Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Deliverance: the cost

I have been cut to the quick by this letter by JND:

above all, we must be in earnest to have it. Who is willing to be dead to what nature and flesh would desire? Yet that is the only way of deliverance. People will tell you it is our standing in Christ. I admit it as Colossians 3, and as faith owns in Romans 6 and Galatians 2; but who is willing to be in the standing? It is standing, or else we are in the hopeless effort of Romans 7, or an honest monks' labour, which I have tried; and even if we have experimentally learned, as it must be learned, who is carrying out 2 Corinthians 4, so as to have the conscience living in it by an ungrieved spirit? Letters of J. N. Darby, Volume 3 p 90

I have to confess this describes me pretty well. I am quite content to be dead to the parts of the world that seem (in my judgment) to be a problem. But there are bits I like, and I tend to cling to those pretty desperately.

Friday, August 22, 2014


My friend Caleb made a comment to me the other day that I thought I'd pass on:

Romans 8:13 says we're to put to death the deeds of the body. Colossians 3:5 says we're to put to death our "members which are upon the earth". There's one sure way to put to death what comes from the first Adam: looking at the face of God (Exodus 33:20). If we want to put to death our members on the earth, we need to look at Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, death works in us.

Frankly, I need to be reminded of that.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Living power

My friend Berlin commented:
If there is one thing needful in the so-called brethren assemblies, in particular, and the household of faith in general it is a fresh recovery of these recovered truths. Not just a recovery of doctrine, but a recovery of their living power over the soul.

I think that really gets to the heart of the matter.

The lack of truth in the household of faith is astonishing. We all (and I really mean that, no group is exempt) treat the word of God like it's not.  I've ranted about this before, but when we treat man's opinion like it's scripture, then we soon treat scripture like it's man's opinion.

I'm reminded of this frequently when I hear pithy sayings of "brethren" that really aren't biblical at all. But they're treated like received wisdom, and the Word of God gets filtered through them.

I could give examples, but I'm just not feeling it right now.

But truth alone isn't enough. The fact is, There are any number of people who have [some] truth and remain entirely unaffected by it. Possessing truth is no guarantee that the flesh won't try and use it as an "occasion" to fill some lust. Religious flesh is just as fallen as licentious flesh, and loves to substitute intellectual for spiritual. "Living power" is precisely what we are in such want of.

One reason I've been on such a kick about man's fallenness recently is that I recognize my own tendency to try and live the Christian life in fleshly power.

See, it's me I'm preaching at, not you.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sovereignty (Reprise)

I finished reading God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men by R. A. Huebner (from Present Truth Publishers and available as a free PDF download). It is a good book, but not a perfect book. I thought I'd write down some of my impressions here.

There are very few topics so divisive as the question of God's sovereignty in salvation. People throw around terms like 'calvinist' and 'arminian', which I'd prefer to avoid. But the first question everyone is going to ask is, 'Calvinist or Arminian?' So let's briefly answer that question and get it out of the way: RAH's view definitely tends to the 'calvinist' side of things. He thoroughly condemns the notion that man has freewill, insists that men are entirely lost, defends the notion of 'unconditional election', and clearly teaches that it is only through God's effectual (i.e. compelling) call to the elect that any are saved. Interestingly, he doesn't really address the question of 'Limited Atonement', although he does spend just a small amount of time discussing 'Eternal Security'. The book does address the question of the 'Doctrine of Reprobation' and condemns it as non-scriptural. In other words, RAH presents a view we might describe as 'single predestination', or perhaps 'moderate Calvinism'.

So now that's out of the way, let's look at some of my impressions.

The Good

To start, RAH has a necessary ministry in reminding us of man lost-ness. This is one of the most important teachings of Scripture, because it touches every single facet of the Christian life. As RAH points out– as JND and WK pointed out before him– Christianity starts with man entirely lost. "[T]he mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be: and they that are in flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7–8). The Christian life isn't the life of the forgiven sinner, it's the life of someone who has realized he cannot please God, and so he accepts Christ as his life (1 Corinthians 1:30–31; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:8–11). The Christian is "in Christ" where he has no righteousness of his own.

Of course the majority of Christendom doesn't accept that man is totally lost. So they spend a lot of time and effort trying to improve what God has already condemned (Romans 8:1–4). Ask me how I know… I've spent an awful lot of time down that path.

The single best thing about this book, in my opinion, is showing that man is completely lost.

Again, I don't want to use sectarian language, but many of the self-described 'calvinists' I have known seem to have a pretty mild view of man's lost-ness that doesn't quite seem to measure up to Scripture. Ephesians presents men as 'dead in trespasses and sins', from which some of my Calvinist friends conclude that unregenerate men and women are somehow in a passive state. They are not: consider Romans 1–3, where fallen men and women are very much alive in sins. The problem with fallen man isn't that he hasn't a will, it's that he is self-willed. And so some have concluded that God actively prevents the non-elect from repentance, as though a fallen man might actually be in danger of repenting without God's active intervention! But now I rant.

God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men is valuable solely on the basis that it sums up so well the teaching of Scripture that fallen man has absolutely nothing to offer God: neither before nor after God forgives us of our sins. And it points out some subtleties, including that Scripture doesn't view man as lost until Christ is rejected. God has put man on trial (not because God didn't know what fallen man is, but because He wanted to demonstrate it), and the trial wasn't over until the Son of God came here to be rejected. RAH points out that if Christ had come and hadn't been rejected, that would have proven that man wasn't entirely lost: that there is still something there God can work with.

The Bad

All of RAH's books suffer from two characteristic faults: they are repetitive and hyper-focused. Honestly, this is nothing that couldn't be fixed with a good editor. I think if RAH's books were cut down in length, they'd be better books. Don't get me wrong: I appreciate that he is zealous for the truth, but at some point it gets hard to keep my attention. Doubtless he repeats himself to make a point, but there comes a point where the constant repetition actually gets in the way.

Hyper-focus isn't quite as big a problem in this book as in some of his others, but RAH has a strong tendency to tunnel-vision. That is, he tends to see everything as somehow a symptom of whatever he's addressing. This can make it easy to dismiss his writing at times. Again, this could easily be fixed by an editor. Simply reducing the length of these books would have the effect of removing some of the words and clarifying his message.

The Ugly

Roy Huebner's books tend to be more like scrapbooks than actual books. That is, he has a tendency to cut and paste huge quotations from J. N. Darby, William Kelly, F. G. Patterson, W. T. Turpin, A. P. Cecil, and H. H. Snell into his books. Some of those quotations occupy more than a single page! He's not trying to plagiarize, he's not trying to be dishonest, he's just recognizing that someone else has already said something so well there's no point in trying to restate it. The problem with this is that the books are choppy and long. It would have been better in, in my opinion, to try and reduce the quotes to a sentence or two and cite liberally. There comes a point where the extensive quotations actually make it hard to read.

That brings up another 'ugly' aspect of this book: the language isn't the most consistent. Huebner sometimes writes like a 19th Century writer, probably because he invested so much of his time reading them. I think it might have been a good investment of effort to rework his language and try to bring it up to the 20th or 21st Century.

In the end, there's nothing here that a decent editor couldn't fix. It would require some deep surgery of the text, perhaps; but I'm afraid there is some very valuable truth in this book that will be lost on people who might've read it, but for the awkward wording and [far too] extensive quotations.

Should I read it?

I found this a helpful book. Of course, with a title like God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men, some of my more 'freewill' friends won't even bother picking it up. More's the pity: there is a lot of truth in here that's been lost or forgotten. I would definitely recommend this book to a friend (and, in fact, I have), but I would caution them to read it slowly and try not to miss the forest for the trees.

Honestly, I think RAH has put together a good outline of what Scripture teaches when it comes to election. He addresses common objections from the 'freewill' point of view, while at the same time standing firm against ideas like a 'decree of reprobation' that Scripture simply doesn't teach.

One more thing I'd notice: I can't recall any discussion of the whole question of 'Limited Atonement' in this book. RAH is now asleep in Christ, so he can't comment on it. But I suspect I know what he'd say: Darby has answered that question quite ably in his little paper "Propitiation and Substitution". I'd definitely encourage reading this short article: well worth the time.