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July 2008

July 31, 2008

We come today to our third reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. You can click here to read more about this effort..

Summary

While the first week of The Religious Affections felt a bit like drinking water from a fire hose, this week’s reading seemed quite a bit more manageable. In the first half of Part II of the book, Edwards simply lays out seven signs of “nothing.” This is to say that he points out seven things that are often offered as proof of authentic spirituality when in reality these cannot be said to prove or to disprove faith.

Here are the seven characteristics he points out:

  • Intense or high affections
  • Physical manifestations
  • Excessive excitement and talkativeness
  • The way in which affections are brought about
  • That Scripture is brought to mind
  • The existence of love in the affections
  • The fact that a wide variety of affections may exist

He offers his thoughts, at some length, on each of these.

Discussion

My preliminary observation is one I also made last week (or the week before). Edwards is difficult to read, but not that difficult. He compares favorably to John Owen, at any rate! If I am able to see past the occasional piece of repetition or over-abundance of proof for his points, I can make my way through fairly easily. There were only a few times in this chapter where I really had to pause and read it over several times.

The first thing that stood out to me in this portion of the book is his comparison of our affections to those of the saints in heaven. Here he says, “the only reason why their affections are so much higher than the holy affections of saints on earth is, they see the things they are affected by more according to their truth, and have their affections more conformed to the nature of things.” Hence, “they are all as a pure heavenly flame of fire in their love, and in the greatness and strength of their joy and gratitude.” And what a joy it must be to have one’s affections raised so high. Now we see things only dimly and thus our affections will also be dim. But when we see Christ face-to-face we will worship as do the saints and angels in heaven. We will worship in complete purity. And I can hardly wait!

I also appreciated Edwards’ insistence that Scripture cannot be used as a kind of trump card when it comes to affections. “It should be considered, affections may arise on occasion of the Scripture, and not properly come from the Scripture, as the genuine fruit of the Scripture and by a right use of it; but from an abuse of it.” And this is exactly the same as preaching—just because a person preaches from the Bible does not necessarily indicate that he is honoring Scripture and using it rightly. “All that can be argued from the purity and perfection of the Word of God, with respect to experiences, is this, that those experiences which are agreeable to the Word of God are right, and cannot be otherwise; and not that those affections must be right which arise on occasion of the Word of God coming to mind.”

But the piece of the text that earned as asterisk in my book was the one dealing with counterfeits. And here is something I wish I had thought of when I was writing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment where I wrote about counterfeiting. Edwards’ point is at once obvious and profound. “It may be observed that the more excellent anything is, the more will be the counterfeits of it.” And of course this is true. Nobody counterfeits aluminum! Instead, people counterfeit was is precious and what is desirable. Because love is the chief of the graces and the source from which all true affections must flow, it is love that is most often counterfeited. “So there are perhaps no graces that have more counterfeits than love and humility, these being virtues wherein the beauty of a true Christian does especially appear.” And so we must be on guard against counterfeit love and counterfeit humility; we must watch for their presence in our own lives and be aware that they may be present in the lives of those who appear to be the most humble, most loving Christians.

Next Time

For next week’s reading we will complete Part II of the book. This will give us 30 or 40 pages to read and take us to the book’s final, longest, and most substantial part. Beginning next week we will probably need to slow down a little bit. So for next week please finish off Part II.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading.

July 31, 2008
Thursday July 31, 2008 Internet Addiction on the Rise
“Internet addiction — an online-related compulsive behavior that interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and work — is a psychological and behavioral problem that is spreading around the world, experts say.”
New at DR
Here is a list of the newest reviews over at Discerning Reader.
The Holiness of God
Next year’s Ligonier conference looks like it will be exceptional. It will focus on the holiness of God and will have feature a wonderful list of speakers.
July 30, 2008

This morning I read with joy an account of God’s abundant grace in the life of my friend Stacey. On her blog she wrote about God’s grace despite her long-lingering doubts about His goodness. “For the past couple of years, until not long ago actually, I was constantly plagued by doubts and uncertainty in the goodness of my God. I was confused and always questioning God, unable to read my Bible without doubting and virtually demanding explanation. … I would read, I would question. I would pray, I wouldn’t find comfort. Doubts and fears and uncertainties assailed me almost daily! It got to the point where I was actually afraid to read my Bible and pray, and I wouldn’t just so I could avoid questioning God.”

I know these doubts and confusions. I think all Christians do, really. I find that they tend to arise in my heart when I read or ponder particular passages of the Bible. One such story that came to mind recently is the story of Uzzah. You know the tale well, I’m sure. Uzzah is accompanying the ark of the covenant as it is brought towards Jerusalem after so many years away (1 Corinthians 13). The people rejoice as they see this manifestation of God’s presence being brought back to its place in their midst. “David and all Israel were rejoicing before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.” As they come to a certain threshing floor, the oxen stumble and the cart lurches. Uzzah, the driver of the cart, puts out his hand to steady the ark lest it fall to the ground. God reacts instantly, striking down Uzzah. Uzzah dies right there beside the cart in the presence of the people. Rejoicing must have turned to mourning and terror. David was so terrified by this act of God that he would not bring the Ark to Jerusalem, but instead placed it in the home of Obed-edom the Gittite, where it remained for months.

This act of God seems so harsh, so arbitrary. Wasn’t Uzzah just seeking to serve God by keeping His ark from crashing to the ground and perhaps becoming damaged? Was this not just a simple mistake that God should have chosen to overlook? What would compel God to act to harshly? Was it that bad of a mistake?

There are many who look at this passage and, asking “What does this tell us about God?” conclude that He is arbitrary, impulsive and unjust. And reading just this passage one could easily come to such a conclusion. Doubts may well linger.

On Sunday evening I heard a sermon that clarified this passage for me in such a helpful way. The story of Uzzah was not the point of the sermon and the preacher only just touched on it. But he quoted R.C. Sproul and what Sproul said just clicked in my mind. Suddenly it all made sense.

It is clear in the Old Testament that God gave laws regarding the ark. Every Israelite would have known what was expected of him—he would have known that he had no business touching it. Uzzah violated those laws. But there must be more to it! After all, Uzzah was helping God, by protecting the ark. How could he allow that sacred object to fall from the cart and smash to the ground, getting covered in the filth of the threshing floor? How could he allow the ark to be so defiled?

Yet here is where Uzzah went wrong; this is where we see what he did as an act of arrogance rather than compassion. The purpose of the laws regarding the ark were not to protect it from contact with mud. Rather, the laws were given to protect it from contact with sinful human hands. It was not the filth of the ground that would defile the ark, but the filth of human sin. Sproul wrote about this in his book The Holiness of God and also spoke of it in a recent keynote address at a Desiring God conference. Here is how they summarized this portion of his address on their blog:

Consider now the story of Uzzah. The ark of the covenant was being carried in a cart. This was not the way it was designed to be carried. It should have been on the shoulders of priests. When one of the oxen stumbled the ark looked like it was going to fall. Uzzah keeps it from tipping in the mud. God’s reaction was not, “Thank you, Uzzah!” No, God killed Uzzah instantly. Uzzah believed that mud would desecrate the ark, but mud is just dirt and water obeying God. Mud is not evil. God’s law was not meant to keep the ark pure from the earth, but from the dirty touch of a human hand. Uzzah presumed his hands were cleaner than the dirt. God said no.

There was nothing arbitrary about it! Mud is simply water and dirt coming together in obedience to God. There is nothing in mud that can cause it to defile God’s ark. But Uzzah was a sinful human being defiled by sin who arrogantly supposed that his hands were cleaner before God than the dirt and water. And God was forced to strike him down for an act of such spiritual arrogance.

In The Holiness of God Sproul writes, “Uzzah was not an innocent man. He was not punished without a warning. He was not punished without violating a law. There was no caprice in this act of divine judgment. There was nothing arbitrary or whimsical about what God did in that moment. But there was something unusual about it. The execution’s suddenness and finality take us by surprise and at once shock and offend us.” The reason we are shocked and surprised and offended is simply that we do not understand as we should God’s holiness, justice, sin and grace. Were we to better understand the character of God we would see immediately why God had to act as He did.

Stacey found the character of God behind the words of the Old Testament and behind the acts of God they describe. “I am still reading the minor prophets and where I once would have only seen wrath, I now see abundant grace and mercy, where I once would have been suspicious of God, I am now delighting in him, where I once would have been demanding answers from God, I am now examining my own heart for sin, where I once met with frustration and emptiness, I now find life for my soul.”

To understand the character of God is to understand His acts. To understand the character and acts of God is to find life for the soul.

July 30, 2008
Wednesday July 30, 2008 New from Sovereign Grace Music
Sovereign Grace Music has just released “Psalms.” You can listen to samples at this link or, if you click “Buy Now,” download a free song.
Feminizing the American Man
At the CBMW blog, Randy Stinson writes about the feminization of American males.
Wallpaper for your Computer
Here is a collection of August calendars to use as wallpaper for your computer.
The Andrew Fuller Center
Dr. Michael Haykin, a church historian who teaches at SBTS, has moved his blog to a new address.
Given a Shovel…
…Americans are digging themselves deeper into debt. This article at the NY Times is worth reading.
July 29, 2008

Atheism Remix by Al MohlerAs of January 1, 2008, Al Mohler was the author of one book, and it was an edited volume to which he contributed only a single chapter. By the time January 1, 2009 rolls around, Mohler will be the author of five books. The first, Culture Shift (my review), was published by Multnomah and offered biblical perspectives on cultural issues. The second, published by Crossway, is Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists. In September will come He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (by Moody) and Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance (by Multnomah).

July 29, 2008
Tuesday July 29, 2008 New Third Day
Third Day’s new album (Revelation) releases today. You can listen to it in its entirety at JesusfreakHideout.
Free from John MacArthur
Travis has news of a free MacArthur book that can be yours.
Reduction or Elimination
Denny Burk comments on a recent episode “The Albert Mohler Program” where Russell Moore moderates a discussion between Tony Campolo and Robert George. They discuss strategies in regards to abortion.
Close to Copeland
An article at OneNewsNow details how those close to health and wealth preachers benefit as much as the preacher himself.
100 Months
An article from the BBC says that we may have only 100 months to avert catastrophic global warming. This blogger says “Proposals like these published in supposedly serious forums give credence to the concerns of the rest of us that climate change hysteria is just the latest justification for socialism.”
July 28, 2008

Have you ever noticed how, when a person is looking for a house, driving slowly down a darkened street straining to see the numbers on the fronts of the homes or on the mailboxes at the end of the driveways, he automatically turns down the car radio? He does so because he instinctively knows that music or voices can be a distraction. A person cannot focus as well on the task at-hand when there is noise in the background. Noise is a distraction.

I’ve often found that when I am writing, and especially writing something that requires deep thought and consistent logic, I need to remove background distractions, whether that means I turn down the music playing from my computer or close the door to my office to drown out the sounds of squabbling or playing children. I do this without thinking about it. As I strain to collect my thoughts and to put words to them, I automatically turn down the music. I am often surprised, when I have finished my writing, to find that the music has been turned off or the door has been closed. I may have no recollection of doing so. It is a natural reaction.

Many years ago I heard a sermon, one of only a few I remember from my younger days, where the pastor suggested that we try turning off the stereos in our cars, especially when we are driving alone, and spend the time thinking or praying. He had apparently developed the practice of praying aloud when driving alone. It earned him some bemused looks from other drivers who saw him talking, apparently to himself, but because he found it a beneficial practice he swallowed his pride and continued to talk to God. I often make a decision—and it has to be a deliberate decision since I am accustomed to pressing the “play” button immediately after starting the car—to turn off the radio or CD player when I drive and find this time to be extremely valuable. My mind can process things and mull things over far better where there is silence. This is particularly true if the song I might be listening to is one that is familiar to me as then, whether I am aware of it or not, I tend to sing along. It is hard to think deeply when singing!

In our culture we have allowed ourselves to become incredibly busy. And all the time, while we are busily going through life, there is a great deal of “noise” in the background of our lives. It may be music that plays when we drive, when we work and when we play. It may be a television that is always turned on whenever we have a few minutes of downtime. Perhaps when we find fifteen spare minutes between picking the kids up from school and beginning to cook dinner we watch an episode of Judge Judy or catch a re-run of The Simpsons. The background noise may be a Blackberry that constantly beeps and buzzes as it receives emails or stock quotes, even when we are far away from the office. It may be a cell phone that keeps customers or employees in contact with us even on weekends and holidays.

It seems to me that, as society continues to move in its current direction, and as we become ever more “wired,” Christians will have to be focused and deliberate about moderating and perhaps removing some of this ever-present background noise. If we are to be thinking people, people who think deeply and deliberately about spiritual matters, we simply cannot allow our lives to be overshadowed by the noise of technology.

I wonder how much we miss because of our busyness. I am often challenged to think just how much of life I miss while I check my email for the seventh time in a given evening or while I follow along online with a football game that I really don’t care about. Technology, it seems, is a great distractor. Technology sticks its foot in the door of so many areas of my life. When I sit down to read to my children we may be interrupted by a call on my cell phone. As we head outdoors to play, I may do a quick check of my email and spend fifteen minutes typing out a reply that could easily wait until the next day; and then, while I play with the children, I am distracted, mulling over what I might have or should have said. Maybe we duck out of church before the time of fellowship is complete so we will have time to get home, make a sandwich and fluff the cushions on the couch before kickoff time.

Truthfully, I cannot think of anything that distracts us so fully and completely and consistently as technology. For too many of us, technology is a master and not a servant. It is our owner, not our possession. We let it run and rule our lives. We allow technology to determine the course of our lives, taking us where it leads. We determine our schedules with TV Guide in one hand, an iPhone calendar in the other. We invest countless hours in online friendships, many of which are shallow and insignificant, while ignoring people in our local churches and communities. Perhaps while ignoring even our own families.

Technology is a great servant but an evil master. Technology is proof of the greatness of God and something we ought to be thankful for. After all, He is the One who has endowed humans with the ingenuity that makes it all possible. But why, then, have so many of us allowed it to rule and govern our lives? Why do we allow it to play such an important, transcendent role in our lives and in our families?

It may be as simple as escapism. Technology, and especially its many applications to entertainment, provide unparalleled opportunities to escape from reality, even if only for a few minutes. Through technology we can leave the drudgery of our lives to listen to music that glorifies freedom or to watch television or film where what happens is far more thrilling than what we experience at home and in the office. The purpose of much of modern technology is to allow us to take our entertainment with us no matter where we go. MP3 players allow us to take thousands or tens of thousands of songs with us in the car or on the train. Video iPods allow us to escape from work or school for a few minutes by watching (ironically enough) The Office or nearly unlimited amounts of pornography. Portable DVD players allow us to keep the children quiet in the car while we take a vacation. No matter who or where we are, we can use technology as a brief escape.

Perhaps we use technology to hide. Maybe we hate to be alone with our thoughts. We have become so accustomed to constant noise that, like a baby who can only sleep in a room with a white noise machine softly humming, we can barely stand the sound of silence. Maybe we have lost the ability to think or even the desire to think, and so we anesthetize our intellects, we lull them into inactivity, by replacing them with noise.

Maybe we need constant noise from the cell phone or Blackberry or laptop so we feel like we are accomplishing anything. Perhaps we have bought into the lie that we need to be accomplishing something significant—something that either pays the bills or leaves us with another bill to pay—at all times. And so we take phone calls during dinner and answer emails in church. We check email compulsively and work while we should be resting.

Or it could be that we prefer the anonymity and safety of online relationships, relationships that allow us to be almost exhibitionist in what we reveal about ourselves, all the while hiding behind a mask of secrecy. We would rather tell our deepest secrets to strangers on the other side of the continent, strangers we know only by their online personas, than find and nurture deep and lasting friendships close to home.

We are busy. We are distracted. Too often we hide behind the noise. As Christians we need to ensure that we are mastering the noise, not allowing it to master us. We need to be in control of our cell phones, Blackberries, laptops and inboxes. We can and often should use this technology, but we must now allow it to control us.

July 28, 2008
Monday July 28, 2008 Googled
“Googled,” a poem by Douglas Groothuis.
An Answer for our Hope
Here is a good account of a family relying on faith in the midst of tragedy.
To Bring Light into the World
The Times of London rips on all the adulation being given to the next President of the United States. “The anointed one’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a miracle in action - and a blessing to all his faithful followers…”
Don’t Waste Your Kids
Carolyn McCulley describes what sounds to be a very interesting sermon.
Sleep
Jay Younts, blogging at the Shepherd Press blog, writes about children and sleep.