Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Church History

THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD

 

The apostle Paul found himself in a unique position in the history of redemption. Originally a devout Jew, trained as a rabbi, he converted to Christianity and became “the apostle to the Gentiles.” He spent his ministry travelling through the Graeco-Roman world preaching the message of salvation far and wide. And people from every conceivable background responded. Churches were established throughout Asia Minor and Greece.

This was revolutionary. Up until this point Christianity had been largely a Jewish phenomenon. Christianity was an offshoot from Judaism. But now Gentiles were flocking into the church, and this created a theological problem. What was the relationship of these Gentile converts to Judaism? Should they become Jewish proselytes, get circumcised, and keep the Jewish Law? Or did they occupy a different place in the overall scheme of things. And Paul, the Jewish rabbi turned Christian missionary, found himself right in the very center of the controversy.

But for Paul it was more than just an abstract, theoretical problem. It was an intensely practical one as well. He had established churches throughout Asia Minor and Greece. These churches contained believers who came from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. But how were they to get along together? They had practically nothing in common. The Jews were used to living a very moral life, bound by strict rules and regulations. The Gentiles were used to wine, women and song. How, then, would believers from these two very different backgrounds to get along with each other in church?

Thus it was in this context that Paul wrote his epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. And while these two letters are very similar to each other, they are also noticeably different. Ephesians is apparently aimed at a predominately Gentile audience, while Colossians appears to have been addressed to believers from a Jewish background.

And thus Paul, in Eph. 2:11-3:13, comes to reflect on the Gentiles in God’s overall plan. And in the process he describes for us the nature of the universal church, which he calls “the household of God.”

Paul notes that the Gentiles, in their former life, were “without Christ, being aliens from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12; NKJV). “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). Paul goes on to explain that Christ, through His death on the cross, brought salvation to both Jews and Gentiles.

But now what? “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’ (v. 19). Here Paul uses two metaphors to describe the position of believers in Christ: he says that we are “fellow citizens” and “members of the household of God.” “Fellow citizens” suggests that Christians are all members of a common political entity, with all the rights and privileges thereof, as we would say. “Members of the household of God” means that we are all part of a common household headed by God Himself.

But Paul goes on to elaborate. This “household,” to change the imagery a bit, has been “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (v. 20). The church, the universal church, was founded by Christ Himself; at first through His own earthly ministry, and then through the apostles and prophets of the First Century church. And what happens since then is that in Him “the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21). The church is “fitted together,” it is a coherent whole. Moreover, it is “a holy temple in the Lord.” The imagery would have been unmistakable for a First Century Christian, especially for one from a Jewish background. A temple was a sacred building, a building in which the divine presence resided. And thus God is pictured as being personally present among His people. The church is not just a human social organization; rather, it is characterized by the very presence of God Himself.

Thus it becomes apparent that what Paul is describing here is the universal church, the sum total of all Christian believers throughout history, from the time of Christ until now.

Thus Paul brings it all home to the specific church in Ephesus: “in Whom you also are being build together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (v. 22). The church at Ephesus was a local expression of the universal church. Each local church is “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” It is not a mere social club; it is the communion of the saints built around the presence of God Himself. And specifically, this communion is realized “in the Spirit.” It is specifically the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, who is a t work in the church creating the spiritual life. At the practical level it is the Holy Spirit who creates the church and makes its ministries effective.

Because the church is based on union with Christ two logical corollaries follow: 1) True believers who are united to Christ are united to each other by virtue of their common bond with the Savior, and 2) anyone who is not united with Christ is not a part of the universal church, and therefore there can be no thought of “fellowship” between believers and unbelievers. In other words, evangelical Christians should be united with each other and separate from the world, including apostate liberal denominations.

Unfortunately two dangerous and opposing tendencies have made themselves felt in the modern evangelical community. The first is a spirit of accommodation which manifests itself in the misguided notion that the way to win others to Christ is to make ourselves look like the world. This was seen in the Neo-evangelical movement of the 1940’s and then in the “Young Evangelicals” and more recently in the “Emerging Church.”

But then there is the opposite tendency as well, manifested in self-described fundamentalist churches that practice “Second Degree” separation. That is, they separate not just from unbelievers but from fellow believers whom they deem to be in error over one doctrine or practice or another. Thus they refuse to have fellowship with other Bible-believing Christians because they use the wrong translation of the Bible or the wrong kind of music in worship. The result is endless divisions within the professing church, and this hardly glorifies Christ at all.

What we need to do is to focus on our relationship with Christ, and as we do so we will draw closer together with each other and farther apart from the world. And then the church will start to look like it should be.

EFFECTIVE PREACHING

George Whitefield preaching

George Whitefield preaching

 

In our last blog post we noted that a proper understanding of Christian doctrine involves spiritual discernment – the inward ability, imparted by the Holy Spirit, to understand and appreciate the great spiritual truths of Scripture. And we briefly alluded to several great preachers down through history who demonstrated this quality in their preaching. This week I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at some of them in particular.

The first one we shall look at is the great Scottish Reformer John Knox. James Melville described Knox’s preaching this way: Knox would typically begin by quietly exegeting the passage at hand, and then after about a half an hour he would turn to application. And the, as Melville put it, he would become “so active and vigorous, that he was likely to ding the pulpit in blades and fly out of it . . . he made me so to quake and tremble, that I could not hold a pen to write” (W. Stanford Reid, Trumpeter of God, p. 270. I have modernized somewhat the archaic Scots’ English.).

John Bunyan was a 17th Century English Baptist preacher and the author of the famous book The Pilgrim’s Progress.   Even though he had very little in the way of formal education he was a very effective preacher. Huge crowds would gather to hear him preach, including, among others, the learned Puritan theologian John Owen. Once King Charles II asked Owen how a learned man like himself co go “to hear a tinker prate.” Owen is said to have replied, “May it please your majesty, could I possess the tinker’s abilities for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning” (Owen, Works, Vol. I, p. xcii).

So what was Bunyan’s secret? He himself tells us. After having gone through a long and arduous conversion experience, Bunyan was eventually called to preach. He describes his approach this way:

“In my preaching of the word, I too special notice of this one thing,

namely, that the Lord did lead me to begin where his word begins

with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh, and to open and allege,

that the curse of God by the law doth belong to, and lay hold on all

men as they come into the world, because of sin. Now this part of

my work I fulfilled with great sense, for the terrors of the law, and

guilt for my transgressions, lay heavy on my conscience. I preached

what I felt, what I smartingly did feel, even that under which my poor

soul did groan and tremble to astonishment.

Indeed I have been as one sent to them from the dead; I went

myself in chains; and carried that fire in my own conscience, that I

persuaded them to beware of . . .”

(Grace Abounding, ¶¶ 276,277)

One of the greatest preachers of all time was the 18th Century English evangelist George Whitefield. In 1740 he had the occasion to visit Northampton, MA where the famous colonial American theologian Jonathan Edwards was pastor. Shortly afterwards Edwards’ wife, Sarah Edwards, wrote to her brother James Pierrepont in New Haven, CT and gave him this description of Whitefield:

“It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by

proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. I have seen upwards

of a thousand people hang on his words with breathless silence,

broken only by an occasional half-suppressed sob . . .

“. . . our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day-labourers

throw down their tools, to go and hear him preach, and few

return unaffected. A prejudiced person, I know, might say that

this is all theatrical artifice and display; but not so will anyone

think who has seen and known him.

“He is a very devout and godly man, and his only aim seems to

be to reach and influence men the best way. He speaks from a

heart aglow with love, and pours out a torrent of eloquence which

is almost irresistible . . . “

(Dallimore, Whitefield, Vol. I, p. 539).

Likewise Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous 19th Century English Baptist preacher, had no formal theological training. And yet here is how one listener described his preaching: It was

“. . .one of the richest and ripest sermons, as regards Christian

experience, all the more wonderful as being the sermon of so

young a man, I ever heard . . . such was the simplicity of his

style, the richness and quaintness of his illustrations, his intense

\                       earnestness, and the absolute and admirable naturalness of his

delivery, it told upon his audience generally, and told powerfully . . .

But to return to the sermon, and its effects on the faces! How

intensely fixed were they on the preacher – how eager to hear

every word he uttered – how fearful lest they should fail to

catch the least! Tears were now to be seen trickling down them;

and then, again, pale and careworn though many of them were,

they might be seen beaming with light and joy, and brightening

into smiles.”

(Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol. I, p. 337)

The great American evangelist D.L. Moody was a man with practically no formal education at all, and yet he was mightily used of God in the conversion of sinners. One of his addresses was described this way:

“His incentives against sin, and his lashings of the conscience,

were awful. He seemed to be wrestling with an unseen power.

Beneath those burning words men’s faces grew pale under a

a conviction of the broken law of God. Then he began with

the wooings of the Gospel, in a strain of tender and heartbreaking

entreaty; and before he was through the whole audience seemed

completely broken.”

(Pollock, Moody, p. 102)

Billy Sunday was another famous preacher with little or no formal education – he had been a professional baseball player before being converted and becoming an evangelist. Yet even so great a scholar as J. Gresham Machen could not help but be impressed by Sunday’s preaching. Reporting on a meeting in Philadelphia in 1915 at which Sunday spoke Machen wrote:

“. . . the total impact of the sermon was great. At the climax,

the preacher got up on his chair – and if he had used a step-ladder,

nobody could have thought the thing excessive, so dead in

earnest were both speaker and audience! The climax was

the boundlessness of God’s mercy; and so truly had the sinfulness

of sin been presented, that everybody present with any heart at

all ought to have felt mighty glad that God’s mercy is boundless.

In the last five or ten minutes of that sermon, I got a new

realization of the power of the gospel.”

(Stonehouse, Machen, pp. 223-224)

So what was it that made these preachers effective? Certainly part of it was natural gifts, but that does not account for all of it. The deeper reason is that God had done a mighty work of grace in their hearts; the Holy Spirit had made them deeply sensitive to spiritual truths, and had given them an intense love for lost souls. And thus, when the stood up to speak, what struck their listeners was how real it all was – the preacher was real, heaven and hell were real, God was real!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon summed it up like this:

“In preparing a sermon, wait upon the Lord until you have communion

with Christ in it, until the Holy Spirit causes you to fell the power of

the truth which you are to deliver . . . Before you attempt to give out

the word to others, get it into yourself.”

(An all-round Ministry, p. 189).

Oh, that we had preachers like that today!

GROWING UP FUNDY

Review:

Fundamorphosis: How I Left Fundamentalism but Didn’t Lose my Faith

Robb Ryerse

Civitas Press, 2012

206 pp., pb.

What is it like growing up in a Fundamentalist home? Are there any alternatives to Fundamentalism? Is it possible to leave Fundamentalism and still be a Christian? Pastor Robb Ryerse explores these questions and gives us some intriguing answers in his book Fundamorphoses: How I Left Fundamentalism but Didn’t Lose my Faith.

As it turns out Pastor Ryerse and myself have quite a bit in common. We were both raised in churches that were affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). We both lived, at least for a while, in Upstate New York – he near Utica and I near Syracuse. We both studied, at least for a time, at Baptist Bible College of Pennsylvania, where we both had the privilege of sitting at the feet of the school’s beloved history professor, Dr. Rembert Byrd Carter, or “Doc Carter” as he was affectionately known. We both went on to study at seminaries connected with the Reformed tradition – he at Biblical and I at Westminster. But then our paths diverged.

Pastor Ryerse went on to pastor some Fundamentalist Baptist churches, but became increasingly frustrated with what he found in them and with the whole Fundamentalist movement in general. He eventually left the GARBC to become involved with the “emerging church” movement. I, on the other hand, never went into the formal ministry, but was involved in a lay capacity in a wide variety of churches – Reformed Episcopal, Primitive Baptist, Mennonite, Plymouth brethren, and Reformed Presbyterian. Theologically I moved in the opposite direction from Pastor Ryerse – I looked to the past for answers – to the Puritans and Reformers – and basically became a Reformed Baptist. I am currently part of an informal house church group. Musically I could do without the guitars and drums – give me the old time shaped-note hymns from The Sacred Harp in four part a cappella harmony. And so, having both left the GARBC, Pastor Ryerse and myself have very different perspectives on life.

Pastor Ryerse’s book is part spiritual autobiography and part treatise on Systematic Theology. He tries to be charitable in describing Fundamentalists, but it is clear that he has major problems with the movement. He describes how Fundamentalism didn’t meet his needs, and explains why he is on a path that he thinks will be more rewarding.

Scripture

So what exactly does Pastor Ryerse think is wrong with Fundamentalism? He has a host of familiar complaints – its narrow-mindedness, its judgmentalism, at times its outright hypocrisy. What is striking, however, is his diagnosis of these ills. He basically criticizes Fundamentalists for taking the Bible too seriously, or at least too literally. He tells us that “Emanating directly from their strict interpretations and applications of the Bible, Christian fundamentalists in America have built a rigid superstructure of legalistic tradition that defines their church and home cultures” (p. 21). He then goes on to assert that “Certitude produces legalism,” and “legalism produces judgmentalism” (Ibid.).

His solution is to argue that the Bible is just one of several sources from which we draw our theology. In particular throughout his book Pastor Ryerse measures doctrine by his own experience. “Theology is conceived and born in the minds, hearts, and lives of people who are asking the big questions and seeking answers that resonate,” he says (p. 106).

However, the idea that Scripture should be our only rule of faith and practice did not originate with American Fundamentalists in the 20th Century. What Pastor Ryerse is arguing against is nothing less than the Reformation principle of “sola Scriptura,” and long before the GARBC came into existence orthodox Lutheran and Reformed theologians insisted on the same principle. On this point Fundamentalists are simply following the historic Protestant approach to Scripture.

While I would personally hesitate to say that the “autographs” are “inerrant,” we must nevertheless come to terms with the claims that the Bible makes for itself. “. . .for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21; NKJV). If this claim can be taken at face value, then the Bible is, in fact, the inspired Word of God, God’s own revelation to us, and is fully authoritative in all that it teaches. Our role, then, is to submit to its authority, not bend it to fit our own desires.

The problem is that by subjecting Scripture to the test of experience we wind up making our theology conform to our lives instead of making our lives conform to what God has revealed. At the bottom of it we are either pursuing God’s will or we are following our own. And the latter is nothing less than self-delusion.

If Fundamentalist doctrine and practice is shallow and superficial, might not the problem be a failure to take Scripture seriously enough?

The fact of the matter is that virtually the only way we can know about God and salvation is through divine revelation. God must tell us what is true about these things – about the origin, purpose and meaning of life, about what happens after death – we have no other path to knowledge about these things. If God has not spoken then we are in ignorance. Thus any theology not based on sound exegesis is a delusion.

Salvation

Likewise Pastor Ryerse’s view of salvation is problematical. He describes the Fundamentalist view of salvation this way: “For someone to ‘get saved,’ they had to believe a certain set of propositions about Jesus. If a person confessed to having these beliefs, we were willing to give her assurance of her standing before God and eternity in heaven” (p. 69). In other words, in this view “faith” is merely mental assent.

Pastor Ryerse’s own view of salvation is that “The real power of faith is not in leading us to a climactic moment of conversion but in shaping the entirety of our lives. The point of our belief is not punching our ticket to heaven but in growing us and growing with us throughout our lives” (p. 70).

The problem here is that he doesn’t distinguish between justification and sanctification. Justification is an act by which we are declared righteous in the sight of God; it takes place instantaneously. Sanctification is a process that begins at conversion and gradually changes us over time. It lasts throughout our pilgrimage here on earth.

It is easy to see how a person raised in a Christian home could be confused on this point. Young children are often encouraged to make professions of faith before they are old enough to understand the basic concepts of sin and redemption. Some churches are reluctant to talk about sin and repentance, which means that their congregations rarely if ever hear convicting sermons. And in the GARBC the situation is further by the fact that sanctification is often described as “personal separation,” as if the Christian life boiled down to little more than “I don’t smoke and I don’t chew; and I don’t go with girls that do.” Thus it is relatively easy for a young person growing up in a Christian home to think that because he is doing all the right things outwardly he must be genuinely a Christian.

The situation is even further complicated by the fact that the pastors themselves often show little understanding of what the new birth is. Thus they will often accept a candidate for baptism and church membership on a bare profession of faith with little or no evidence of regeneration. Then everyone in the church, including the candidate himself, assumes that he is a genuine believer.

What is missing in this scenario is any conviction of sin. What we forget is that God looks on the heart. No matter how righteous and upright a person may seem outwardly, he still is a human being with a sin nature. What we human observers see is a well-behaved youngster who is active in his church and Christian school. What God sees is a heart filled with pride, anger, selfishness, lust and greed. God knows what we are really like inside, and if the motive is present, even when the outward action is not, we are still guilty in the sight of God. What God wants to see is a pure heart, not a proud hypocrite. And here we all fail, no matter how righteous we may appear to be outwardly.

True conversion, then, begins with the conviction of sin. This is not to say that a person must weep over his sins for at least a half an hour before he can pray and ask for forgiveness. Personalities and circumstances differ. But in order for true conversion to take place there must be a clear understanding of the real issue: our sin and guilt before a holy God whose law we have broken and whose justice we have offended.

By the same token true saving faith is not just assent to a set of propositions; it is an act of the will in which we place our trust in Christ as our Savior. We do not just believe things about Christ; we believe in Christ; we place our trust in Him. We rely on Him for salvation. Faith acts on the promises of God’s Word. Faith obeys. Hebrews 11 is the great roll call of faith.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

What is strikingly absent in Pastor Ryerse’s account of the Christian life is the role of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, many fundamentalist Baptist churches have so reacted against Pentacostalism that they hesitate even to mention the Holy Spirit for fear of sounding like “holy rollers.” And in those churches more inclined toward an Arminian theology there is a tendency to downplay the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion. And yet the New Testament makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is the agent of the new birth, and it is the Holy Spirit who creates the spiritual life of the church and makes its ministries effective. Paul could say, “And my speech and my preaching were not with permissive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Cor. 2:4). Without the Holy Spirit the church is just plain dead.

The new birth itself is a deep, inward change produced by the Holy Spirit. In the case of a person raised in a Christian home there might not be a dramatic outward change. Such a person will continue to be the same outwardly moral and upright person that he always has been. The real change takes place inwardly. The newly regenerated Christian has a new understanding, and new interests and desires. He is conscious of a new relationship with God. He has a prayer life, and he delights to feed upon God’s Word.

It is here that many nominal Christians raised in Christian homes have difficulty. They go through life simply reacting to the opinions of others. It is all a matter of external pressure. But to really know God in a personal, intimate way is liberating. God’s opinion is the only one that matters. Everyone else’s opinion is only secondary. As someone once put it, “the fear of God is the fear that drives away all other fear.” It was this fear of God that prompted Martin Luther to stand before the Emperor and all the assembled nobles of the Holy Roman Empire and declare, “Here I stand; I can do no other.” If we are feeding on God’s Word, if we are spending time with Him in prayer, if we are growing ever closer to Him, the opinions of men simply do not matter. The only question is, what does God think? If I am truly born again, if I have genuine spiritual life within me, it is no longer a matter of trying to please others and live up to their expectations. My aim is to please God and I don’t need any external prompting.

The difference can be illustrated by the life of Paul. In a sense we could say that Paul had a “Fundamentalist” upbringing, if we could use that term in a Jewish context. He was a devout Jew – “circumcised on the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5,6). He even had the added advantage of theological training under one of the leading rabbis of his day. But in the end it was of no avail. In a fascinating piece of psychological introspection he describes his inner conflict in Romans chapter 7. Intellectually he had a high regard for Scripture. He could see that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rom. 7:12). But he also saw something else at work inside of himself – something dark and sinister. For all of his outward righteousness he was still a human being, born with a sin nature that led him in the complete opposite direction. This created a strange paradox in his psychology. “For what I am doing I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (v. 15; cf. v. 19). “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (v. 23). And this led to his anguished cry in verse 24: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”   Is it not fair to say that this describes the experience of many today who were raised in Christian homes?

Parmigianino, ca. 1530

The Conversion of Paul

The answer to the question is found in chapter 8: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (8:2). What makes the difference in the life a person who has genuinely been born again is the Holy Spirit, and Paul describes the work of the Spirit at length in chapter 8. The Spirit gives life (vv. 4-11), the assurance of salvation (vv. 14-17), hope (vv. 23-25), and intercession (vv. 26,27). And thus Paul concludes the chapter on a triumphant note: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (v. 37). What makes the difference between chapter 7 and chapter 8? The presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer! Is that not what we are missing in our churches today? And Paul is very blunt about the matter: “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9b). Where does that leave us?

The Church

Which brings us to the subject of the church. In the last chapter of his book Pastor Ryerse describes the type of “emerging church” his is planting in Arkansas. He criticizes traditional churches for putting “belief and behavior ahead of belonging” (p. 202). Candidates for membership have to believe a certain way and behave a certain way in order to belong. At his new church, however, Pastor Ryerse says that “For us, it’s not about who is in and who is out. We see ourselves as a community of people on a journey, trying our best to follow Jesus together. We want to affirm anyone who is on that path, regardless of how far down the trail he or she may be’ (p. 203).

It is a little hard to see how anyone who has sat in Doc Carter’s classes could say such a thing. For Doc Carter, beyond anyone else, was quick to point out that a Baptist church, indeed a New Testament church, should be a believers’ church with a regenerate church membership. And this is important, not just because it is a Baptist distinctive, but because it is the only way that a church can manifest life in Christ to the surrounding community. It is the only way that a church can even begin to function the way a church is supposed to. The operative principle is that each individual member of the church is supposed to be vitally connected to Christ through the indwelling Spirit. The church is supposed to be a spiritual fellowship, the communion of the saints, drawn together by a common love for Christ and for each other. This is why Baptist churches traditionally have had church covenants – you were making a formal commitment to your fellow believers to live the Christian life and to function together as a spiritual body.

Is not our problem today that our churches are not very spiritual? For the most part they have become social clubs, with the paid, professional pastor acting as CEO and master of ceremonies. You can get 90% of the congregation out for a “fellowship” dinner, but scarcely 10% out for prayer meeting. Since when did casseroles become more important than prayer? Is Christ present in our gatherings?

Conclusion

What is largely missing in Pastor Ryerse’s book is any sense of the holiness of God, of the sinfulness of man, of the need for repentance, and of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. Pastor Ryerse seems instead to take a sociological approach to religion. Fundamentalism is a subculture that makes certain demands on its members. But for Pastor Ryerse it was all external pressure – he didn’t feel anything within. At one point he says that “many of us have wondered why some biblical writers speak of God’s presence being so close and near to them while our own experiences have been of a God who is far away” (p. 102). At another point he admitted, “I’m not very good at praying . . . I’ve just never been able to develop prayer as a consistent discipline in my life” (p. 189). In short, what we seem to have here is the psychology of an unconverted person, caught up in a religious milieu but lacking any direct experience with God personally. And thus it was only a matter of time before he would try to redefine his faith to correspond with how he actually felt within.

But in the end as human beings we all have to deal with God as He actually is. In one sense Pastor Ryerse is certainly correct when he says that “theology is conceived and born in the minds, hearts and lives of people who are asking the big questions.” That is, in fact, exactly what most of the great preachers and writers down through the centuries did, from John Bunyan to Martyn Lloyd-Jones – most of them had no academic training in theology at all, but they concentrated on asking the big questions, and tried to understand how the answers applied to life. This is what the older writers called “experimental divinity,” or experiential theology as we might say today, if we could even conceive of such a thing. Pastor Ryerse’s problem is that he is “seeking answers that resonate” with him personally. Rather the great preachers and writers of the past went to Scripture for the answers. (And Moses, Jesus and Paul were no ivory tower armchair theologians!). And that is what we must do. We must go to the Bible and try to interpret it honestly and humbly, allowing ourselves to be taught by God’s Word. We must learn to apply it to our lives. Simply to base our theology on our own feelings and experiences is to lead ourselves astray. We cannot afford to go through life making up things about God because they make us feel good. For this reason I am afraid that Pastor Ryerse’s solution to the problem of Fundamenealism is probably a dead end.

AN INCOMPLETE REFORMATION

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

 

Eph. 4:1-16 provides us with the biblical theory behind the church. The church is a mystical body, bound together by the shared presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through spiritual gifts that are distributed throughout the body. The purpose of these gifts is “the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry” (v. 12; NKJV). The church is to grow thereby into a state of spiritual maturity, which, in turn, results in “the unity of the faith . . . and the knowledge of the Son of God” (v. 13). Through it all the entire church draws its strength from its union with Christ, who is the Head. The result is that every part does its share, and “causes the growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (v. 16).

And yet we don’t often see the church today functioning that way. Why? The story is a long one, and it goes back close to the very beginning. As early as the Second Century we begin to see the emergence of what is sometimes called “Early Catholicism.” This was marked by two innovations: a monarchical episcopate and infant baptism.

In the New Testament the office of bishop and elder were considered the same – the two terms were used interchangeably (e.g., Tit. 1:5 & 7) – and the church was led by a board of elders or “presbytery” (I Tim. 4:14) chosen from within the congregation. But by the Second Century we begin to see the bishop emerging as the single, preeminent leader of the congregation, with the elders below him. Thus Ignatius of Antioch could write to the Church of Ephesus in 108 A.D., and urge them to “be joined together in one subjection, subject to the bishop and to the presbytery . . . “ (Eph. II.2).

Infant baptism apparently came later, but it was attested as early as the time of Tertullian (ca. 200 A.D.). The problem here is that infant baptism shifts the focus away from the faith of the person being baptized to the church’s sacraments as a conduit of grace.

The situation was further complicated when Constantine, who was sympathetic to Christianity, became sole emperor in 323 A.D. Thereafter the Roman government supported the church, but this was a mixed blessing, for it also meant that the government would meddle in the church’s affairs. The emperors were often more interested in political harmony than in doctrinal purity, and the effect on the church was not always salutary.

And thus, gradually, down through the Middle Ages the pure gospel of salvation by grace through faith was buried under layers of tradition, scholastic philosophy and canon law. And this was the situation that faced Martin Luther in 1517 when he published his famous Ninety-five Theses. A gifted biblical scholar, he could see how far the Catholic Church has strayed from the practice of the New Testament Church. His writings caused a sensation and he soon found himself at the center of controversy. The great question of the hour was what to do about all of the abuses that had corrupted and deformed the church.

Luther was by no means alone in this situation. In Switzerland Ulrich Zwingli found himself in pretty much the same position. Both men, however, had the support of their respective local civil magistrates. But, as in the days of Constantine, this was a mixed blessing. Biblical scholars like Luther and Zwingli could see what was taught and practiced in the New Testament church; the civil magistrates, on the other hand, were concerned to maintain public order. Luther, quite plausibly, advocated a cautious approach to reform. Arguing from the New Testament principle of Christian liberty he advocated changing only what was necessary, and leaving the rest alone. Zwingli’s attitude, however, is harder to justify. From the pulpit he had advocated a thorough-going, Bible-based reform. In actual practice, however, he deferred to the City Council of Zurich. It is hard to clear him of the charge of political opportunism.

What both Luther and Zwingli were attempting to do, in effect, was to take existing territorial state churches and “reform” them by introducing certain changes to make them look more biblical. It was hard for them to do otherwise. Were it not for the support of the magistrates they could have literally paid with their lives for the doctrines they were teaching. The whole social order of Western Europe was based on the idea of “Corpus Christianum,” the idea that all of Western society constituted “Christendom.” But an all-inclusive state church can never be anything more than a pale shadow of what a genuine Christian church ought to be. The church is supposed to be a “communion of the saints,” a spiritual fellowship of committed believers who demonstrate the life of Christ in their love toward one another. A state church leads to mere formalism.

Some of Zwingli’s more radical followers saw the nature of the problem, and formed the nucleus of what became the Anabaptist movement, which, among other things, rejected the idea of infant baptism. For Luther and Zwingli, however, this was too much. It threatened to undermine the whole structure of Western society, and they were both patriots at heart!

What we are left with, then, in the cases of the Lutheran and Reformed (and Anglican) churches is an incomplete Reformation. The Reformers recovered the gospel of salvation by grace, but failed to achieve a biblical church life. The Anabaptists attempted a more thorough-going reform, and since that time there have been other attempts to create a more biblical and more spiritual form of church life – everything from the 17th Century Baptists and Quakers to a variety of 19th Century “Restorationist” movements. But these various “Free Church” movements have been marred by divisiveness and sometimes unsound doctrine, and even the ones that started fairly well over time tended to lapse into the same kind of institutionalism and dead formalism that has plagued their state church brethren. Nearly all American churches today have grown accustomed to relying on human means to achieve spiritual ends, and the life of the Spirit is notably absent. Hardly anything existing today can be said to resemble the spiritual life of the First Century church.

We are deeply indebted to Luther and Zwingli, Calvin and Knox, for rediscovering the gospel of salvation by grace through faith, and for making God’s Word, the Bible, available to the common man. If it had not been for them, humanly speaking, we would still be in spiritual darkness. But in our admiration for their achievements we must not overlook the fact that their efforts at reforming the church ultimately fell short of what God requires. And it must be our ever-present task to construct a church that genuinely reflects God’s will – a believers’ church, a spiritual fellowship, a church that shows by deed as well as by word what salvation means in actual practice. We need to look past the highly institutionalized form of church life that we know today to see the true and living God seated upon His throne in heaven. What we need is what some of our forefathers knew as revival – not glib preacher or TV huckster, but a real outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will humble us before the glory and majesty of God, fill our hearts with love, and anoint our verbal testimony with power. May God grant us the grace to live up to His expectations!

ARE PEDOBAPTISTS HERETICS?

 

The Problem of Infant Baptism

Recently we were involved in a discussion with a fellow blogger named Eliza who is especially zealous for the doctrinal purity of the church. The question came up about certain well-known figures in church history such as Luther, Calvin, Whitefield, Wesley and Edwards who believed in or practiced infant baptism. In a comment dealing specifically with Augustine and Calvin Eliza made this remarkable statement:

“Since these men purported to be doctors of the church they should have

known without a shadow of a doubt that what they were attesting was

spurious and without merit. They blindly followed the heresy of the

blind. Those who promulgate false doctrine are false teachers and should

be avoided at all costs according to the Scriptures. They are not serving

Christ but they are serving their own fleshly desires and are led astray by

the enemy of our souls. To allow them the name of Christ, when they

contradict the truth of Christ and his amazing, almighty glorious work

for our salvation, is to side with the enemy of our souls.”

The sweep and scope of this condemnation is astonishing. It would mean that none of the major Reformers – Luther, Zwingli, Farel, Calvin, and Knox – were really Christians. It would mean that most of the Puritans were without Christ. It would mean that most of the leaders of the 18th and 19th Century Evangelical Awakenings – Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards and Zinzendorf – were all false teachers working for the devil. Most of our major hymn writers – Watts, Charles Wesley, Newton, Doddridge and Toplady – were heretics. And the major evangelists of the 19th and early 20th Centuries – Nettleton, Finney, Moody and Sunday – were all leading people astray. Can that really be true?

It must be pointed out that Eliza and myself are both agreed that infant baptism is an unscriptural practice. But it actually originated before Augustine – he was simply following the practice of a number of the church fathers who were before him. Infant baptism was practiced as early as the 2nd Century, and was advocated by both Origen and Cyprian. But there is no question that it played a major role in corrupting the visible church, for it shifted the focus away from the faith of the person being baptized to the ability of the church to dispense grace through the sacraments. At the time of the Reformation the Anabaptists rejected the practice outright. The Lutheran and Reformed churches, however, reacted against the Anabaptist Movement, afraid that it represented a threat to Christian civilization, thus sought to retain infant baptism, but couldn’t come up with a uniform rationale for it. The Lutherans essentially took a mystical approach, holding to a form of baptismal regeneration. Reformed theologians, on the other hand, developed a form of covenant theology and held that baptism was the means of entrance into the covenant community. Frankly, both Lutheran and Reformed theologians struggled to come up with a coherent rationale for baptizing infants. Suffice it to say, there is no direct command and no clear example ins Scripture to support the practice, whereas several passages link baptism to faith and repentance, and tacitly assume that persons who have been baptized are regenerate believers (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-11; Gal. 3:26,27; I Pet. 3:21).

The Unity of the Church

How, then, should we deal with people who practice such things? Do we simply write them off as false teachers? More specifically, what does God Himself think about all of this? As He surveys the scene from His throne in heaven, what does He think?

It must be remembered that in God’s sight the fundamental cleavage dividing the human race is between those who are “in Christ” and those who are not. The body of Christ is composed of all those who have been truly born again and believe on Him. It is the sum total of the elect, and they are His people. All of them: stiff formalists and “holy rollers,” pedobaptists and Anabaptists, Calvinists and Arminians, black evangelicals and white. All of them are fallen human beings, and none of them are perfect – although some in the Wesleyan communion have claimed perfection! Thus the starting point for our position on ecclesiastical separation must be the biblical doctrine of the universal church. The apostle Paul lays this out in Eph. 2:11-22. Here he describes how both Jews and Gentiles have been “reconciled . . . in one body to God through the cross” (v. 16). “. . . through Him we both have the entrance in one Spirit unto the Father’ (v. 18). We have been “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure being framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord in Whom you also are built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (vv. 20-22). Here we have a beautiful picture of the entire universal church forming a mystical unity in which God Himself is present. Or to put it another way, there is a mystical bond that unites all genuine believers, of whatever denomination, to Christ and to each other. This bond is formed by the living presence of the Holy Spirit in each one of our hearts. The bond that ties believers to each other is more personal and more intimate than any external connections they may have to an organization or creed.

But what are the practical implications of this? The practical implication is that we have a responsibility to preserve the unity of the body. Later on in the epistle Paul exhorts the Ephesians “to walk worthily of the calling with which you have been called . . . endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. . .” (Eph. 4:1,3).

While Paul is addressing a specific local church here, it is apparent that the principle he lays down extends to the entire universal church. It was the universal church that he had described earlier in 2:11-22, and in the passage immediately following (4:4-6) he grounds his exhortation in certain facts that are true of the entire Christian church as a whole: “one body, and one Spirit, just as you have been called in one hope of our calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of al, Who is over all things and through all things and in all things.”

It will be noted that this unity is essentially spiritual in nature: it is “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” What unites us as believers as believers to each other is not merely some social tie or common interest, but rather the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. Thus we become “members of each other” (v. 25), with the consequence that if we indulge in “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” (v. 31) we grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30). As the bond is intimate the wound is felt personally.

Nor is this a peripheral duty, to be treated casually. We are to “endeavor” to keep the unity. The Greek word literally means “to make haste,” and by extension, “to be zealous or eager, to give diligence” (Abbott-Smith). Thus we are to make a conscious effort to maintain the peace and unity of the church.

But how do we do this? It is significant that Paul does not suggest the typical modern solution, viz., more organization. Rather, he looks to something deeper, viz., the underlying attitude of our hearts. “With all lowliness of mind and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love . . .” (v. 2). What is required to maintain this unity is a specific attitude: an attitude of humility, gentleness, patience and love; in some ways the exact opposite of what we often associate with the “fightin’ Fundamentalist.”

How to Deal with the Erring Brother

 

This, however, raises an important question: how are we to deal with an erring brother? Once again the Bible offers specific guidance on this question. In II Tim. 2:22-26 Paul gives Timothy directions on how to deal with the problem. He begins by telling him to “flee youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart” (v. 22). But this entails the negative side of the question: “But foolish and ignorant controversies avoid, knowing that they engender quarrels.” Paul then lays down the general rule for the conduct of a pastor or Christian worker: “But the servant of the Lord must not fight, but be gentle unto all, apt at teaching, patiently forbearing” (v. 24). That is his manner. His method is described in the next verse: “in gentleness correcting those who are in opposition . . .” The problem is real; action is required. The opposer must be corrected. But it is to be done in “gentleness.” We are not trying to hurt the person we are attempting to correct. We are sensitive to his particular situation and his feelings, and are attempting, with gentleness, patience and love, to bring him where he ought to be. Our language is clear, instructive, and respectful. We do not misrepresent him or his motives. But we urge him, as one brother to another, to take the claims of God’s Word seriously. In this solemn and sacred duty tirades and harangues are completely out of place. Our goal is that “God may grant them repentance unto a knowledge of the truth, and that they might return to soberness from the devil’s snare, having been taken captive by him unto his will” (vv. 25,26). Our aim is restoration and reconciliation, not permanent estrangement. Any words or actions on our part that would needlessly antagonize our brother is counterproductive.

James asks the telling question, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (James 3:13). Undoubtedly there are many who think that they are wise. “Let him demonstrate from a good lifestyle his works in the gentleness of wisdom.” True wisdom comes from God, and will be consistent with a godly manner of life. To underscore the point, James draws a contrast between two different kinds of “wisdom.” The first kind is marked by “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition” (v. 14). This kind of “wisdom” does not come from God. Rather it is “earthy, natural, demonic” (v. 15). It is driven and motivated by our fallen human nature, and by the evil powers at work in the world. Its inevitable result is “disorder and every evil deed” (v. 16). We think that we are being smart by being self-assertive. But where does it lead? To strife, conflict, and ruined relationships. This is hardly “wisdom.”

But what is true wisdom like? It is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (v. 17). In other words, it cares about others, seeks peace with them, and treats them with respect.
James then concludes with this general precept: “But the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (v. 18). Carnal means cannot achieve spiritual ends, and the Lord’s work cannot be done by using the devil’s tools. We may think that we are doing the Lord’s work – that we are earnestly contending for the faith. But if we slander our opponents and vilify them in the press, if we use abusive and contemptuous language, we do exactly what the devil wants us to do: we grieve the Holy Spirit and divide the brethren.

Moreover, we grossly misrepresent Christ by acting in a way that is contrary to His own character and will. Jesus told us, “In this shall all know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another” (Jn. 13:35). Separation from fellow believers (sometimes called “Second Degree Separation”) results in permanent division within the body and makes it all too obvious to the world that we have little love for each other. In this way it brings incalculable reproach on the gospel, a stain not easily erased, a stumbling block to those who might otherwise be led to inquire.

How many have been kept from heaven by our ungodly words and actions? Are we telling the world thereby that we are not His disciples? If we do not live the way He has instructed us to, we are not very good students, are we?

THE DEAD CHURCH

 

If Jesus were to come back today and visit our churches, what would He think? What would He say? Believe it or not, it is actually possible to know. In Revelation chapters 2 & 3 we have letters from Christ Himself to seven different churches. What He says to them is telling – and convicting. We would do well to listen. One of them could be us.

The letters are addressed to seven churches that were located in the ancient Roman province of Asia, located in the western part of what is now the modern nation of Turkey, just across the Aegean Sea from modern Greece. Of particular interest to us is the church as Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6). In many ways it bears a disturbing resemblance to a typical modern American evangelical church.

Sardis, in earlier times, had been the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, whose king, Croesus, had been legendary for his wealth. By Roman times much of its past glory had faded, but it was still an significant commercial center. It lay on an important trade route, and it was a center for the manufacture of woolen garments. As for the church itself, we do not know much about it apart from what we can glean from this letter.

The letter describes the condition of the church at Sardis this way: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (v. 12; NKJV). Here we are struck by two elements. First, the church had a reputation that it was “alive.” Everything appeared to be going well. Its “works” were well spoken of. It was a church that was busy and active, and to all outward appearances was actively serving the Lord. But then Christ adds a disturbing element: “but you are dead.” Appearances can be deceiving. Outwardly the church was busy and active in the Lord’s work. But in actual reality things were quite different. The church was spiritually dead – inwardly there was no real spiritual life.

Is this not a picture of many of our churches today? We measure success by numbers, by church attendance, the size of budgets and the cost of the physical plant. But where is there prayer? Where is there holiness? Where is there preaching with real power, worship with real fervor? Most of us go to church merely to get comforted and reassured. Serious discipleship is the farthest thing from our minds.

The judgment that Christ pronounces on this church is alarming. For the text later says, “I have not found your works perfect before God” (v. 2). The word translated “perfect” might better be rendered “complete” (ESV) or “completed” (NASV). The church at Sardis had started well, but did not bring things to a successful completion. The outward forms were still there, but the inward, vital piety was gone. It was a church that was “just going through the motions.”   It had become a pale shadow of its former self.

Not surprisingly, then, what Jesus tells this church is to “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die” (v. 2). The church was still nominally orthodox; it still retained many of the old forms of worship. But it was in danger of losing even this if it did not wake up and sense its danger. The foundation was rotting and the whole superstructure was in danger of collapse. What the church needed to do was to keep what it still had, and turn to Christ with heartfelt repentance. Christ tells them to “Remember therefore how you have received and heard . . .” (v. 3). They once had it right. They need to remember what it used to be like – how they first heard the gospel and embraced it. What joy! What love! What faith! There had once been a time when the presence of God had been deeply felt, when Christ was the focus of their attention. They need to go back to that, to recover that lost piety and spiritual vitality. Only then will they function as a church is supposed to.

And what happens if it doesn’t? “ . . . I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (v. 3). The exact nature of this visitation is not stated, but it will be sudden, unexpected and arresting. God has ways of getting our attention, and they are not always pleasant.

The situation at Sardis was not entirely bleak, however. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments” (v. 4). When He says that they “have not defiled their garments,” the implication is that most of the members of the church had become worldly and had compromised their testimony. But even in times of spiritual decay there were a few Christians who still remained faithful, who still genuinely loved the Lord and sought to live lives that were pleasing to Him. To them Christ promises that “they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (v. 4). Even though the church as a whole may fall under divine chastisement, Christ will not deprive those who are faithful to Him of His comfort and care.

As with the other letters to the seven churches, this one ends with a promise to those who overcome. In this case three things are promised. First it says he who overcomes “shall be clothed in white garments” (v. 5). Sardis, as we have seen, was noted as a center for the woolen garment industry, and the imagery here must have struck home. Those who are saved are those who have “washed their robes and made them clean in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13,14). To enter heaven one must be cleansed from all defilement of sin.

We are also told that Christ “will not blot out his name from the Book of Life.” The Book of Life is the record of all those who are saved (Rev. 20:11-15; 21:27). Those who overcome are assured of salvation.

And then finally Jesus says, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” In Matt. 10 Jesus taught His disciples to expect opposition as they went out preaching the gospel, and He warned them, saying, “Therefore whoever confessed Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (vv. 32, 33). The only ones who are saved are those who remain faithful to Christ in the face of persecution.

I fear that much of modern Evangelicalism bears a strong resemblance to the church at Sardis. We can trace our roots back to the Reformation, the Puritans, and the great revivals of the 18th and 19th Centuries. But how little spiritual fervor and piety do we see now! People will come out to a fellowship dinner but not to a prayer meeting. Yet without prayer where is our relationship with God?

We would do well to go back in history and read what God has done in times past. May God show us something of our spiritual deadness and cause us to repent. Lord, revive us again!

GEORGE WHITEFIELD, EVANGELIST

George Whitefield preaching

George Whitefield preaching

    We recently had the occasion to read a remarkable sermon by George Whitefield entitled “The Method of Grace.” It is a fascinating example of evangelistic preaching and is well worth taking to heart today.

    Whitefield (1714-1770) was perhaps one of the most phenomenal preachers ever to preach in the English language. The famous 18th Century evangelist traveled extensively through England, Scotland and the American colonies, and was a leading figure of the Great Awakening of the 1740’s. He almost always drew huge crowds wherever he went. Untold thousands owed their conversions to the instrumentality of his preaching.

    The text for this particular sermon was Jeremiah 6:14, in which the prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the corrupt religious leaders of his day, said, “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Whitefield then began his sermon with this striking observation: “As God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere, and upright ministers, so the greatest curse that God can possibly send upon a people in this world, is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm, and unskilled guides.” Such preachers, Whitefield said, were prone to curry favor with their audiences by giving them a false assurance – by papering over the real and serious spiritual problems that plague the nation. A faithful preacher, however, will tell his listeners the truth, so that they might achieve a genuine peace to their souls.

    Whitefield then proceeded to do exactly that. He began by stressing that true religion is an inward thing, “a work wrought in the soul by the power of the Spirit of God.” Then he pointed to the fact that we are guilty of having committed actual sins. But even more that that, we are sinners by nature. “If we look inwardly, we shall see enough of lusts, and man’s temper contrary to the temper of God. There is pride, malice, and revenge, in all our hearts . . .”

    Whitefield pointed out that sometimes, when people first come under the conviction of sin, their initial reaction is to try to do better, — to try to reform their lives outwardly through their own effort. But without a renewed heart a person may be doing many of the right things outwardly, but for the wrong reasons, and that hardly gains credit with God. “. . . nature cannot act above itself. It is impossible that a man who is unconverted can act for the glory of God; he cannot do anything in faith, and ‘whatever is not of faith is sin.'” Even the good works of Christians are tainted by impure motives. “. . .my repentance wants [i.e., needs] to be repented of . . . Our best duties are so many splendid sins.”

    He then pointed out that many people who were reared in a Christian environment may think that they are Christians, when in fact they are not. They have what is sometimes termed “a historical faith” – an attachment to the Christian religion mainly for social and cultural reasons – lack what Whitefield called “a true faith, wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God.”

    Here we can see one of the most striking differences between Whitefield’s preaching and what often passes for “evangelism” today. Whitefield began by laboring to convince his listeners that they were sinners. Then, and only then, did he proclaim the promise of forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. You have to get them lost before you can get them saved!

    Having described the lost condition of his unconverted listeners Whitefield then went on and came to the crux of the matter. In order to achieve genuine, lasting peace, “You must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ, you must lay hold by faith on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and then you shall have peace . . . Before we can even have peace with God, we must be justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be enabled to apply Christ to our hearts, we must have Christ brought home to our souls, so as his righteousness may be made our righteousness, so as his merits may be imputed to our souls.” Here we can see that two different things are involved in salvation. One is the act of “justification,” whereby Christ’s righteousness is “imputed” or charged to our account, and we are thereby counted righteous in the sight God. The other element of salvation is regeneration, or the New Birth, the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls, convicting us of sin, bringing us to faith in Christ, and imparting to us spiritual life. The former element does not happen without the latter.

    Whitefield ended his sermon with a heartfelt plea to sinners to flee to Christ for salvation. He warned them of the danger of hell. He cited his own personal experience as an unconverted person. And even though he was a staunch Calvinist he urged his listeners to act, although he did not issue an alter call or ask people to walk down an aisle.

    Whitefield’s sermon is a startling reminder of what is involved in a genuine conversion, and what evangelism is supposed to be like. What is at stake is eternity, and what is involved is the inward transformation of the soul by the power of the Holy Spirit. And what are needed are faithful preachers who will boldly tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. May God raise up such men in our time!