Monday, March 24, 2014

and Further Reading

A friend sent me some books via drop-shipment from Bible Truth Publishers, including:

I've read the first two titles, I plan to start the third tomorrow morning.

My friend sent these books after a brief talk or two we had on deliverance. I wrote a lot about this already this year ("Walking" and "in Christ), but there's a lot more to talk about. Still, I don't want to discuss the topic itself so much as I want to discuss the specific books my friend sent me.

From New Birth to New Creation by R. A. Huebner is a book I'd highly recommend to anyone, with a caveat or two. If you've never read RAH, I'll warn first that his work isn't terribly original: his books are almost more like scrap-books of recommended ministry others have written. This book is no exception: it's largely quotations and summaries of writings by J. N. Darby, A. P. Cecil, W. Kelly, F. G. Patterson, and H. H. Snell. But don't let that put you off! It's a worthwhile read. In fact, it's extremely helpful.

There are two caveats I'll make while recommending this [really very good] book. The first is that RAH is susceptible to tunnel vision. There's an old saying that "when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail". Similarly, Huebner's books can become somewhat repetitive, and literally everything becomes evidence of whatever point he's trying to make.

In this book in particular, the main point is that the sealing with the Holy Spirit is a distinct event and experience from the new birth. Of course this was what J. N. Darby taught, and it was the question that eventually led to F. W. Grant being put out of fellowship. But because that is a central doctrine of the book, Huebner brings it into every discussion, sometimes (in my opinion) when it's not really the point.

The book is divided into four parts:

  1. "New Birth, Forgiveness of Sins, and Sealing with the Spirit"
  2. "Eternal Life in the Son"
  3. "Deliverance from the Law of Sin and Death"
  4. "New Creation"
It follows the general pattern that each section establishes doctrine, and then explores how that applies to the Christian life. I found the first section particularly excellent, with its careful distinction of language. Huebner takes great care to differentiate between redemption, salvation, quickening, new birth, and so forth.

Now, I have read Darby extensively: there is very little this book says that I haven't already read from Darby. But I have to say that this book does an excellent job of laying it out in a very understandable and organized manner. And Huebner answers some of the questions Darby doesn't seem even to notice. There's not much Huebner says that Darby doesn't say, but Huebner has a real knack of putting the pieces together clearly.

But Huebner does have a tendency to hyper-focus, and I noticed this especially in the context of the sealing with the Holy Spirit. He is so careful to point out that new birth and sealing are distinct that he seems to say that every problem in a Christian's life is evidence that he (or she) has not [yet] been sealed. I found myself growing somewhat introspective when reading this book, wondering "have I been sealed?"

J. N. Darby wrote, "Faith never looks at itself or at its effect in us, but at Christ in Himself." ('Review of R. Pearsall Smith on "Holiness through Faith."', Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Volume 23, p. 193). It's worth remembering this when we consider the Christian life: it's tempting for our focus to turn inward, especially when there is some question of the Lord's work in us. But we do well to remember that we're called to look up to Christ, not in to self.

Along that vein, I'd caution anyone reading this book to read two chapters out of order. Section 3 ("Deliverance from the Law of Sin and Flesh") ends with chapters 3.6 and 3.7; read those before you read the rest of Section 3. Then read the whole section in order, re-reading those last two chapters in the order they're in the book. Here's why: Huebner points out [correctly] that Romans 7 isn't really about a man who has been sealed with the Holy Spirit; it's about a man who is regenerated and born again, but not yet sealed. That man has not been set free from the law of sin and death, and he finds himself wanting to please God, but being unable to do so. This is exactly J. N. Darby's and William Kelly's teaching on Romans 7, it's not some strange new doctrine. But every Christian – even those indwelt by the Spirit of God and sealed with the Holy Ghost – find themselves helpless in the face of sin in the flesh. The sealing of the Holy Spirit doesn't free us from the presence of sin, nor does it mean the flesh is somehow done away with. It doesn't mean we're confirmed into some state of sinless perfection! What it means is that we have been set free from the law of sin and death.

There is no question that the Corinthians were sealed with the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), but there were still serious issues in Corinth, including such fornication that even the Gentiles found it shocking (1 Corinthians 5:1). And the Galatians certainly had the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:2), but they had fallen into legalism, which is really a denial of the Gospel (Galatians 2:15–21). They had begun in the Spirit, but wanted to be perfected in the flesh (Galatians 3:3). So the epistles make it abundantly clear that an imperfect – or even immoral – walk is not proof that the Holy Spirit is not present.

Chapters 3.6 and 3.7 of this book really make this case very clearly. It's entirely possible for a true believer, who has been sealed with the Holy Spirit, to walk immorally, worldly, and even in a practical denial of the faith.

With that one caveat, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. Read it carefully, but read the end of Section 3 before you start into it.

The William Kelly book was written by William Kelly. I don't really need to add much: anything by William Kelly is worth reading. And you can read it free online (Lectures on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit on STEM Publishing).

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