Grace as a thing, a talisman, a fluffy pillow…

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:12b).

Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus… (Rom. 1:1).

I don’t normally go for celebrity conferences and seminars, but I had good reason to attend a recent panel discussion hosted by Ligonier at the PCA’s 41st General Assembly—dinner was served and I had a good friend with me. One comment by Sinclair Ferguson was very helpful. He said something along these lines: Contemporary Christians have a tendency to think of grace as a thing rather than as the person of Jesus Christ. It didn’t strike me at the moment, but it came back to me as I reflected on the incessant incantations in PCA preaching and teaching and lecturing of grace, grace, grace, brokenness, grace, grace, grace, grace, the grace of God, grace, grace, brokenness, gracious, grace. Grace. We get much grace and very little Jesus Christ, the lover of our souls. The point Ferguson was making is a part of his book By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. In an interview about the book on Ligonier’s website, he writes about what he means by grace as a thing:

In the preface of the book, you write that grace is not a “thing.” What do you mean by this statement?

It is legitimate to speak of “receiving grace,” and sometimes (although I am somewhat cautious about the possibility of misusing this language) we speak of the preaching of the Word, prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as “means of grace.” That is fine, so long as we remember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as John Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus. If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself. Grasping that thought can make a significant difference to a Christian’s life. So while some people might think this is just splitting hairs about different ways of saying the same thing, it can make a vital difference. It is not a thing that was crucified to give us a thing called grace. It was the person of the Lord Jesus that was crucified in order that He might give Himself to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes a similar point in his book Authority. Evangelicals are guilty of, as he puts it, “missing the wood because of the trees,” by focusing on secondary matters rather than the AUTHORITY of Jesus Christ:

We assert Him, we proclaim Him, we start with Him, because He is the ultimate and the final Authority. We start with the fact of Jesus Christ, because He is really at the centre of the whole of our position and the whole of our case rests upon Him.

It is to me interesting and rather extraordinary that we ourselves as Evangelicals should ever seem to forget this. I suppose that one reason may be our familiarity with the Scriptures. We are guilty of ‘missing the wood because of the trees’. I am convinced that most of our troubles today are due to the fact that we have become so immersed in secondary details that we have lost the main picture. We are missing the whole, because of our interest in the parts. If we could but stand back and just look at the New Testament and the whole Bible with fresh eyes, I believe we would be rather amazed at the fact that the really big claim which is made in the whole of the New Testament, is for the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. If what they say about Jesus Christ is not true then they have nothing much at all to offer us.

We’ve replaced the authority of the Son of God for a thing called grace. That thing called grace is much cuddlier than the person Jesus Christ. That thing called grace loves brokenness while the Son of God demands holiness. That thing called grace says your trying is the problem while the Almighty Lord Jesus Christ says take up your cross and die daily. That thing called grace is cheap grace…which leads me to my final quote, a favorite of mine from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Cost of DiscipleshipCheap grace is…

“…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

And that brings it all together. May we worship the Lord Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Listen to the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones…

Maybe I’m late to the show, but I just stumbled upon the revamped Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust website where 1600 audio files of MLJ sermons are posted. And they are free. I’ve recommended the ministry of Lloyd-Jones before and encourage you to take a moment to listen to a few of these sermons. You’ll quickly get used to his voice…

A few recommendations:

Series on Spiritual Depression

232 Sermons on Ephesians (…and you thought I was going slowly through Colossians…)

His Friday night lectures on Romans

Preaching and Preachers (lecture to students at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1969)

 

Iain Murray…

Read everything written by pastor and historian Iain Murray…particularly Revival & Revivalism, Evangelicalism DividedJonathan Edwards: A New Biography, and his biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Everything else is good, too.

Here’s an interview with him that will give you a sense of his wisdom and zeal for the Church and her history.

 

 

Christ or the critics…

The choice for us today is really as simply as it was for those first Christians in the early days. We either accept this authority [that of the Word] or else we accept the authority of ‘modern knowledge’, modern science, human understanding, human ability. It is one or the other. Let us not be confused by the modern argument about a changed position. We are still left where believers have always been left. It is still ‘Christ or the critics’. For us, there is no real choice. On the one hand, trusting to human ability and understanding, everything is flux and change, uncertain and insecure, ever liable to collapse. On the other is not only ‘the impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture’; but there is the Light of the world, the Word of God, the Truth itself.

The Lord of the Church has declared: ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.’ It is a word that abides in time; it is a word that abides in death; it is a word that shall confront us in eternity. For the Son of God Himself has said: ‘I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejects me, and receives not my words, hath one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day’ (John 12:47,48).

~Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Authority

One of My Heroes: Pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Back in the summer of 2000, I purchased Iain Murray’s two-volume biography of Pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones because my pastor, Tim Bayly, was praising it. Instead of preparing for doctoral orals by analyzing every square inch of Harrison Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy, I was spending my time pouring over every page of Murray’s great work. The Lord had already turned my desires away from the concert hall to the Church, so reading of Lloyd-Jones’s life was a timely encouragement and sobering warning. Every young man considering the pastorate should be required to work through these two volumes.

Here are a few elements of the book that were encouraging to me…

1. Lloyd-Jones gave up a lucrative career in medicine to serve the Lord in the church.

Lloyd-Jones could have been the top of the pyramid in medicine in the UK. Before the end of his training, he was appointed Junior House Physician in Sir Thomas Horder’s renowned practice. Just as John Calvin’s pursuit of a career in law was derailed by his conversion, Lloyd-Jones gave up his career in medicine when he realized that his spiritual sickness, and that of any man, was the disease that needed treatment. No matter how much medical treatment a man received, he was still bound for hell outside of Jesus Christ.

…Dr Lloyd-Jones found that, as he worked alone at his research bench, he was often preaching to himself. The Bible itself had come alive and its arguments pursued him. If, as he believed, bodily suffering justifies care for people, what kind of concern is warranted for those who are shut out from the presence of God? However much sickness can be alleviated, men must still die, and die deserving hell, unless they be first reconciled to God through Christ (94).

Just about the time he had decided for the ministry, he was told that an assistant professorship would be opening at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and College and that he would be offered the position. Murray writes, “It was a position that would have led right to the top. ‘This did not shake me for a second,’ Dr Lloyd-Jones was later to comment, ‘I had already decided for the ministry'” (110). Worldly ambition had been put down by God’s call.

2. Lloyd-Jones was a man of courage. This courage is especially evident in his challenging of the Billy Graham juggernaut.

In the 1960s the ecumenical movement was attempting to make interdenominational peace by throwing doctrine in the trash can. The old evangelical doctrine was being silenced for open dialogue with theological liberals. Billy Graham had started with an unwillingness to cooperate with theological liberals but by the 1960s “he was ready to receive the support of virtually any well-known religious leader” (440). Roman Catholics and liberals were sharing the stage with evangelicals at the Billy Graham Crusades. Lloyd-Jones was troubled by such compromise. He had a face to face meeting with Dr. Graham:

They met in the vestry of Westminster Chapel early in July 1963, and at the request of the American evangelist who came to seek support. The Graham organization was planning a first ‘World Congress on Evangelism’ to meet in Rome and wanted ML-J to be the chairman of that Congress. The latter’s reply to this appeal has been recorded as follows:

I said I’d make a bargain: if he would stop the general sponsorship of his campaigns—stop having liberals and Roman Catholics on the platform—and drop the invitation system, I would wholeheartedly support him and chair the Congress. We talked for about three hours, but he didn’t accept these conditions.

3. Lloyd-Jones was a great preacher.

Soon after my conversion, I began reading dead guys in order to feed my soul. Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Watson, Jonathan Edwards, and Lloyd-Jones provided most of the nourishment. The first Lloyd-Jones sermons I read were from his series on Ephesians (audio of these sermons gradually going up here). I remember being astonished that he preached a sermon on the first two words of chapter 2, verse 4: “But God…”. Here’s the last paragraph of that sermon:

Finally, the Christian is absolutely certain and assured that whatever the world and man may do he is safe in the hands of God. ‘We can confidently say’, say the Scriptures, ‘the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.’ Indeed he knows this, that man in his malignity may insult him, may persecute him, may ravage him, may even destroy his body; but he also knows that nothing shall every be able to ‘separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’. He knows that whatever may happen in this world of time, he is a son of God, an heir of glory. Indeed he knows this, that a day is coming when even this present sinful world shall be entirely redeemed, and there shall be new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness’. The Christian can look forward to this, that he, some glorious day in the future, when his very body shall be renewed and glorified, when it shall no longer be weak, when it shall be no longer subject to sickness and old age and disease, when it will be a glorified body shall even walk the face of this very earth, out of which evil and sin and vileness shall have been burned but the fire of God. He will dwell in a perfect world, of which the Lamb, the Son of God, is the Light and the Sun, the Brightness and the Glory, and he shall enjoy it for ever and ever. That is what the Christian message, the Christian faith has to say to this wretched, distracted, unhappy, confused, frustrated, modern world. It is all the outcome of these essential doctrines which can be learned only in this Book which is God’s Word There is the world!—’But God…’

4. Lloyd-Jones struggled with darkness of soul at times.

The opening verses of Psalm 77 describes the difficulty of living in a fallen world: “When I remember God, then I am disturbed; When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint” (Psalm 77:3). Later the psalmists inquires of God, “Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever?” (verses 7-8) The psalmist suffered the terrors of God and felt the weight of sin, as did the Apostle Paul who called himself the chief of sinners.

At various points in his ministry, Lloyd-Jones struggled with depression and could sing Psalm 77 without hypocrisy.

At this time in Newcastle Emlyn, Dr Lloyd-Jones was going through a personal struggle of which he very rarely spoke and never in public. He was suffering from depression which he attributed to his low physical condition. With the depression, however, there came a temptation in the form of a ‘fiery dart’ of doubt. The doubt did not concern his faith or his ministry but it had to do with a person whose regard for him had long been of great support to his whole life. The temptation was to question the reality of this friend’s regard. This suspicion was entirely without foundation and he did not give way to it, yet the power of the temptation put him into an agony of spirit: ‘There are times,’ he would later say, ‘when the enemy concentrates on individual Christians, on Christian churches…when the devil makes a broadside attack upon you and would sweep you off your feet.’ This awareness that the onslaught was from the devil did not, however, bring him comfort for the temptation had brought with it a discovery about himself. The attack had come at a point where it could have success: it was an appeal to his pride, ‘Not my pride in the ministry but my carnal pride’. More than thirty years later he would only speak of it with pain: ‘It was a terrible thing, it was the thing that revealed to me ultimately the pride of the human heart. I knew I was a sinner without any hope at all, but I never realised the depth of the pride of the human heart. Eventually I was it was nothing but pride. Carnal, devilish pride. And I was humbled to the ground’ (207-208).

These periods of depression were not lasting as his faith in Jesus drove them away. Certainly, though, these episodes were used of God to sanctify His servant and build him up as a pastor.

There is so much more that could be said about Iain Murray’s excellent biography and about the man Martyn Lloyd-Jones. If you love the church, desire to be an elder, or simply enjoy biographies of godly men, read it.

Assertions of the Escondido Theologians, Summarized by John Frame

In the “Author’s Preface” of his The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (buy it here), Dr. Frame provides thirty-two bullet-point summary statements on the teachings of the Two-Kingdom theologians (pp. xxxvii-xxxix). Some of the main proponents of this new theology are Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark, David Van Drunen, and Darryl Hart, all of whom currently teach or have taught at Westminster Seminary California. Dr. Frame states, “If you thought these writers simply taught good old Reformed theology, you might be very surprised to learn how unusual and controversial their teaching is. Below are some assertions typical of, and widely accepted among, Escondido theologians. Not all of them make all of these assertions, but all of them regard them with some sympathy.” Here then are those summary statements:

  • It is wrong to try to make the gospel relevant to its hearers.
  • Scripture teaches about Christ, his atonement, and our redemption from sin, but not about how to apply that salvation to our current problems.
  • Those who try to show the application of Scripture to the daily problems of believers are headed toward a Christless Christianity.
  • Anything we say about God is at best only an analogy of the truth and is therefore at least partly false.
  • There is no immediate experience of God available to the believer.
  • The only experience of God available to the believer is in public worship.
  • Meetings of the church should be limited to the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments.
  • In worship, we “receive” from God, but should not seek to “work” for God.
  • The “cultural mandate” of Gen. 1:28 and 9:7 is no longer in effect.
  • The Christian has no biblical mandate to seek changes in the social, cultural, or political order.
  • Divine sovereignty typically eliminates the need for human responsibility.
  • The gospel is entirely objective and not at all subjective.
  • We should take no interest in our inner feelings or subjective life.
  • Preaching should narrate the history of redemption, but should never appeal to Bible characters as moral or spiritual examples.
  • Preaching “how tos” and principles of practical living is man-centered.
  • To speak of a biblical worldview, or biblical principles for living, is to misuse the Bible.
  • Nobody should be considered Reformed unless they agree with everything in the Reformed confessions and theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  • We should not agree to discuss any theological topics except the ones discussed by Reformed thinkers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  • Jonathan Edwards and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones were not Reformed.
  • Theology is not the application of Scripture, but a historical investigation into Reformed traditions.
  • There is no difference between being biblical and being Reformed.
  • To study the Bible is to study it as the Reformed tradition has studied it.
  • God’s principles for governing society are found, not in Scripture, but in natural law.
  • Natural law is to be determined, not by Scripture, but by human reason and conscience.
  • Scripture promises the believer no temporal blessings until the final judgment.
  • We can do nothing to “advance” the Kingdom of God. The coming of the Kingdom, since the ascension of Christ, is wholly future.
  • The Sabbath pertains only to worship, not to daily work. So worship should occur on the Lord’s Day, but work need not cease.
  • Only those who accept these principles can consistently believe in justification by faith alone.
  • Reformed believers must maintain an adversarial relationship with American evangelicals.
  • Worship should be very traditional, without any influence of contemporary culture.
  • Only those who accept these principles can be considered truly Reformed.
  • These principles, however, represent only desirable “emphases.” There are exceptions.

Further analysis and explanation of the above assertions can be found in Dr. Frame’s book which is a compilation of reviews of the books of the Escondido theologians. In my view, the work of the Two-Kingdom theologians is an attempt to justify a dead orthodoxy–but perhaps that’s too generous a description.


Must-Read Books

I can’t remember why I put together this list, but I stumbled across it in my files this morning. Outside of the Scriptures, these are the books that have fed my soul for many years. Certainly there are others I would add, but I still recommend all of the below as must-reads for Christians.

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D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939 & The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 by Iain Murray

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The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (free here)

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What is an Evangelical? by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson (free here)

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Revival & Revivalism by Iain Murray

Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton (free here)

Confessions by Augustine (free here)


The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

The Works of Jonathan Edwards (free here)

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Preaching of the Gospel

And the world today is laughing at the church, laughing at her attempts to be nice and to make people feel at home. My friends, if you feel at home in any church without believing in Christ as your personal Saviour, then that church is no church at all, but a place of entertainment or a social club. For the truth of Christianity and the preaching of the gospel should make a church intolerable and uncomfortable to all except those who believe, and even they should go away feeling chastened and humble.

(from a sermon by Lloyd-Jones on Hebrews 13:14, quoted in Iain Murray’s biography)