The title for this piece is one of my favourite hymn lines, a lovely description of the Christian life and one of the easiest truths to forget. The verse springs to mind because Wednesday evening is my church's prayer meeting and as has often been the case of late God was with us and I realised afresh the bountiful joy of the Christian life. For context here's the verse the hymn line is in:
"Fading are the worldlings’ pleasures,
Of all the revivals recorded for us in the Bible then one of my favourites, if I'm allowed to have such a thing, is the revival in the city of Nineveh as told us in Jonah 3. It's a short chapter so I'll quote it all:
"Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened."
Interestingly, the answer to this question is often presented as an absolute yes or an absolute no. If you answered with an absolute no then congratulations for being an antinomian (google it, somewhat to my own surprise I spelt this right first attempt), you're also wrong. And if you answered with an absolute yes then you're probably a Catholic or legalist and likewise wrong. The answer to the question is probably best summed up as a qualified yes (or even a qualified no but I think I prefer the emphasis on the doing of good). It requires a nuanced understanding of salvation and if you're wondering what on earth I'm going on about, please stay with me, at least until I've gone through the arguments.
Of course, one of the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith is salvation through faith alone. Happily, I'm not denying this. But salvation is much broader than we often conceive it to be. Let's spilt salvation into its parts then, sorry if you are put off with the '-ations' but it's good to learn the theological terms involved.
This entire blog post is copied word for word from Justin Taylor's blog. The structure is Mr Taylor's work and the actual poem Mr Hart's work. Very obviously then - this work is not my own. It is worth copying as it is both greatly encouraging and a wonderful depiction of preaching the gospel to yourself day after day. The author gets the Christian life and the continual contrast between the beauty of Christ and the ugliness of our own lives.
The words to “The Grieved Soul,” by Joseph Hart (1712-1768):
1. Come, my soul and let us try
For a little season,
Ev’ry burden to lay by;
Come and let us reason.
What is this that casts you down?
Who are those that grieve you?
Speak and let the worst be known;
Speaking may relieve thee.
2. O, I sink beneath the load
Of my nature’s evil!
Full of enmity to God;
Captived by the devil!
Restless as the troubled seas,
Feeble, faint and fearful;
Plagued with ev’ry sore disease,
How can I be cheerful?
One of the strangest trends in evangelical Christianity is the increasing acceptance of Catholicism; I remember talking to one of my friends and implying that the Pope (any Pope) wasn't a Christian, oh boy, the reaction I got was as though I'd implied one of the great certainties of life was not so. Such are the days we live in, when following the biblical command to test confessions of faith and a person's teaching is met with derision. Any reading of the New Testament letters will reveal a better way: it is our duty as Christians to assess other claim's to Christianity. As Paul writes:
"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." Colossians 2 v 8
or as John writes:
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." 1 John 4 v 1.
The problem when it comes to the Pope, and to Catholicism in general, is that they speak the same language as us and we share similar moral views. Thus, it makes the work of discernment harder than in other cases especially today when a lot of Christians have been badly taught to begin with. Indeed, because Catholicism does clothe itself with Christians language and does teach some similar doctrines to Christianity then it worthwhile bearing in mind the following passage:
"For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve." 2 Corinthians 11 v 13 - 15.
The fact that the Pope uses Christian language, shares some of our moral values, quotes from Scripture and will even occasionally teach correct doctrine does not absolve us from the duty of judging the entirety of his teachings nor him from the charge of false teaching. The central argument here is that the Pope is an anti-Christ; for his teaching is not in accord with Scripture, he acts to obscure Christ and he receives worship that should only go to God.
It is easy today to take a negative view over the future of the church in Britain; it isn't exactly doing well at the moment. Inside the church then errors abound, reformed truths have been cast aside and the church seems to be trying to conform more to the world than to the likeness of Christ. We're exactly like the woman in Songs of Solomon: "I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking." We hear the knock of Christ, we hear the thud of our conscience but as we stir we say: "I have taken off my robe - must I put it on again? I have washed my feet - must I soil them again?" We care, but not enough to fully wake up, we want to change but we're too lazy to put good intentions into practice, we know we're not what we should be, we're also unwilling to be more than we are.
Looking outside of the church will hardly encourage us to hope either. Our government has taken the first steps to legalizing gay marriage, not that it is surprising, we lost the battle for marriage decades ago; the tide of secularism is rising and persecution of Christians is a reality closer than we want to think. Society is falling into a type of madness only found when departing from biblical truth, good is called evil and evil good.
Yet despite the darkness of the day then we still have any reason to hope. Sure, looking upon things with the eye of sight gives us every reason to despair but the eye of sight is an uncertain, narrow, short sighted thing that has no foundation. If we look upon things with the eye of faith then we find a new picture, a sure and certain picture, and that of a God in complete control of everything.
_ “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,”
Romans 5 v 20
Firstly, this is not a divine license to sin, Paul says in the next chapter: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6v1-2). So if it is not an encouragement to sin what is it and why is it important?
This verse is important because we all sin, we can fight against it all we like and we may even conquer some sins but there will always remain other ones we commit. This verse should not be read: I’ll sin so that grace might increase instead it should be read: I sin, thank God that even in my sin grace increases all the more. But what grace is to be found in the darkness of sin?
_ One of the ideas I come across fairly regularly is the one that when it comes to salvation God purposely limits himself and gives human beings free reign to choose as they will on the matter. That is to say, God, who is sovereign in all things, limits his sovereignty so that it does not include salvation. He still works to save people, he presents people with a choice and they are free to accept or decline as they see fit. The advantages of this thought are clear: it makes the whole issue of divine sovereignty and human free will very easy to understand. God has his bit he’s in charge of and we have our bit and so we sidestep a lot of the complicated issues predestination brings up.
But its ease of understanding is not a measure of its truthfulness. The question we have to ask is simply whether this idea is biblical or not?
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Revelation 20 v 11 – 15
When you face God on the Day of Judgement what are you going to say to him? What defence will you use to justify yourself before him? What line will you take? What angle will you go for? Maybe you’ll excuse yourself by saying that you never believed in God. But standing before him saying that is going to sound a little pathetic. Maybe you’ll try and point to all the good deeds you have done and how you are too good a person to go to Hell. But when faced with absolute, perfect and infinite holiness of God you’re deeds are going to be thrown into sharp relief.
The storm clouds of life were heavy and dark, the wind raged, the waves tossed and the future seemed bleak. My prayers were empty words devoid of comfort, the Bible held no help, my sins towered over me, my lack of faith and love for God weighed my soul down and it all was too much. My strength, pitiful as it was, was spent; my courage had deserted me and God seemed so very far away. He seemed to be deaf to my pleas and all was lost. I was perplexed and in despair, sorrowful and not rejoicing, confused and baffled by God’s providence. My own understanding failed me and hope was too distant a concept to grasp. The path before me was dark and crooked, my soul was downcast and my thoughts troubled.
And I suffered the temptation to quit. To give up and walk away from all that I did. I’d toss in the towel and leave God and Christianity behind me. It was too heavy a burden to bear, too much for my feeble frame, too hard, too painful, I couldn’t do it.
And yet, and yet no sooner had I entertained this thought when a barrier in my mind slammed into place. I couldn’t quit. It became impossibility itself and every fibre of my being rejected the temptation and turned back to God. Who else was there to turn to?