, we in the West take for granted the love of God and are just as careless for the things of the true and living God. There’s a lot of talk about God’s love today, but not a lot of talk about it being a Holy & Righteous love. It’s spoken of as if we somehow are doing God a favour by allowing Him to love us. The attitude is that God will love us anyway no matter how much we reject and twist His Word. We re-define marriage, we murder children in the womb, we abuse His good gifts of male & female and yet expect Him to just roll over, ignore His Word and love us anyway. We expect to Him love us with no repentance and without The Gospel. Politicians – like David Cameron & Barrack Obama – speak loosely of ‘The Christian Faith’ or of the love of God but utterly reject His Word and treat The Lord Christ as if He was just one option out a plethora of religions. There are no options. They are presumptuous, in many ways the worst kind of sinner. Christ is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth and the ONLY life. To reject Him is to reject God’s way, God’s truth and God’s life as offered in the Gospel. The are only two options – it’s either repent & believe the Gospel or expect to be cast into hell. The sermon by Edwards is criticised, rejected as abhorrent, as Politically Incorrect, as divisive, as Hate Speech, but is it loving to tell people, sinners, that all will be well when the truth is their Christ rejecting ideologies will sweep them into Hell & Judgement. I say no.

Those of us that by the grace of God have been brought to repentance faith – we know our hearts are wicked and depraved and without the grace of God would be swept into hell. Our hearts too are ‘idol factories’ and are no better than the worst of sinners. Like Paul we know in some measure the terror of the Lord and so persuade men to repent and believe the Gospel of the grace of God.

We perhaps work with people or have family members that have heard ‘the joyful sound that Jesus saves’ but say it isn’t for them. They assume all will be well – whatever that means. But all will not be well. The judgement upon those that have been surrounded by Christians will be truly awful. It isn’t just a case of passing over Christianity in preference for another religion, or even no religion, but they have in fact rejected the grace of God. They are in the world but without hope. They will be lost to the torments of hell.

May we as God’s people be challenged to consider just how gracious and merciful God has been to us. Will you, O lost sinner not see your danger and flee to Christ.

Ideology Defined

When I first read this it seemed like an excellent definition of Ideology. It still is, here it is below for your consideration. The quote is from: Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World by David F. Wells. page 25.

‘What the Enlightenment ideology did was to provide an interpretive grid, an all-encompassing understanding, that was laid over the whole of life. This understanding was not much a worldview as an ideology. Ideologies, we might say, are worldviews with an attitude. The intent of every ideology is to control. With the passage of time and the desire to be triumphant, ideologies tend to become simplistic. They find acceptance because they tap into our need, the Canadian writer John Saul says, “to believe in single-stroke, cure all solutions” often presenting us with stark alternatives: “Accept the ideology or perish. Pay the debt or go bankrupt. Nationalize or starve. Privatize or go moribund. Kill inflation or lose all your money.”

Because they leave only one way out, they become coercive. At the same time, ideologies create a sense of inevitability about themselves. They produce passivity in people because what is inevitable cannot be resisted. And they breed intolerance of those who might be opposed to their understanding of life or might raise questions about it. It is these characteristics which help explain why it is so difficult to challenge an ideology once it has been socially ensconced. And yet this is exactly what has been happening with the Enlightenment ideology since the 1960’s.’