Friday, May 21, 2021

Whoso is wise

Psalm 107 is among my favorite chapters. It ends with an interesting command: "Whoso is wise, let him observe these things, and let them understand the loving-kindnesses of Jehovah" (Psalm 107:43). I realize this is Old Testament, and we're not under the Law, etc. But I still can't help but think this one is "for us" in some sense. If we're wise – or perhaps even if we understand we're not wise, but we want to change that – we need to observe "these things" and learn to understand that loving-kindnesses of the Lord.

In my small Bible, I have a note on this verse, marking it as a "God's ways" verse. There is a theme in Scripture about God's ways, and a general invitation that we should try to learn them. God's ways, we are told, are completely different from – and infinitely superior to – our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). We don't naturally think like God, and when we get a glimpse of His thoughts and we get a sense of His ways, we tend to find them offensive, repugnant, and foolish. And that's not just an Old Testament truth, the New Testament makes the same claim (1 Corinthians 3:18–23).

The Pharisees were offended that Christ would receive sinners and eat with them (Luke 15:1–2). Of course they didn't realize that His ultimate goal was not merely to eat with sinners, but to give His flesh to them to eat, and His blood to them to drink (John 6:48–58). The Pharisees didn't understand the half of it! 

And if we go back to Isaiah 55:8–9 and read it in context (Isaiah 55:6–10), we realize that God's declaration about His ways being better and higher and superior to our own was made in the context that He forgives sinners. God does what we naturally think of as foolish: He forgives sinners freely, regardless how badly or how frequently they sin. Only let the sinner return to the Lord, and He entirely forgives and forgets their sins (Micah 7:18–19).

And this, I suppose, is one of the reasons I keep railing about "-isms". Whether Calvinism, or Arminianism, or Dispensationalism... take any "-ism" you like, and you'll find it comes up short. All those "-isms" are attempts to understand God's ways, but they all come up short, because we're not God. Of course the problem is that all those "-isms" capture some of the truth, but they all end up going off the rails eventually, because they eventually try and fill in some of the gaps in Scripture. And try as they might, they have nothing to fill those gaps with except men's thoughts. And even the best men can't think like God. 

And I don't think they're wrong to try. I really don't, but I do think we're wrong when we start to allow our "-isms" to come between us and Scripture. I do think we're wrong when we try to explain away those pesky verses instead of admitting that Scripture is authoritative and our understanding of it is not. And I am entirely sure that "I am of Calvin" or "I am of Luther" is no better than "I am of Paul" or "I am of Apollos" (1 Corinthians 3:1–7).

So we understand that our ways are not God's ways. But let's not stop there: we are invited to contemplate God's ways. We're invited to observe His ways. The old preachers used to point out that God showed Moses His ways, but He only showed the children of Israel His acts (Psalm 103:7). Maybe they read too much into that verse, but I suspect there's something to that. Maybe it's just that Moses was looking past those individual acts of God to try and understand the bigger principles behind them. That would seem to be what Moses was asking for on Sinai (Exodus 33:11–13).

The Lord Jesus made the remarkable claim, "I am the Way" (John 14:6). On the surface this would seem to indicate He is how to get to the Father, but it seems to me that there is something deeper there. The Old Testament is full of invitations to learn God's ways, and here is a Man who is claiming that He is the embodiment of that. If we want to learn God's ways, we can contemplate Christ.

God invites us (Psalm 107:43) to "observe these things." It seems to me that one of our greatest failings is the tendency to try and move too quickly when we look into the Scriptures. I don't mean that we go through at too great a pace, but we don't allow ourselves time for things to sink in. We don't observe, contemplate, or meditate like we ought when we look into Scripture. It's like we try to eat by gulping down, but we should be chewing and savoring. We need to slow down and let ourselves be affected by the words that God has spoken.

I was listening to a sermon recently where someone was working through the second half of Romans 13. I was all excited to hear what he would say about Romans 13:11, but all he said was, "Salvation happens in three tenses in Scripture: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved." Then he went to the next verse.

That sort of thing gets under my skin. When we have "pat answers" to complex issues in Scripture, they act like little vaccines against truth. It's like we allow a small amount of truth into our systems so that we can build up a resistance to the full-on truth of Scripture. We inoculate ourselves against truth.

There is a value to pausing to let Scripture speak to us. There is a value to wrestling with the text, rather than looking for a "pat answer" so that we don't have to. Instead, we act like the most important thing is to have some sort of internal commentary to explain away every verse: some sort of "pat answer" to give, so we won't be dismayed when our intellect doesn't measure up. It's like we fear the very worst thing that can happen is for people who don't have answers to leave the faith... instead of fearing that they never get answers, but cover their hunger for truth with unsatisfying truisms.

Well, I am not a very wise person: I'm neither very smart nor very good. So I suppose you should take my advice as being worth precisely what it costs you... but it seems to me that it's better to slow down, contemplate what God has said, and treat the text like every word was breathed by Him than coming up with programmed responses we can toss out with very little thought whenever someone might [hypothetically] ask.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021


I have to pack up my bookshelves for a home renovation project. I found some duplicate books that might be useful to someone else.

Here's a complete set (34 volumes) of Collected Writings of J. N. Darby. This is a "mass market" printing, so they're bound in cloth, but they're not the highest quality.

This is my personal set: I bought them in 1998 or 1999, and I've used them all. I've underlined, highlighted, and probably written in them. Reading these books changed my life, and I'd like them to go to someone else who'll use them too, instead of just letting them collect dust.

If you're interested, please let me know. I've only got the one complete set, but I'll update my blog with other duplicates as I find them.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Christ a public Person

My bookshelves groan with the weight of books I've started and haven't yet finished. I recently picked up Kelly's Notes on Romans again to try to make some progress on it. 

This gem is from Chapter Eight (pp. 131–132)

This deliverance then consists of these two parts: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that we are placed in and as Christ before God. For Christ was not an individual solely, who simply came and did a great work for others, but apart from bearing our sins He is a public man in an infinitely better sense than any other could be. The queen, for instance, is a public person. As sovereign she gives expression to whatever is the law of the land; her sign-manual is supreme authority. Properly speaking there is no statute law without her. I use this merely as an illustration. But the Lord Jesus is a public person in an infinitely higher yet closer and nearer way, because no subject could be said to be in the sovereign as the Christian is in Christ. She may represent the people that she governs, but there could be nothing more intimate in their relation to her. The wonderful truth of redemption shows that the Lord Jesus is a public person so far as to give us a place in Himself above, and not only in identifying Himself with our guilt before God which He did once for all on the cross. In another sense He died for every man. Nothing can be more certain than that both are true, that He died for those that believe, and that He died for every man — with this difference, that the believer alone can say that He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. But it is the guilt of the natural man that, Christ having died for all, he nevertheless rejects Him. Yes, the deepest aggravation of unbelief is that, though Christ came for every creature, none would have Him. Not a living soul would have had Him unless by the special grace of God that opens a believer's eyes and inclines his heart to receive Him. This God does for the elect, though all be responsible.

The distinction between Christ dying for all, and His dying for the believer is helpful. Both are true, but they aren't the same thing. How very Kelly!

Friday, May 7, 2021

You're welcome to come

When I was much younger, I misunderstood what people meant when they said, "You're welcome to come." I thought that sounded a whole lot like, "I'd love to have you come." But of course it really means something more like, "You won't actually offend me by your presence." Once I realized what people actually mean when they say, "You're welcome to come," I made a habit of politely declining those invitations.

Sometimes we interpret the Gospel as a sort of "You're welcome to come." Like, God wouldn't mind us being with Him for all eternity, but He wouldn't be particularly upset if we weren't there. Or maybe we think that God has a sort of a general benevolence, like He wants to be sure that there are some (as opposed to none) with Him through all eternity, but He's not particular about who they are.

When I was in high school, I spoke with a man who had fled communist Hungary. He talked about the difference between the Marxist notion of "the masses" and the scriptural notion of a name graven on God's hand. God sees us not as some mass of humanity, but as individuals. He knows us intimately (cf. Psalm 139). God isn't interested in me in some vague, general way: His interest in me is very specific, very individual. He doesn't treat me as an afterthought.

The Lord makes our relationship with Him intensely specific: " No one can come to me except the Father who has sent me draw him, and I will raise him up in the last day" (John 6:44). We should pause to let that sink in. The Lord sees each individual (notice it's "him" and not "them" in His mind), He sees each of us as brought to Him by the Father, and His commitment to us is total: not even death will come between Him and someone the Father has brought to Him.