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    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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DO NOT TREAT DOCTRINE LIGHTLY

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9 ESV)

After over thirty years of teaching Christian adults in several churches, I cannot tell you how often I have heard statements in various forms similar to this: “I don’t want to know doctrines. I just want to know Jesus.” This clever response gives the appearance of a deep spirituality but often I have found that the Jesus they are seeking to know is more the idol of their imaginations than the Jesus found in the Bible.

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If We are to be Biblical!

Quoting R. C. Sproul:

“If we are to be biblical, then, the issue is not whether we should have a doctrine of predestination or not, but what kind we should embrace.”

Hostility to Doctrine

The Christian idea of a doctrine is not merely an expression of the Christian experience, but on the contrary it sets forth those facts upon which the Christian experience is based. J. Gresham Machen helps us to understand this in reference to modern liberalism in the church:

What . . . is the real meaning of the present revolt against the fundamentals of the Christian faith? What, in brief, are the teachings of modern liberalism as over against the teachings of Christianity?

At the outset, we are met with an objection. ‘Teachings,’ it is said, ‘are unimportant; the exposition of the teachings of liberalism and the teachings of Christianity, therefore, can arouse no interest at the present day; creeds are merely the changing expression of a unitary Christian experience, and provided only they express that experience they are all equally good. The teachings of liberalism, therefore, might be as far removed as possible from the teachings of historic Christianity, and yet the two might be at bottom the same.’

Such is the way in which expression is often given to the modern hostility to ‘doctrine.’ But is it really doctrine as such that is objected to, and not rather one particular doctrine in the interests of another? Undoubtedly, in many forms of liberalism it is the latter alternative which fits the case. There are doctrines of modern liberalism, just as tenaciously and intolerantly upheld as any doctrines that find a place in the historic creeds. Such for example are the liberal doctrines of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. These doctrines are, as we shall see, contrary to the doctrines of the Christian religion. But doctrines they are all the same, and as such they require intellectual defense. In seeming to object to all theology, the liberal preacher is often merely objecting to one system of theology in the interests of another. And the desired immunity from theological controversy has not yet been attained.

Sometimes, however, the modern objection to doctrine is more seriously meant. And whether the objection be well-founded or not, the real meaning of it should at least be faced. That meaning is perfectly plain. The objection involves an out-and-out skepticism. If all creeds are equally true, then since they are contradictory to one another, they are all equally false, or at least equally uncertain. We are indulging, therefore, in a mere juggling with words. To say that all creeds are equally true, and that they are based upon experience, is merely to fall back upon that agnosticism which fifty years ago was regarded as the deadliest enemy of the Church. The enemy has not really been changed into a friend merely because he has been received within the camp. (Christianity and Liberalism)

Hold Fast

Bishop J. C. Ryle:

If we would hold fast that which is good, we must not tolerate any doctrine that is not the pure doctrine of Christ’s Gospel. There is a hatred that is downright charity: that is the hatred of erroneous doctrine. There is an intolerance which is downright praiseworthy: that is the intolerance of false teaching in the pulpit. Who would ever think of tolerating a little poison given to him day by day? If men come among you who do not preach “all the counsel of God,” who do not preach of Christ, sin, holiness, of ruin, and redemption, and regeneration, – or do not preach of these things in a Scriptural way, you ought to cease to hear them. You ought to carry out the spirit shown by the Apostle Paul, in Gal.1:8: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached, let him be accursed.” (Tract: “Hold Fast”)

Christian Gullibility

In the 21st century, we presently accept and participate in a very broad and careless understanding of true Christianity. Orthodoxy has been replaced by the embrace of humanism and strange teachings. Historic doctrines have been abandoned in favor of a Christianity which does not offend; and the revelation of God has been forsaken for ideas more favorable to human pride. As Bishop of Liverpool, England – J. C. Ryle also faced these obstacles in his lifetime. He writes:

Many things combine to make the present inroad of false doctrine peculiarly dangerous.

1. There is an undeniable zeal in some of the teachers of error: their “earnestness” makes many think they must be right.

2. There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge: many fancy that such clever and intellectual men must surely be safe guides.

3. There is a general tendency to free thought and free inquiry in these latter days: many like to prove their independence of judgment, by believing novelties.

4. There is a wide-spread desire to appear charitable and liberal-minded: many seem half ashamed of saying that anybody can be in the wrong.

5. There is a quantity of half-truth taught by the modern false teachers: they are incessantly using. Scriptural terms and phrases in an unscriptural sense.

6. There is a morbid craving in the public mind for a more sensuous, ceremonial, sensational, showy worship: men are impatient of inward, invisible heart-work.

7. There is a silly readiness in every direction to believe everybody who talks cleverly, lovingly and earnestly, and a determination to forget that Satan often masquerades himself “as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

8. There is a wide-spread “gullibility” among professing Christians: every heretic who tells his story plausibly is sure to be believed, and everybody who doubts him is called a persecutor and a narrow-minded man.

All these things are peculiar symptoms of our times. I defy any observing person to deny them. They tend to make the assaults of false doctrine in our day peculiarly dangerous. They make it more than ever needful to cry aloud, “Do not be carried away!” (Warnings to the Churches, “Divers and Strange Doctrines”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1967], 76, 77)

The Wicked Herb

How should we respond to the teaching of false doctrine in the church? John Calvin answers this question below:

But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

If we have a desire to obey our God as we ought, we must practice that which is commanded us, and pray Him to cleanse the church from . . . the devil’s instruments. This might be applied to all corruptions and stumbling-blocks invented by the devil; but it is here spoken of concerning the doctrine whereby we are quickened, which is the true food of the soul.

Now let us come to that part of the subject, in which St. Paul informs us who are of this number. He saith, “Of whom is Hymeneus, and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already: and overthrow the faith of some.” When he names Hymeneus and Philetus, he showeth that we must not spare them, who, like scabby sheep, may infect the flock, but we must rather tell every one, what kind of men they are, that they may beware of them. Are we not traitors to our neighbors when we see them in danger of being turned from God, and do not inform them of it? A wicked man that goeth about to establish perverse doctrine, and cause offences in the church, what is he but an impostor? If I dissemble when I see him, is it not as though I should see my neighbor in danger, and would not bid him beware?

If the life of the body ought to be so precious to us that we would do all in our power to preserve it, of how much more importance is the life of the soul! Those who endeavor to turn every thing upside down will come and sow their false doctrine among the people, in order to draw them into a contempt of God. These barking dogs, these vile goats, these ravenous wolves, are they that have erred, and endeavored to overthrow the faith of the church: and yet we suffer them. Men will frequently say, must we be at defiance with them? Must we cast them off that they may fall into despair? This is said by those who think we ought to use gentleness; but what mercy is it to spare one man, and in the mean time to cast away a thousand souls, rather than warn them? We must not suffer wicked herbs to grow among us – lest they should get the upper hand, and choke whatsoever good seed there be, or utterly destroy it. (“Pure Preaching of the Word”)

The Controversial Spirit

Many a person who declines controversy over the truth of Christianity has renounced his confidence in the truth; that truth which is like a torch in that – the more it shakes, the more it shines. Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921) writes:

Are there then to be no limits set to the controversial spirit? Assuredly there are. These limits are, however, not to be sought in motives of convenience or prudence. Christianity thrives on controversy, and exists only by virtue of it—it is in the world to reason the world into acceptance of itself, and it would surely be vain to expect the world to take its reasoning without reply. “It is the native property of the divine word,” says Calvin, rather “never to make its appearance without disturbing Satan, and rousing his opposition. This is the most certain and unequivocal criterion by which it is distinguished from false doctrines, which are easily broached since they are heard with general attention and received with the applause of the world.” “If the presence of controversy,” therefore, adds Vinet, “is not in itself the criterion of the truth of a doctrine, a doctrine which arouses no contradiction lacks one of the marks of truth.” And surely subjective motives cannot exonerate us from bearing our witness to the truth. Indeed it may be fairly argued that even subjective considerations would rather bid us advance valiantly to the defense of the truth, if it be at all the case as Dr. Hort tells us it is, that “smooth ways” in this sphere too “are like smooth ways of action … truth is never reached or held fast without friction and grappling.” And surely we will give quick assent to the same writer’s dictum that “there are other and better kinds of victory than those that issue in imperial calm.” Even a certain amount of heat in controversy may thus find its justification—in the consideration, to wit, that it is not merely the chill logical intellect which may well be enlisted in this war. The poet’s line, “And God’s calm will was their burning will,” is no libel on the spirit of God’s true martyrs and saints. (“Christianity: The Truth”)

Calvinism

Charles Spurgeon

Quoting Charles Spurgeon:

The doctrines of original sin, election, and effectual calling, final perseverance, and all those great truths which are called Calvinism – though Calvin was not the author of them, but simply an able writer and preacher upon the subject – are, I believe, the essential doctrines of the gospel that is in Jesus Christ. Now, I do not ask you whether you believe all this – it is possible you may not; but I believe you will before you enter heaven.

Doctrinal Preaching

Quoting J. I. Packer:

Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep. The preacher’s job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers–in other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats. (Packer, A Quest For Godliness, 285)

Is The Doctrine Of Future Punishment Cruel And Unmerciful?

 

Archibald Alexander

Archibald Alexander (1772–1851) was an American educator, theologian and preacher. In 1807 he became pastor of Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He received the Doctor of Divinity in 1810 from the College of New Jersey. He is most noted as founder and first principal of Princeton Seminary serving there from 1812 to 1840. As principal and professor of theology, he is considered the first of the great “Princeton theologians.” Below, he shares his thoughts on false doctrines that teach there is no hell:

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:3-5 ESV)

[According to many], the doctrine of [hell] endless punishment is “cruel and unmerciful”. . . . It is customary with them to appeal to the tender feelings and sympathies of their hearers, and to conclude that if a parent would not inflict such a punishment on his children, much less will God on his creatures. But this is a false method of reasoning. An amiable child shudders at seeing a criminal suffer the just punishment of the law, but this is no argument against the punishment of the guilty.

It would be easy to persuade a set of convicted felons that the law which condemned them was cruel and unmerciful, because they want to escape punishment, and do not take into consideration the important ends to be answered to the public by their punishment. Thus wicked men are easily brought to believe that the penalties threatened in the Scriptures are cruel and unmerciful; but such opinions ought to have no weight with the honest and impartial inquirer after truth.

All comparisons on this subject fail; for neither parents nor civil rulers, nor any other beings in the universe, except the supreme Ruler, are under obligations to punish sin according to its merit. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” Only God Almighty is capable of estimating the evil of sin, and of inflicting punishment in exact proportion to its evil. If reasoning from the sympathies of our nature, and especially from the tender feelings of parents, were of real force, it would be as conclusive against the judgments of God on individuals and communities in this world, as against future punishment. For what benevolent parent would subject his children to the innumerable forms of evil and suffering which are everywhere witnessed in our world? How many perish by shipwreck, by pestilence, by earthquakes, by oppression, by war, and by persecution! But because a kind earthly father could not endure to see his children suffer such things, must we conclude that it is an unrighteous thing in the Governor of the universe to recompense the wicked by such judgments? Or will these men deny that God has anything to do in bringing these evils upon men?

How is it possible that reasonable men, with the Bible in their hands, can believe in [this false] doctrine. . . If they would only listen to the dictates of conscience, they never could think that there was no future punishment for sinners of the deepest dye. The very heathen, as many of them as believe in a future state, hold the doctrine of future punishment for the crimes of a wicked life. There never before was a sect of heretics who altogether denied the doctrine of future punishment. . . . As we said before, this doctrine had its origin in paradise, when the devil assured Eve that she will not die for her disobedience . . . And was the very doctrine by which the grand adversary murdered our whole race; but never, until recently, could any number of men be found of sufficient hardihood to avow it as the main article of their creed. It contains within itself the virulent poison of all other errors and heresies; yes, it leaves in the distance every form of infidelity. Atheism, black and blasphemous as it is, is not so dangerous as this doctrine; for it completely removes all restraint from the sinner . . . assuring the vilest sinners that they have nothing to fear hereafter; and not only so, but promising them the rich reward of eternal life. The prevalence of this soul-destroying error, in some parts of our land, is truly alarming. Every citizen, as well as every Christian—is bound to use his best endeavors to check the progress of an error fraught with so many dreadful consequences! (“Future Punishment: The Universalist Refuted”)

Charles H. Spurgeon On The Old Doctrines

In the words of Charles H. Spurgeon:

It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, that are called by the nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage into the past, and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in the doctrine of free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic of no very honorable character might rise up and call me brother. But, taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren; I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church.

Transforming Life

Quoting Albert N. Martin:

B. B. Warfield describes Calvinism as ‘that sight of the majesty of God that pervades all of life and all of experience’. In particular as it relates to the doctrine of salvation its glad confession is summarized in those three pregnant words, God saves sinners. Now whenever we are confronted with great doctrinal statements in Holy Scripture, God does not leave us merely with the statement of doctrine. The end of God’s truth set before the minds of God’s people is that, understanding it, they might know its effect in their own personal experience. So the grand doctrinal themes of Ephesians, chapters 1, 2 and 3 are followed by the application of those doctrines to practical life and experience in Ephesians, chapters 4, 5 and 6. The end for which God gave his truth was not so much the instruction of our minds as the transformation of our lives. But a person cannot come directly to the life and experience, he must come mediately through the mind. And so God’s truth is addressed to the understanding and the Spirit of God operates in the understanding as the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge. He does not illuminate the mind simply that the file drawers of the mental study may be crammed full of information. The end for which God instructs the mind is that he might transform the life. (Albert Martin is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Essex Fells, New Jersey)

Closing Down Hell And Swinging Wide The Gates Of Heaven

 

Archibald Alexander

Archibald Alexander was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, 17 April 1772, and died in Princeton, New Jersey, 22 October 1851. He was licensed to preach 1 October 1791, ordained by the presbytery of Hanover 9 June 1794, and for seven years was an itinerant pastor in Charlotte and Prince Edward counties. On the organization of the theological seminary at Princeton in 1812 Dr. Alexander was unanimously chosen as the leading professor. His powers both for pulpit oratory and polemic disquisition were extraordinary. He was always busy, and from 1829 to 1850 scarcely a number of the Princeton Review appeared without an article from his pen. In the following excerpt, Alexander warns us of the doctrines of Universalism:

No benevolent being delights in the suffering of others—for its own sake. But it is one of the clearest dictates of reason, that sin should be visited with punishment. Men may differ widely in opinion as to what sin is, in regard to many particulars, but everyone sees and feels the propriety of punishing crimes, which he acknowledges to be such, in proportion to their evil. Indeed, it would be difficult to give a definition of sin which does not involve this idea; and a better definition of moral evil could not easily be given, than that it is that which deserves punishment. None are found, therefore, who, while they acknowledge a difference between virtue and vice, deny that the latter deserves punishment. And as all sinful acts are not of equal malignity or turpitude, it will be agreed by all, that, in justice, everyone ought to receive just recompense according to his deeds; and that he whose sins are less, should not suffer equally with him whose sins are greater. . . .

Whether the end of punishment is always the good of the sufferer is disputed. On this point it may here be observed that, that intuitive perception, which exists in every mind, of the connection between sin and punishment, has no respect whatever to the benefit of the guilty person. Punishment, according to the clearest and simplest idea of its nature, is some pain or loss to the person who endures it. . . .

Although we are so constituted as to perceive and feel that sin deserves punishment according to its evil, yet we have no precise standard of the degree of punishment which any sin deserves. Reason cannot tell how much pain is due to any particular offence: its clear perception goes no further than to the general proposition that it ought to be punished according to its desert, whatever that may be. Yet it has appeared exceedingly evident to most men, that although some degree of punishment follows sinful actions in this life, men do not receive here a full retribution for their crimes; since very often great transgressors are prosperous. . . .

But in our times and in our country, a new phenomenon has appeared in the religious world. A sect has risen up . . . who profess to receive the Bible as the word of God, and yet utterly deny all future punishment. . . .

[T]he primary motive which has led men to [reject future punishment] is the desire of removing from the minds of worldly and wicked men the dreadful apprehension of endless torments. I say worldly and wicked men, for the true Christian does not need this doctrine for his consolation. He is safe without it. Therefore the humble and devoted Christian is not commonly, if ever, the advocate of this system. It was a doctrine invented for the lawless and disobedient—a doctrine to bring comfort, not to penitent believers, but to impenitent sinners, who are not willing to forsake their sins. . . .

Sinners, if this doctrine be true, may dismiss all their foreboding apprehensions. They may, indeed, “eat, drink, and be merry;” and if they will only make up their minds to bear the inconvenience which sin may bring upon them here—and few are restrained from the indulgence of revenge, ambition, avarice, and lust by this consideration—they may give full swing to their corrupt inclinations, and be just as wicked as they please. And indeed, if there be no future reckoning, the principal source of uneasiness to the sinner here will be removed, namely, the fear of judgment to come. This is indeed a glorious doctrine for impenitent sinners. They may even set their Maker at defiance, for they have nothing to fear from him after this life. Nothing which they can do will either retard or hinder their eternal happiness. . . .

But it may be asked, “Why do these deceivers connect their doctrine with the BIBLE?” Would it not be much easier to take the ground of infidelity at once, and depend upon ‘reason’ for support, instead of Scripture . . . [M]ost people have a veneration for the Bible, [these deceivers] wish to avail themselves of these common sentiments in favor of the Scriptures; and by this means they get a handle for working on the credulity and prejudice of unstable souls, who are ever gaping after something new and strange in religion; “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” By the perversion of the sacred Scriptures, also, they are able to promise their followers not only exemption from future misery, but positive felicity in heaven, which they could not do on the principles of infidelity. (“Future Punishment: The Universalist Refuted”)

You Must Study The Word Of God

William Gurnall

From the desk of William Gurnall:

Christian, if you can once and for all break your engagement to the flesh and become a free man in Christ, truth will be your steadfast friend. Study God’s word faithfully as well. Satan has a habit of stopping the ears from hearing sound doctrine before he opens them to listen to corrupt. He will, as often as he can, pull a saint away from God’s Word and talk him into rejecting some point of truth. But he who rejects the truth of one doctrine, loses the blessing of them all. Paul predicted how this would happen “They shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Do not pretend you want to be lead into truth if you will not bother to study the whole Word of God. In doing so, you are no different from a child who says he wants to learn, yet plays the truant. Such a child must be disciplined. Because your Heavenly Father loves you, He will bring you back to the Word with shame and sorrow, rather than leave you trapped in Satan’s lies.

As you study and grow, be wary of new doctrine. Do not hastily accept every thing you hear, even when from the pulpit. Now I admit that to reject a doctrine simply because we have never heard of it before is foolish. But we have every right to wait and inquire before embracing it. When you hear a new notion about the truth, go to God in prayer and seek His council. Search the scriptures. Discuss it with your pastor and with other Christians whose wisdom and maturity you trust.

The truth will stand up under scrutiny. It is a fruit that never bruises or spoils from handling. But error, like a fish, begins to stink after a few days. Therefore, let new ideas sit before you, do not make a meal of them. You do not want to poison your soul with rotting mackerel when you could be feasting on manna from heaven! (The Christian in Complete Armour, 1665)

Dorothy Sayers On Deserting Doctrines

Dorthy Sayers

It is my pleasure, if you are not familiar with her already, to introduce you to Dorothy L. Sayers. Sayers is the author of some of my favorite fictional crime novels. In particular, I recommend for your reading pleasure her “Lord Peter Wimsey” series. Dorothy Sayers also became a Christian and a very articulate Christian thinker and apologist. Below, you will find an excerpt from one of her talks:

And when he is come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)

It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ. If you think I am exaggerating, ask the Army chaplains. Apart from a possible one per cent of intelligent and instructed Christians, there are three kinds of people we have to deal with.

There are the frank and open heathen, whose notions of Christianity are a dreadful jumble of rags and tags of Bible anecdote and clotted mythological nonsense. There are the ignorant Christians, who combine a mild gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics—most of these are Arian heretics. Finally, there are the more or less instructed church-goers, who know all the arguments about divorce and auricular confession and communion in two kinds, but are about as well equipped to do battle on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic as a boy with a pea-shooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns. Theologically, this country is at present in a state of utter chaos, established in the name of religious toleration, and rapidly degenerating into the flight from reason and the death of hope. We are not happy in this condition and there are signs of a very great eagerness, especially among the younger people, to find a creed to which they can give whole-hearted adherence.

This is the Church’s opportunity, if she chooses to take it. So far as the people’s readiness to listen goes; she has not been in so strong a position for at least two centuries. The rival philosophies of humanism, enlightened self-interest, and mechanical progress have broken down badly; the antagonism of science has proved to be far more apparent than real, and the happy-go-lucky doctrine of “laissez-faire” is completely discredited. But no good whatever will be done by a retreat into personal piety or by mere exhortation to a “recall to prayer.” The thing that is in danger is the whole structure of society, and it is necessary to persuade thinking men and women of the vital and intimate connection between the structure of society and the theological doctrines of Christianity.

The task is not made easier by the obstinate refusal of a great body of nominal Christians, both lay and clerical, to face the theological question. “Take away theology and give us some nice religion” has been a popular slogan for so long that we are apt to accept it, without inquiring whether religion without theology has any meaning. And however unpopular I may make myself I shall and will affirm that the reason why the Churches are discredited to-day is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology.

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