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Reading Classics Together

August 14, 2008

This morning brings us to our fifth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week’s reading was a very short one—just a few pages. I know that several of you took the opportunity to catch up with last week’s lengthy reading. So hopefully by now we are all on the same page!

Summary

In the Introduction to the book’s third part, Edwards asks the reader to keep three things in mind as he describes the distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections (and here I’m relying on Sam Storms’ excellent summaries of these points):

  1. There will never be a time or system or standard of analysis of such issues that will yield infallible results. We will never be able to claim that we can, without error, discern who is a believer and who is not.
  2. We should not expect to find biblical signs that will enable a backslidden person to reassure himself that he is in a good way with God. It is God’s design that backslidden persons should have no assurance of their salvation.
  3. We should not expect that the signs by which we hope to differentiate between true and false affections will ever prove sufficient to convince those who are hypocrites and who have been deceived about their salvation.

Keeping these things in mind, we’ll turn in the following weeks to the twelve signs which will allow us to distinguish true religion from false religion.

Discussion

Because we read only a few pages, there was not a lot of content to interact with this week. However, there was one section that jumped off the pages at me. I very much appreciated Edwards’ exhortation that it is God’s design that men obtain assurance not by thinking a lot about assurance and not by a process of rigorous self-examination, but primarily through “mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.” So assurance is obtained less by self-examination and more by action.

Edwards gives the example of the Apostle Paul and says, “He obtained assurance of winning the prize, more by running than by considering. The swiftness of his pace did more towards his assurance of a conquest than the strictness of his examination.” This is such an important point and I am guessing it is one Edwards will return to later in the book. When we experience moments of concern or doubt about our salvation, so often we can spend time thinking about ourselves and looking primarily inward for assurance of our faith. But the Bible makes it clear that we will be known by what we do and what we are. So we need to look outwards to see if we are putting sin to death and if we are living in the way Christ tells us to live. Here we will see whether or not we are being conformed to His image and whether our not our trust is in Him.

Finally, I was glad to see Edwards affirm that we can never know perfectly whether or not another person is saved. “It was never God’s design to give us any rules by which we may certainly know who of our fellow professors are His, and to make a full and clear separation between sheep and goats.” God has reserved this infallible knowledge for Himself and so we look for distinguishing characteristics, always knowing that we are so easily fooled.

Next Time

For next week we will read the first distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. This is a long section (around 40 pages in my edition) but I don’t see any real benefit in dividing it into two readings. So please read that section for next Thursday. Because it is a lengthy reading, you may wish to begin in the next day or two!

Your Turn

As always, 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. To this point the discussion has been excellent!

August 07, 2008

This morning brings us to our fourth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. You can click here to read more about this effort. If you have not been reading with us and would like to participate, this is as good a time as any to join in. Next week we’ll begin the real meat of the book and what has come before, though important, shouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of the rest of it.

Summary

This week we finished Part III in a reading that was probably too long. Here Edwards continues laying out his signs of “nothing.” This is to say that he points out things that are often offered as proof of authentic spirituality when in reality these cannot be said to prove or to disprove faith.

These were the seven characteristics he pointed out in the first half of the section:

  • 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

In this second part he adds to this list:

  • Comfort, joy and convictions of conscience
  • Spending much time in religious activity or worship
  • Praising God
  • Confidence in the experience of the divine
  • That true Christians believe these people to be truly saved

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

Discussion

This section, though not exceedingly difficult to read, was undoubtedly too long. Forty pages is a tall assignment when it comes to Edwards. We’ll try to keep things more manageable in the future. As much as I am enjoying the book, I am looking forward to getting to the real heart of the book starting next week. At that time we’ll turn from the negative signs to the positive ones. I am prepared for a difficult, soul-searching time! But for today, let me offer some scattered thoughts on this week’s reading.

As I read this week, I kept thinking of that so-called revival in Florida. I’ve seen many video clips of what is going on there and it is amazing how often they parallel the marks of “nothing” Edwards discusses in this book. There are high emotions and affections, physical manifestations, excitement, Scripture, joy, worship, praise, experience of God…but all of these things may mean nothing! I thought of this revival as I read Edwards words that “[God] commonly first manifested Himself in a way which was terrible, and then by those things that were comfortable.” In God’s extraordinary revelations of Himself in Scripture, He often appeared first in a terrifying way and only then in a comfortable way. Yet in what passes for revival today, we often find that God appears only in a way that seems so very human, so very comforting.

I appreciated Edwards’ talk of the sufficiency of Scripture. “Which should be enough with Christians, who are willing to have the Word of God rather than their own philosophy, and experiences, and conjectures, as their sufficient and sure guide in things of this nature.” Too often Christians, or those who claim to be Christians, force Scripture and experience into opposition with each other. And when that happens experience always seems to win. But Edwards insists, as any Protestant should, that Scripture must be our “norming norm.” We cannot allow anything to diminish Scripture’s importance or to downplay its sufficiency. As much as we love experiences of God, we must understand that these are secondary means and that Scripture is primary.

I enjoyed this brief but profound sentence: “Nor does the Spirit of God proceed discernibly in the steps of a particular established scheme, one half so often as is imagined.” Even the most serious student of God must allow that God is in no way constrained by what we think we know of Him. What He says He will do, He will do; but what He tells us is only the smallest glimpse of His character.

And finally, closer to the end of the chapter, I had to highlight this (which is a great section but should have caused Edwards to fail English class): “There are no other principles which human nature is under the influence of, that will ever make men conscientious, but one of those two, fear or love; and therefore, if one of these should not prevail as the other decays, God’s people, when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep, would be lamentably exposed indeed: and therefore God has wisely ordained, that these two opposite principles of love and fear should rise and fall, like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises the other sinks.” In explanation he says, “Fear is cast out by the Spirit of God no other way than by the prevailing of love; nor is fear ever maintained but when love is asleep.” Thus a person who would seek to have assurance of his salvation must have a heart stirred by the love of God. When love is absent, it is replaced by fear, just as light, when absent, is replaced with darkness.

There are many other passages I highlighted, but these will suffice for now!

Next Time

For next week’s reading we will complete only a short section—the Introduction to Part III. In my Banner of Truth edition this runs from page 120-124. Simply read from the beginning of Part III until immediately before the first mark of truly gracious and holy affections.. This will give people a chance to catch up and will also keep us from reading an exceptionally large section the week after.

Your Turn

As always, 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. To this point the discussion has been excellent!

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 24, 2008

Today we come to the second week of reading through The Religious Affections. You can click here to read more about this effort.

This weeks’ reading really marked my first significant attempt at plowing through a substantial part of Edwards’ work. While I began with some trepidation, I have to say that it wasn’t as bad as I may have feared. Sure the language was a bit obscure and sure Edwards often uses several sentences when he could probably get away with just one, but overall I didn’t find that it was too difficult. Tough, yes; impossible, no.

Summary

Our assigned reading for this week was nothing less than the entirety of Part 1. While the reading was long, I think it made sense to read it as a unit rather than dividing it into two smaller portions. This makes sense logically as well as in terms of timing since it will take a very long time to read this book if we do only 15 pages at a time. In this first part, Edwards writes about the nature of the Affections and their importance in religion.

Having said that, a reader who is participating in this reading challenge sent along this comic. I definitely feel some of this:


Edwards first seeks to define true religion, saying, “true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” He defines the affections in this way: “The affections are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” He bases this definition on the understand that the human soul has two faculties, one of which he terms understanding. This is the faculty that allows the human soul to discern, view and judge. The second faculty he terms inclination or will or heart. It is this one that allows the soul not to just perceive and view things, but to incline or disincline it. Holy affections are those that are distinguished by “vigorous exercise of the inclination and will towards divine objects.”

The bulk of the chapter is given to ten biblical proofs that true religion lies much in the affections. It concludes with three inferences or applications from this doctrine.

Discussion

This was a long and dense chapter but one of uneven importance, meaning that there were some portions that were more important than others. I’m grateful for this since otherwise I don’t know that I could have absorbed very much! I am going to provide thoughts on just a few areas that jumped out at me.

After providing his ten biblical proofs that true religion requires true affection, Edwards summarizes by saying, “It is evident that religion consists so much in affection, as that without holy affection there is no true religion; and no light in the understanding is good which does not produce holy affection in the heart: no habit or principle in the heart is good which has no such exercise; and no external fruit is good which does not proceed from such exercises.” All of this to say that an affectionless Christian is no Christian at all. While the presence of affection does not necessarily prove a person to be a Christian, the complete absence proves that he cannot be one. Just last night my son asked how he can know that he is a Christian and here Edwards gives us a mark to look for. Is your heart stirred by these affections? If it is, that may point you to the reality that you are saved; if it is not, it will point you to the sad reality that you are unsaved. Affections are too close to the heart of the faith to be completely absent. At one point Edwards says, “I am bold to assert that there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conversation of any person, by anything of a religious nature that ever he read, heard or saw, that had not his affections moved.”

Edwards’ second inference about the affections is a logical one. If true religion lies in the affections, we must pursue those things that tend to move our affections. Here he points to prayer, preaching and praise. True Christians will necessarily wish to pursue such means of grace to stir our hearts and to grow in our affections. The application is obvious: do you find that your affections are tied to such means of grace? Is listening to a sermon a delight or a chore? Is prayer a duty or a delight?

The chapter’s final exhortation is one worth pondering. “So has God disposed things, in the affair of our redemption, and in his glorious dispensations, revealed to us in the gospel, as though everything were purposely contrived in such a manner as to have the greatest possible tendency to reach our hearts in the most tender part, and move our affections most sensibly and strongly. How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to dust that we are no more affected!” And really, what excuse do we have for being so little affected by the great things revealed to us? What a hard-hearted people we are…

Next Time

Our reading for next week will take us from the beginning of Part 2 up to the end of the seventh (VII) point. So stop when you hit point VIII and see “Nothing can certainly be determined concerning the nature of the affections by this, that comforts and joys seem to follow awakenings and convictions of conscience, in a certain order.” In my book (the Banner of Truth edition) this will take us from page 54 until page 78.

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 17, 2008

This morning we kick off the fourth round of Reading Classics Together, an effort in which we read some of the great Christian classics together and convene here once a week to discuss them. In the past we’ve read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. We’ve had hundreds of people participate by reading the books together and discussing them each week. All along we’ve been reading some of the classics of the Christian faith—books many of us wish to read but books few of us have ever made time for. And now we begin on the fourth classic—The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. Well over 100 people have agreed to participate in reading this book together…and it all begins today. This is going to be our toughest challenge yet, I’m am sure!

“Read Religious Affections, at all costs read Religious Affections! And anything else you can get your hands on by this great saint.”
—John Piper
I generally follow a certain format in posting about the chapters we are reading, but will deviate from that today. The assigned reading for this morning was simply the book’s Preface. The Preface is short and contains little of real substance, but I guess we need to begin somewhere! Edwards uses it to state the purpose for which he has written this book. He will seek to answer this question: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards?

Sam Storms summarizes the book’s purpose by saying, “He endeavored to identify what constitutes true and authentic spirituality. Or, to put it in the form of a question: Are there certain features or characteristics in human thought and behavior that serve as ‘signs’ of the saving activity and presence of the Spirit of God? Again, is it possible for us to know with any degree of certainty whether or not a person who claims to have experienced the saving grace of God is truly born again?” This is essentially the same question said in many ways and it is the question we expect Edwards to answer in the text of this book. We will do well to keep this question in mind each week as we give ourselves to reading The Religious Affections. And it is an important one to answer for, as Edwards says, “it is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ.” From the earliest days of the church until today, the devil has done much damage to the cause of Christ in the world by men and women deluded into thinking that they are Christians when they are not.

It is my hope and expectation that this book will arm us to better discern the state of our own hearts and to see and understand the defining characteristics of those who belong to Christ. To quote Edwards, “It greatly concerns us to use our utmost endeavors clearly to discern, and have it well settled and established, wherein true religion does consist.”

Next Week

Next week we will begin to discuss the heart of the book and I’d suggest we read all of Part I. In my book this comes to 32 pages—a rather long reading, but I think it makes sense to attempt to read it as a unit rather than dividing it rather artificially. I’ll try to keep future readings shorter since I know that 32 pages of Edwards may prove a challenge (or a chore!) but please bear with me. Just read five pages per day through the week and you’ll have no trouble keeping up.

Would You Like to Participate?

If this is the first you’ve heard of Reading Classics Together and it sounds like something you’d like to participate in, we’d be glad to have you along. I will be reading from the Banner of Truth edition of the work, but you can follow along in any of the unabridged editions (of which there are many available). For technophiles, there is a Kindle edition available for only a couple of dollars. For those who are not interested in spending money, CCEL has the complete text available in HTML, PDF and other formats right here.

If you wish to purchase a printed copy of the book, you can do so from Amazon, Westminster Books, Monergism Books or just about anywhere else good Christian books are sold.

We are only a few pages into the book so it’s definitely not too late for you to begin reading with us.

June 26, 2008

To this point the “Reading Classics Together” effort has gone very well, at least by my assessment. We’ve read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. We’ve had hundreds of people participate by reading the books together and discussing them each week. All along we’ve been reading some of the classics of the Christian faith—books many of us wish to read but books few of us have ever made time for. And now it is time to decide on the next classic we’ll read together.

There are two names that were continually in my mind as I pondered where we should go next: John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. The potential trouble with both of these men is that their seminal works are, in a word, long. If we are to read a long work I wonder if I may just be reading alone by the end. Regardless, I have decided that works of this quality will be worth it. And so I am proposing that our next book be The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards (all 350+ pages of it).

Here is what the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University says about the work:

A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections stands as Edwards’s most penetrating interpretation of the awakenings of his time, not to mention one of the most penetrating of any time. As in Some Thoughts, he argued against the extremes of emotionalism on the one hand and intellectualism on the other. Affections were essential to true religion, but they had to be tested. First, Edwards lays out his religious psychology of affections, which encompassed both understanding and will and involved the total range of human faculties. Answering critics of the revival, Edwards then discusses at length a series of “negative” signs, or unreliable criteria for judging the graciousness of affections. Finally, and most famously, he provided twelve “positive” signs for self-examination. The twelfth sign, which Edwards gave the fullest treatment, was the importance of Christian practice as evidence of the state of the heart. Here, for Edwards, was the ultimate standard for visible sainthood.

It is going to be a demanding read, and something of a long one, but I know the payoff will be worth every second spent in the book.

I will be reading from the Banner of Truth edition of the work, but you can follow along in any of the unabridged editions (of which there are many available). For technophiles, there is a Kindle edition available for only a couple of dollars. For those who are not interested in spending money, CCEL has the complete text available in HTML, PDF and other formats right here.

If you wish to purchase a printed copy of the book, you can do so from Amazon, Westminster Books, Monergism Books or just about anywhere else good Christian books are sold.

We will target July 17 as our start date. That gives you three full weeks to secure a copy and to read the Introduction and Preface. Then, every Thursday following, we’ll read a portion of the text and discuss it together.

It would be a helpful gauge of participation if you’d post a comment on this post indicating that you’d like to read this book with us. So if you are going to read along, let me know, either with a comment or a quick email. I’m looking forward to reading this next classic with you!

June 19, 2008

We have come to the final chapter of the The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, the third classic we’ve read together here. It has gone very quickly! If you have not been reading along with us it is obviously too late to start now, but stayed tuned for the next book we’ll read together (I will announce it here in a couple of weeks).

Summary

The seventh chapter looks at the final words Jesus spoke while on the cross. Having spoken words of forgiveness, salvation, affection, anguish, suffering and victory, he cries forth one final time, this time with words of contentment. Luke 23:46 describes this. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.”

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. Here we see the Saviour back again in communion with the Father.
  2. Here we see a designed contrast.
  3. Here we see Christ’s perfect yieldedness to God.
  4. Here we see the absolute uniqueness of the Saviour.
  5. Here we see the place of eternal security.
  6. Here we see the blessedness of communion with God.
  7. Here we see the heart’s true haven.

Discussion

As usual, I’d like to focus on just a couple of the points in this chapter that stood out to me. As with many of these sayings on the cross, I’ve spent a good deal of time in the past thinking and writing about this one. I’ve thought deeply about what it means that Jesus commended His spirit to the Father and what it means that He “dismissed His spirit” as another of the gospel writers terms it. But I learned more in reading this chapter. I enjoyed Pink’s section detailing how this saying points to the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus’ life was not in the end taken from Him; instead, Jesus laid it down. Jesus had the power to lay down His life and, as we saw three days later, He had the power to take it again. Pink did a great job of tying together the different expressions of this in the gospels, showing how this was a word of power, of authority and of contentment. Jesus willingly gave His life for the Father’s glory and in the end, it was Jesus who surrendered His spirit when His work was done.

And how could the Christian’s heart not be uplifted by section showing how these words show the blessedness of communion with God. Here was Christ, on the cross, in utter agony, in the worst physical trial imaginable, and yet He still enjoyed communion with the Father.

This is one of the sweetest truths brought out by our text. It is our privilege to enjoy communion with God at all times, irrespective of outward circumstances or conditions. Communion with God is by faith, and faith is not affected by the things of sight. No matter how unpleasant your outward lot may be, my reader, it is your unspeakable privilege to enjoy communion with God. Just as the three Hebrews enjoyed fellowship with the Lord in the midst of the fiery furnace, as Daniel did in the lion’s den, as Paul and Silas did in the Philippian jail, as the Saviour did on the cross, so may you wherever you are! Christ’s head rested on a crown of thorns, but beneath were the Father’s hands!

And what a beautiful truth this is. Even (or perhaps especially) in life’s greatest trials, in its most terrifying and terrible moments, we can be assured of our fellowship with the Creator. Nothing can separate us from that sweet communion.

And finally, I’ll make brief mention of the final section which discusses the heart’s true haven. I don’t think I could do better than to quote Pink’s words:

These words then may be taken to express the believer’s care for his soul, that it may be safe, what ever becomes of the body. God’s saint who has come nigh to death exercises few thoughts about his body, where it shall be laid, or how it shall be disposed of; he trusts that into the hands of his friends. But as his care all along has been his soul, so he thinks of it now, and with his last breath commits it to the custody of God. It is not, “Lord Jesus receive my body, take care of my dust;” but “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” - Lord, secure the jewel when the casket is broken.

The spirit is the treasure. May we all follow the Saviour’s example and commend our souls to the care of the Father.

Next Time

There is no next time, at least with this book. In the next week or two I’ll announce the next book we will read together. As always, you can feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions for future reading. I think we’ll probably go back in time and try to read an older classic for our next round. I’d really like to find a manageable portion of Edwards or Calvin that we could do—but obviously many of their works are just too long for this format.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this chapter. 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. Also feel free to share your reflections about the book as a whole.

June 12, 2008

We are nearing the end of the The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross and by next week we will be finished. It seems to have gone by very quickly. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. If you have not been reading along with us it is probably a bit too late to start now, but stayed tuned for the next book we’ll read together (I will announce it here in a couple of weeks).

Summary

The sixth chapter looks at what may well be the best-known words Jesus spoke on the cross: “It is finished.” A.W. Pink rightly calls these “words of victory.” They were not words of surrender that proved Jesus had been defeated and was succumbing to death. Instead, they were words of triumph as Jesus accomplished the work He had come to the world to do.

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. Here we see the accomplished fulfillment of all the prophecies which had been written of him ere he should die.
  2. Here we see the completion of his sufferings.
  3. Here we see the goal of the incarnation is reached.
  4. Here we see the accomplishment of the atonement.
  5. Here we see the end of our sins.
  6. Here we see the fulfillment of the law’s requirements.
  7. Here we see the destruction of Satan’s powers.

Discussion

These are words I have pondered more than any of the others Jesus spoke while on the cross. As with the other sayings, they are ones whose meaning we could never exhaust. If I were to lay aside every responsibility in life and spend the rest of my days pondering just these words, I’m sure I could never arrive at the complete depth of their meaning. No greater cry has been uttered in all of history. No more important cry has been uttered. This is the very center point of human history.

The first area that jumped out at me in this week’s reading was what Pink put under the heading of “Here we see the end of our sins.” Here he makes the distinction between sin in and sin on. “If then God laid my iniquities on Christ, they are no longer on me. Sin there is in me, for the old Adamic nature remains in the believer till death or till Christ’s return, should he come before I die, but there is no sin on me.” The distinction is crucial. If sin were upon me, I would be under its curse and judgment. Its guilt and condemnation and penalty would still be upon me. But when Christ cried out “It is finished” He indicated that He had borne my sin and that it was no longer upon me. Sin still indwells me, to be sure, but the work of Christ has removed it from hanging over me with its condemning power. Pink points back to the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament to illustrate this. It is a powerful section that aptly describes the end of our sin. Thank God that He took that sin and rescued me out from under it.

The other area that stood out was the section describing the destruction of Satan’s power. This is an aspect of Christ’s work I particularly love to ponder. When Christ declared “It is finished,” Satan and all his host must have rejoiced. “To human appearances it looked like the moment of his greatest triumph, yet in reality, it was the hour of his ultimate defeat.” They must have thought Jesus was dead and finished but in reality this moment marked the ultimate defeat of evil. This would only become clear three days later when Christ triumphed over death, but already the work necessary to destroy evil had been fully and finally accomplished. We now properly regard the devil as a vanquished foe. Though he continues to make his presence felt in the world and though evil remains, he is in full retreat and his time is drawing to a close. We have no reason to fear him, for Christ has conquered.

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the seventh and final chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of contentment.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this chapter. 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.

June 05, 2008

This morning those of us who are reading some Christian classics together are going to be looking at the fifth chapter of A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Before we begin, do allow me to apologize for not posting about the chapter last week. When I go to conferences my intentions are always good, but somehow I can rarely do all the things I think I can. Such was the case last week.

Summary

Jesus’ fifth saying on the cross is the word of suffering. According to John 19:28, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” This is the simplest of Jesus’ sayings from the cross and could easily be seen as His least significant. Yet in this chapter Pink shows that even such a simple statement is loaded with meaning.

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. Here we have an evidence of Christ’s humanity.
  2. Here we see the intensity of Christ’s sufferings.
  3. Here we see our Lord’s deep reverence for the Scriptures.
  4. Here we see the Saviour’s submission to the Father’s will.
  5. Here we see how Christ can sympathize with His suffering people.
  6. Here we see the expression of a universal need.
  7. Here we see the enunciation of an abiding principle.

Discussion

By way of preamble, I should say that I was challenged by this chapter, perhaps more than even the others, to be willing to look deeply into even Scripture’s smallest parts. This little phrase we are studying today could so easily be overlooked or could be seen merely as the thirsty cry of a tortured individual. And while it was that, Pink shows well that it was also much more. It is too easy for me, I think, to look only at the most obvious, most surface meanings without digging deeper into the text. Pink is a master of digging deep.

As is usually the case, there were a couple of Pink’s points in this chapter that stood out to me more than the others. The first was his discussion of these words pointing to Jesus’ humanity. While the Trinity is an impossible concept to grasp fully, I am well aware that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. The Bible teaches this with clarity and there is no reason to disbelieve it, even if we cannot get our minds around it. Somehow seeing Jesus’ cry for a drink as an aspect of His humanity touched me. Somehow it shows Him to be so human, so fully human. This comes even more into focus as we later ponder the fact that Jesus could so easily have called forth water to assuage his thirst. He was, after all, the one who created the world! But as Pink points out, none of His miracles were done for His sake, and this would be true as well on the cross. He suffered humbly as one who was fully human, even while being fully God. What a wonder!

The second area that stood out was the discussion of this saying being a sign of Christ’s submission to the Father’s will. He hung on the cross and He hung on the cross with parched lips, in order to be obedient to the Father’s will. He was willing to suffer in order to please and to obey the Father. In this case His Father required that the words of Scripture be fulfilled and Jesus was willing and eager to do so. “In death, as in life, Scripture was for the Lord Jesus the authoritative Word of the living God. In the temptation He had refused to minister to His need apart from that Word by which He lived, and so now He makes known His need, not that it might be ministered unto but that Scripture might be fulfilled.” What an amazing thing that Christ, fully man, was so focused on obeying and glorifying God even while in such a state of agony. Never did Christ forget His mission.

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the sixth chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of victory.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this chapter. 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.

May 22, 2008

This morning those of us who are reading some Christian classics together are going to be looking at the fourth chapter of A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together.

Summary

Jesus’ fourth saying on the cross is the word of anguish. While hanging on the cross and facing the wrath of God, just cried out to His Father. This is what Matthew tells us in chapter 27 and verse 46 of his gospel. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. Here we see the awfulness of sin and the character of its wages.
  2. Here we see the absolute holiness and inflexible justice of God.
  3. Here we see the explanation of Gethsemane.
  4. Here we see the Savior’s unswerving fidelity to God.
  5. Here we see the basis of our salvation.
  6. Here we see the supreme evidence of Christ’s love for us.
  7. Here we see the destruction of the “larger hope.”

Discussion

Before I began reading the chapter, I spent some time just silently meditating on these words of Jesus. They are words I’ve thought about many times in life and ones which deserve much meditation. They are words for which we can never exhaust and never truly understand the depth of their meaning. Quite needless to say, my meditations took me to nowhere near the depth they took A.W. Pink.

The first thing that stood out to me as I read Pink’s reflections on these words of Jesus is the inadequacies of film to portray Jesus’ suffering. Countless millions of people spent a couple of hours watching The Passion of the Christ and there they saw Jesus get beaten to a pulp. In as much as Mel Gibson showed us Jesus’ physical sufferings, the movie was reasonably accurate. But the fact remains that no movie could describe the greater sufferings of Jesus, for they were inward and spiritual. Though His body was beaten and bruised, and though He felt incredible physical anguish, such has been the lot of millions of men through the history of the world. I dare say there have been many who have suffered worse physical torment than Jesus did. But the primary anguish Jesus faced was separation from God and the pouring out of God’s wrath upon Him. And how can we adequately describe this with words or portray it in film? It is impossible; it cannot happen. How can film portray the love and the anguish as they met on the cross? “These words of unequaled gift were both the fullest manifestation of divine love and the most awe-inspiring display of God’s inflexible justice.” What so many miss as they consider the cross is the actions of the Father and the awful toll this took on His Son. There is more to the cross than just the physical and we must make this clear!

The second thing that gripped me was Pink’s description of the various manifestations of man’s sin. “In its first manifestation it took the form of suicide, for Adam destroyed his own spiritual life; next we see it in the form of fratricide—Cain slaying his own brother; but at the Cross the climax is reached in deicide—man crucifying the Son of God.” Does this not show us on a macro scale the nature of sin, that it grows, always demanding more? A small sin quickly becomes a greater sin; soon nothing but the ultimate sins will please us. And such was the case when man reached the penultimate in sin—putting to death his own Creator.

Finally, I was challenged by Pink’s word that we must see the cross from at least four different viewpoints. “The tragedy of Calvary must be viewed from at least four different viewpoints. At the cross man did a work: he displayed his depravity by taking the Perfect One and with “wicked hands” nailing him to the tree. At the cross Satan did a work: he manifested his insatiable enmity against the woman’s seed by bruising his heel. At the cross the Lord Jesus did a work: he died the Just for the unjust that he might bring us to God. At the cross God did a work: he exhibited his holiness and satisfied his justice by pouring out his wrath on the one who was made sin for us.” This is all true, I am sure, but will require a lot more meditation before I would want to comment on it very much. How wondrous is the cross! It could be our meditation from now until the Lord’s return and we would still never exhaust its riches or its significance.

This was another chapter filled with gospel truths. This book is a gold mine.

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the fifth chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of suffering.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this chapter. 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.

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