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Reading Classics Together

November 04, 2010

This week’s chapter of The Holiness of God is titled “The Trauma of Holiness.” I love the title; it introduces an immediate question that just begs for an answer: If holiness is so good, how could it be in any way traumatic? It’s a clever little hook.

Summary

Sproul begins with the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. At the conclusion of the story he points to the disciples’ reaction to the fact that Jesus could simply speak and calm the storm: they were terrified. And here he makes an application that really struck me. “Now that the sea was calm, the fear of the disciples increased.” Sproul answers, “In the power of Christ they met something more frightening than they had ever met in nature. They were in the presence of the holy. … It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or to fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” He points as well to a rather interesting little point. “The words the disciples spoke after Jesus calmed the sea are very revealing. They cried out, ‘Who is this?’ The King James Version expresses the question like this: ‘What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ The question was ‘What manner of man is this?’ They were asking a question of kind.” In other words, they were looking to put Jesus in a category, realizing that he was in a class all by himself. They saw that he was holy. And this holiness traumatized them.

A little later in the chapter Sproul looks to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who were regarded as the holiest of the holy. They were revered as men who were singularly pure, as men who drew near to God by their fastidious obedience to his every law.

Through their singular devotion to the pursuit of holiness, the Pharisees achieved a level of popular respect for piety and righteousness that was without parallel. They had no peers. They were accorded lofty human praise. They were welcomed to privileged seats in the banquet halls. They were admired as experts in religion. Their uniforms were decorated with the tassels of their exalted ranks. They could be seen practicing their virtue in public places. They fasted where everyone could see them. They bowed their heads in solemn prayer on the street corners and restaurants. No one missed the clang of the coin in the beggar’s cup when the Pharisees game alms. Their “holiness” was plain for everyone to see. Jesus called them hypocrites.

But then there was Jesus, who was so different from the Pharisees.

October 28, 2010

Today, in this effort to read some of the classic works of the Christian faith, we come to chapter three of R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Sproul introduces the chapter this way: “Here we are, already in the third chapter of this book, and I still have not defined what it means to be holy.” So in this week’s reading he tries to move us toward a definition.

Summary

But that is not an easy task. In fact, he says:

I wish I could postpone the task even further. The difficulties involved in defining holiness are vast. There is so much to holiness, and it is so foreign to us that the task seems almost impossible. In a very real sense, the word holy is a foreign word. But even when we run up against foreign words, we hope that a foreign language dictionary can rescue us by providing a clear translation. The problem we face, however, is that the word holy is foreign to all languages. No dictionary is adequate to the task.

One of the difficulties is that the word holy is used in different ways throughout Scripture. At times it points toward pure, at other times it points toward separate and at other times it points toward transcendent. “When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way.” All of which is to say that there is a mystery to holiness. It is so foreign to us that we cannot fully understand it. We can see glimpses of it, but we cannot wrap our minds around it.

I could not adequately summarize all Sproul says about the deeper meanings of the word, so I will leave you to read that on your own. And seriously, if you aren’t reading the book with us, you should at least pick it up and read it on your own.

October 21, 2010

This is now week 2 of this project in which we are reading together through R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Before we discuss this week’s chapter, I wanted to make you aware of an interesting interview with Sproul on this very subject. It comes from a 1990 issue of Tabletalk magazine and, if you are interested, you can read it here: Striking a Chord in the Heart of of the Believer.

Summary

This week’s chapter is titled “Holy, Holy, Holy” and in it Sproul turns to the pages of Isaiah (Isaiah 6 in particular) and the prophet’s experience with coming into the presence of God. He looks first to those seraphim in God’s presence who continually cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy that the whole earth is full of His glory.

God is not just holy, but holy, holy, holy. Using a rhetorical device of the Hebrew language, the Bible expresses the extent of God’s holiness by emphasizing it through repetition.

Isaiah was a good man, it seems, a noble one. And yet before the presence of God he was completely undone.

If ever there was a man if integrity, it was Isaiah ben Amoz. He was a whole man, a together type of a fellow. He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed- morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.

Called by God in dramatic fashion, Isaiah was set apart for his task despite being a sinful man, a man who had a filthy mouth. And yet God chose to cleanse him and to set him apart to this most difficult, thankless ministry. A seraph pressed a hot coal to Isaiah’s lips. “His was no cruel and unusual punishment. A second of burning flesh on the lips brought a healing that would extend to eternity. In a moment, the disintegrated prophet was whole again. His mouth was purged. He was clean.”

October 14, 2010

At long last it is time to read another classic work of the Christian faith, and to read it together. This time around we are reading R.C. Sproul’s book The Holiness of God. Of all the books we’ve read in this Reading Classics program, this is the one that has been written most recently (1985). And yet there is little doubt that it is a classic, even if we must add the word “modern” to the monicker. It’s a modern classic and one destined to stand the test of time, I’m sure.

Over the next 11 weeks we are going to be reading this book together. If you are interested in participating, you are free to do so. All you need to do is find a copy of the book and read (or listen—use coupon code CHALLIES10 to get the audio book for just $2.98) along with us. Check in here every Thursday for your chance to reflect on the book or simply to read the reflections of other participants. It’s that simple.

And away we go…

Summary

This week’s reading was chapter 1 which is titled “The Holy Grail.” Sproul begins with a little biographical snippet in which he relates a time in his Christian life when he became aware of God’s holiness. He says that until this time he was a Unitarian of sorts, someone who loved Jesus but who had not yet come to love or appreciate the Father. And yet in a moment he was given a sense of the majestic holiness of God. And his life was forever changed.

In this initial chapter Sproul starts to introduce this God, this Father. He first introduces him as the creator, as the one who existed before anything else existed. He contrasts the beauty and power of God’s creative act with the folly of believing that all that is came out of nothing. “Some modern theorists believe that the world was created by nothing. Note the difference between saying that the world was created from nothing and saying that the universe was created by nothing. In this modern view the rabbit comes out of the hat without a rabbit, a hat, or even a magician. The modern view is far more miraculous than the biblical view. It suggests that nothing created something. More than that, it holds that nothing created everything—quite a feat indeed!”

October 02, 2010

Last week I told you about the next classic work of the Christian faith that I’d like to read along with you. You can see that post here. Today I simply want to remind you about this, to see who else would like to participate (Thanks to the 100+ who already siad they’re interested!) and to remind all of you to go out and buy the book.

The format of this program is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

The Holiness of GodThe next book I want to read with you is R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. I am convinced that this is destined to be a classic in its own right—one that will be read 50 and 100 years from now. James Montgomery Boice agreed saying, “It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”

Now celebrating 25 years of publication, this classic can help you better understand the biblical picture of God’s awesome holiness and why it is so foundational to God-centered, God-honoring theology and Christian living. In The Holiness of God , R.C. Sproul demonstrates that encountering God’s holy presence is a terrifying experience. Dr. Sproul argues that this struggle is nonetheless necessary because it is the only way to cure our propensity to trust in ourselves and our own righteousness for salvation.

This is the kind of book that every Christian should read and the kind that is ideally suited for reading more than once. So if you have read it before, don’t think that means you can’t read it with us again.

Let’s start reading together on October 14. That gives you just about two more weeks to find a copy of the book, something that will not prove difficult since it is very widely available. For October 14 please get ahold of a copy of the book and read the first chapter. And then simply return to the blog on that day and we can compare notes.

Now, you need to get a copy. Westminster Books has it at $9.09. Amazon has it at $10.07 or $9.57 for the Kindle. And if you’d like to go straight to the source, to Ligonier Ministries, you can find it there for $8.40 or in the exclusive pocket-size edition for just $4.00 (It is also avaiable in Spanish, if you prefer).

So go ahead and get yourself a copy. And then let me know if you intend to read along with us. Just leave a comment…

September 23, 2010

Several years ago I introduced a program called Reading Classics Together. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes and, most recently, in trying something a little bit different, Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore. That is quite a solid collection of classics! I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too.

The format is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

The Holiness of GodIt has been a few weeks now since we finished reading the last classic together and that makes it time to announce the next book we’ll be reading. Ignoring the brief break we took to read a biography, the last classic we read together was from the Puritan era. I thought it would make sense to zoom forward in history to almost the present day. The next book I want to read with you is R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. I am convinced that this is destined to be a classic in its own right—one that will be read 50 and 100 years from now. James Montgomery Boice agreed saying, “It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”

Now celebrating 25 years of publication, this classic can help you better understand the biblical picture of God’s awesome holiness and why it is so foundational to God-centered, God-honoring theology and Christian living. In The Holiness of God , R.C. Sproul demonstrates that encountering God’s holy presence is a terrifying experience. Dr. Sproul argues that this struggle is nonetheless necessary because it is the only way to cure our propensity to trust in ourselves and our own righteousness for salvation.

This is the kind of book that every Christian should read and the kind that is ideally suited for reading more than once. So if you have read it before, don’t think that means you can’t read it with us again.

Let’s start reading together on October 14. That gives you three weeks to find a copy of the book, something that will not prove difficult since it is very widely available. For October 14 please get ahold of a copy of the book and read the first chapter. And then simply return to the blog on that day and we can compare notes.

Now, you need to get a copy. Westminster Books has it at $13.99. Amazon has it at $10.07 or $9.57 for the Kindle. And if you’d like to go straight to the source, to Ligonier Ministries, you can find it there for $8.40 or in the exclusive pocket-size edition for just $4.00 (It is also avaiable in Spanish, if you prefer).

So go ahead and get yourself a copy. And then let me know if you intend to read along with us. Just leave a comment…

September 02, 2010

Today we come to our final reading on the life of Spurgeon. This book has been a quick read, but an enjoyable one, I think.

This week’s chapters focused on the final days of Spurgeon’s life. Much of the content consisted in tributes to the man penned after his death. This is a good way of learning about his impact on those who were closest to him and those he served the most. Perhaps the best of these tributes comes from Archibald Brown, a pastor who led the graveside service during which Spurgeon was laid to rest. Here is how he memorialized his friend. It is worth reading not just to learn about Spurgeon but to see the hope of all Christians.

Beloved President, faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, brother beloved, dear Spurgeon—we bid thee not “Farewell,” but only for a little while “Goodnight.” Thou shalt rise soon at the first dawn of the Resurrection day of the redeemed. Yet is the goodnight not ours to bid, but thine; it is we who linger in the darkness; thou art in God’s holy light. Our night shall soon be passed, and with it all our weeping. Then, with thine, our songs shall greet the morning of a day that knows no cloud nor close; for there is no night there.

Hard worker in the field, thy toil is ended. Straight has been the furrow thou hast ploughed. No looking back has marred thy course. Harvests have followed thy patient sowing, and heaven is already rich with thine ingathered sheaves, and shall still be enriched through the years yet lying in eternity.

Champion of God, thy battle, long and nobly fought, is over; thy sword, which clave to thy hand, has dropped at last: a palm branch takes it place. No longer does the helmet press thy brow, oft weary with its surging thoughts of battle; a victor’s wreath from the great Commander’s hand has already proved thy full reward.

Here, for a little while, shall rest thy precious dust. Then shall thy Well-beloved come; and at His voice thou shalt spring from thy couch of earth, fashioned like unto His body, into glory. Then spirit, soul, and body shall magnify the Lord’s redemption. Until then, beloved, sleep. We praise God for thee, and by the blood of the everlasting covenant, hope and expect to praise God with thee. Amen.

I love the Victorian era! They were able to express things so well and with such interesting language. And there i think Brown gives us a good final word on Charles Spurgeon. He was a champion of God who rested at last from the long battle. “We praise God for thee, and by the blood of the everlasting covenant, hope and expect to praise God with thee.”

As we come to the end of Spurgeon’s life, I’d love to hear your reflections on him. And I’d love to hear whether you’d like to read another biography together, or if you’d prefer to go back to reading classic works of the faith.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read biographies together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

August 26, 2010

Today we come to our second-to-last reading in Arnold Dallimore’s life of Charles Spurgeon. I’m grateful that some of you continue to read along with me even at this plodding pace of a couple of chapters per week.

This week’s chapters focused on just two aspects of Spurgeon’s life—his writing and the so-called Down-Grade Controversy.

Spurgeon was a prolific author. I’ve long been under the impression that the majority of the books published under his name were simply sermons that had been repurposed, but according to Dallimore he did write a very large number of original works. Of course his books of sermons were his most popular writings, being distributed in the hundreds of millions and being translated into all kinds of different languages from around the world. Among the most popular of his books were The Treasury of David, Commenting and Commentaries and John Plowman’s Talk. And, of course, we can’t forget the devotional works Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening, classics that are read and treasured today.

Besides the 140 books and thousands of sermons he preached, Spurgeon also wrote monthly for The Sword and the Trowel and maintained voluminous correspondence, typically writing some 500 letters each week (and, as Dallimore points out, he had to do this with a pen that had to be dipped in ink every few seconds…and he often had to do this while suffering from terrible arthritis). Biographers who wish to reconstruct the life of the man have a vast and almost insurmountable amount of writing to turn to.

August 19, 2010

I’m a little bit bleary-eyed this morning. Let me explain. Yesterday I got up early and hit the road before 6 AM. I made my way to Hudson, Ohio, about 5 hours away, where I met up with Bob Bevington and Kevin Meath who, along with me, are co-founders of Cruciform Press. I then spent several hours recording the audio version of Sexual Detox, had dinner and then drove 5 hours back home. It was a really long day!

As I suppose you know, I released Sexual Detox as a free e-book about a year ago. However, since then it has been improved and expanded and edited and will be the first title we release through Cruciform Press. Stay tuned in September for that! We’ve got one book releasing each month after that (some written by authors you know, some by authors you don’t know) and they are looking really, really good.

But I digress. I am going to just jot down a very few thoughts about this week’s reading in Dallimore’s Spurgeon: A New Biography. I think that’s about all my tired brain will be able to handle. I’ll leave those who have read along to fill in the gaps (there are a few of you left, right?).

This week’s chapters looked to the daily life of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, focused on ten especially important years of Spurgeon’s ministry and then sought to introduce the man in a slightly more intimate way by looking to some of his personal characteristics.

One thing I enjoyed reading was the interaction between Spurgeon and Moody. Here was one of history’s greatest evangelists expressing his love and admiration for one of history’s greatest preachers (and vice versa). The two men had great respect for one another and did not feel the least bit of jealousy or competition. Their ministries seemed to complement one another very well.

August 12, 2010

Today we continue our readings through Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Charles Spurgeon. I trust that some of you continue to read along as we make our way through it, a few chapters a week. I know it can be difficult to read at this sort of a pace—many of you have probably already finished it and have long since forgotten about it. But for the sake of reading together we’ll continue to at the current pace of 2 to 3 chapters per week.

This week we read about the almhouses and orphanages begun as a ministry of the church, we read about some of the illnesses that plagued Spurgeon and his wife and we read about Susannah Spurgeon and the work she did to encourage pastors and to support their families. Though she spent much of her life as a semi-invalid, she was active in ministry even from her bed.

The first chapter is one that would have gone well with last weeks’ reading as we looked at the vast number of ministries begun by Spurgeon and maintained through his church. Almhouses and orphanages were just two more of these, two more ministries that served the city (though in this case the almhouses were already in existence before Spurgeon arrived in London—they just grew under his watch). I wonder how many people in London today understand the influence of Spurgeon on their city, directly and indirectly, through his preaching ministry, through the tens of thousands who were saved, and through all of these ministries.

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