Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Sorrows Of The Bereaved Spread Before Jesus

by Jonathan Edwards
September 2, 1741.

Matthew 14:12, "And his disciples came and took up the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus."

It was now a sorrowful time with John's disciples; when they were thus bereaved of him whose teachings they had sat under. And the manner of his death was doubtless very grievous to them. They were like a company of sorrowful, distressed, bereaved children. And what do they do in their sorrows, but go to Jesus with their complaint. The first thing that they do, after paying proper regards to the remains of their dear master, is to go to Christ, to spread their case before him, seeking comfort and help from him. Thus they sought their own benefit.

And probably one end of their immediately going and telling Jesus was, that he, being informed of it, might conduct himself accordingly, as his wisdom should direct, for the interest of his own kingdom. When so great a person as John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was thus martyred, it was a great event, in which the common cause, in which both Christ and he were engaged, was greatly concerned. It was therefore fit that he that was at the head of the whole affair should be informed of it, for his future conduct in the affairs of his kingdom. And accordingly we find that Jesus seems immediately to be influenced in his conduct by these tidings; as you may see in the next verse. "When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by a ship into a desert place apart." Thus John's disciples sought God's glory.

The observation from the words that I would make the subject of my discourse at this times, is this:

When anyone is taken away by death, that has been eminent in the work of the gospel ministry, such as are thereby bereaved, should go and spread their calamity before Jesus.

Though in handling this subject I might particularly speak to several propositions that are contained in this observation, and many things might profitably be insisted on under it, if there were room for it within the compass of a sermon; yet I shall only give the reasons of the doctrine, and then hasten to the application.

The following reasons may be given why, in case of such an awful dispensation of Providence, those that are concerned in it, and bereaved by it, should go and spread their sorrow before Jesus:

1. Christ is one that is ready to pity the afflicted. It is natural for persons that are bereaved of any that are dear to them, and for all under deep sorrow, to seek some that they may declare and lay open their griefs to, that they have good reason to think will pity them, and have a fellow-feeling with them of their distress. The heart that is full of grief wants vent, and desires to pour out its complaint; but it seeks a compassionate friend to pour it out before.

Christ is such an one, above all others. He of old, before his incarnation, manifested himself full of compassion towards his people. For that is Jesus that is spoken of [in] Isa. 63:9, "In all their affliction he was afflicted; and the angel of his presence saved them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old." And when he was upon earth in his state of humiliation, he was the most wonderful instance of a tender, pitiful, compassionate spirit, that ever appeared in the world. How often are we told of his having compassion on one and another! So Mat. 15:32, "Then Jesus called his disciples, and said unto them, I have compassion on the multitude." So he had compassion on the man possessed with devils. Mark 5:19, "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done to thee, and hath had compassion on thee." So we read of his pitying the mother, that was bereaved of her son. Luke 7:13. There we have an account, when Christ went into the city of Nain, and met the people carrying out a dead man, the only son of his mother, that was a widow, that when he saw her, he had compassion on her. So when the two blind men that sat by the wayside cried to Jesus, as he passed by, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David," we read that Jesus had compassion on them. Mat. 20:30. So we read of his being moved with compassion. Mat. 14:14, "And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and when he saw them he was moved with compassion." His speeches to his disciples were full of compassion; especially those that he uttered a little before his death, of which we have an account in the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John. His miracles were almost universally deeds of pity to persons under affliction.

And seeing such a pitiful heart appeared in him on all occasions, no wonder that John's disciples, when bereaved to their dear guide and teacher, and their hearts were full of sorrow, came to him for pity. Which likewise induced Mary and Martha to come and fall down, pouring out their tears at Jesus' feet, when their dear brother Lazarus was dead. Other Jews came to comfort them, before Jesus came, whom they little regarded, but when they heard that Jesus was come, they soon go and spread their sorrows before him. They were assured that he would pity them; and their expectation was not frustrated; for he was most tenderly affected and moved at their tears. We are told that on that occasion he groaned in spirit and was troubled. John 11:33. And when he came to the grave, it is observed, and a special note seems to be set upon it, that he wept, verse 35.

He was one that wept with those that wept. And indeed it was mere pity that brought him into the world, and induced him not only to shed tears but to shed his blood. He poured out his blood as water on the earth, out of compassion to the poor, miserable children of men. And when do we ever read of any one person coming to him when on earth, with a heavy heart, or under any kind of sorrow or distress for pity or help, but what met with a kind and compassionate reception?

And he has the same compassion now he is ascended into glory. There is still the same encouragement for the bereaved ones to go and spread their sorrows before him.

Afflicted persons love to speak of their sorrows to them that have had EXPERIENCE of affliction, and know what sorrow is. But there is none on earth or in heaven that ever had so much experience of sorrow as Christ. Therefore he knows how to pity the sorrowful...

2. Christ has purchased all that persons need under such a bereavement. He has purchased all that miserable men stand in need of under all their calamities, and comfort under every sort of affliction. And therefore that his invitation to those that "Labour and are heavy laden," with either natural or moral evil: he has purchased divine cordials and supports for those hearts that are ready to sink: he has purchased all needed comfort and help for the widow and the fatherless: he has purchased a sanctified improvement and fruit of affliction, for all such as come to him, and spread their sorrows before him.

3. Christ is able to afford all that help that is needed in such a case. His power and his wisdom are as sufficient as his purpose, and answerable to his compassions. By the bowels of his mercies, the love and tenderness of his heart, he is disposed to help those that are in affliction; and his ability is answerable to his disposition. He is able to support the heart under the heaviest sorrows, and to give light in the darkness. He can divide the thickest cloud with beams of heavenly light and comfort. He is one that gives songs in the night, and turns the shadow of death into the morning.

Persons under sorrowful bereavements are ready to go and lay open their sorrows to them that they think will be ready to pity them, though they know they can but pity them, and cannot help them. How much more is here in such a case to induce us to go to Jesus, who is not only so ready to pity, but so able to help, able abundantly more than to fill up the breach, and able to turn all our sorrows into joy!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Solemn and accurate observation

'...if British freedom is to be subverted, the process will be begun by Sabbath desecration; will proceed by the consequent degradation of the people through the inevitable loss of faith and holiness, and will end in the assumption of despotic power by those who degrade in order to enslave; who not fearing God, neither regard man.'

William Hetherington 1844

160 years later we know the truth of this by experience.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

True Spiritual Hunger

Rev. John Willison of Dundee

1 . True hunger is unsatiable without food : Bring a treasure, a crown, or the greatest preferments to a hungry man, all cannot satisfy him: So nothing can
satisfy the hungry soul but Christ ; not his ordinances or benefits only, but himself ; not the supper or bread of the Lord but the Lord of the supper and the Lord of the bread, Ps. lxxiii. 25. Job xxiii. 3.

2. Hunger is unsupportable without meat ; the man must die if he want it ; so the truly hungry soul cannot live or subsist without Christ ; he can bear the want of other things, but Christ he cannot want, Psalm cxliii. 7, 9.

3. Hunger makes a man resolute, active, and industrious; he will spare neither cost nor travel for food, it would even break through stone walls : So a hungry soul will venture through all difficulties to find Christ, Cant. iii. 2, 3.

4. Hunger makes a man very humble ; he will make the coarsest bread, or meanest crumb, very welcome : So tbe truly hungry will be content to have Christ upon any terms, though it were even to be the meanest servant of his house,
or set with his dogs, provided always he may have a relation to his family, Luke xv. 10.

5. Hunger makes a man restless and impatient of delays till food be brought ; so the hungry soul cries oft, " How long, Lord, wilt thou forget me ? How long wilt thou hide thy face ? When shall I come and appear before God ?" Psalm xiii. 1. Psalm xliii. 1, 2.

6. It makes a man prefer Christ and his ordinances to all his worldly interests, and willing to part with all things to obtain these, Luke v. 11.

7. It makes Christ and his spiritual benefits very sweet and pleasant to the soul, and likewise the ordinances that do convey them, Cant. ii. 3. Psal. cxxxii. 1.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

why some people never make the spiritual progress they desire

This excerpt from the puritan Robert Bolton explains some reasons why some people never make the spiritual progress they desire. In the past a deeper work of conviction was seen as a vital part of conversion. The danger is on the one hand to slip into the idea that we need a particular degree of conviction but on the other hand not to seek deeper conviction.

'Therefore observe that contrition in a new-born soul ordinarily is in proportion to his former vanity. To whom much is forgiven, they love much: and this is a fountain of evangelical repentance. As a traitor condemned to die, receiving a pardon, would wonderfully break his heart to think he should be so villainous to so gracious a prince: so it is with a Christian that beholds God's mercy to him.

Christians after their conversion desire to see their sins to the utmost, with all the circumstances that make them hateful, such as the object, nature, person, time, age, etc. in which, or how they were done, that so they may be more humbled for them.

If it be not so (it may be otherwise, for God is a free agent, and is not tied to any proportion of sorrow) then such troubles as these usually seize on them:

First. They are often afflicted with this, that their conversion is not thorough and sound, and so do not perform the duties of godliness with such heartiness and cheerfulness.

Second. They are many times haunted with listlessness and coldness in their progress in Christianity.

Third. They are visited with some cross or other that sticks by them: to make them lay a greater load upon sin.

Fourth. They are more subject to be overtaken with their easily besetting sin, because they have no more sorrowed for it; for the less it is sorrowed over, the more it ensnares men.

Fifth. Some of them have been assaulted upon their bed of death with sorrowful and strong temptations. Not that men should think this is always the reason of it, for God has aims in all His works known only to Himself; but I have known some have so been troubled, and this may be in great mercy to make a weak conversion more strong. Lest any Christian should be troubled at it, note in contrition there must be sorrow of heart because of sin: there must be a dislike of it in the will: there must be a strong reasoning in the mind out of the word of God against sin; this is the sinew of repentance: there must be a resolution, and striving and watching against it, like Job who made a covenant with his eyes, Job 31: l: there must be a grieving that he is not excelling in all these, and here he must make up what he wants in the former. These be in some measure in all Christians. Some are more eminent in one part, some in another; as Joseph had little sorrow, but a strong resolution, because he had so strong a temptation, and withstood it; he had strong reasons beyond nature to resist sin, and resolve against it: so that it is not so much the measure as the truth of every part that is required. But if they be not excelling in great sinners, they are to mourn for the want of them. To help here, observe these ten degrees of repentance, or rather helps to humiliation.'

The ten helps can be read at

Monday, September 03, 2007

Fundamentalism and Evangelicals

Fundamentalism and Evangelicals, Harriet A Harris, Oxford Theological Monographs, Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1998, pp.384, ISBN 0-19-826960-9

While liberals like Bishop Spong have tended to smear the 'Fundamentalist' label with convenient alacrity, evangelicals, such as John Stott, Derek Tidball and Alistair McGrath have, on the other hand, tended rather anxiously to define a straw-man fundamentalism. In view of these extremes it is useful to find a more judicious and careful examination of the relationship between fundamentalism and evangelicals. Harris rightly emphasises fundamentalism as a mentality or tendency rather than a coherent movement. She begins with a historical study of the roots of 1920's Fundamentalism that details the various strands of revivalism, holiness teaching and premillenariansism. The power base of this movement was largely located in conferences and Bible Institutes that had their ancestry in the Albury and Niagara prophetic conferences. The entire relevant history of the last century and a half on both sides of the Atlantic is sketched in well to include all the usual suspects.

The second chapter proceeds to James Barr's critique of fundamentalism. Harris maintains that Barr does not simply equate conservative evangelicalism with fundamentalism he rather prefers to view them as overlapping circles. Barr's analysis represents fundamentalism as a rather incoherent and undeveloped mentality with assorted doctrines but no clear theology. Philosophically, it adheres to an 18th century type of evidentialism while its pretensions to critical scholarship are belied by a determination to skew the evidence. Interestingly, however, Barr prophesies (in 1977) significant shifts for conservative evangelicals on a number of issues, he expected the charismatic/pentecostal movement to subvert their endemic rationalism.

Chapter 3 considers the philosophical roots that Barr refers to, namely Scottish Common-Sense philosophy, which was the dominant philosophy at Princeton Seminary during the nineteenth century. This tradition sought to oppose Humean scepticism with a robust Realism especially in relation to language. Harris gives sufficient space to a study of Thomas Reid's thought showing that although this foremost Common Sense Realist was a Moderate rather than Evangelical, evangelicals such as Robert Haldane, Louis Gaussen and Alexander Carson nevertheless borrowed arguments from him in order to defend the perspicuity of scripture. They asserted innerrancy with a vigorous inductive method that made their conclusion dependent upon 'evidences'. In America Common Sense principles undergirded the educational system from the time of Independence but it was largely James W Alexander and Charles Hodge who developed a 'scientific' theological method. Harris argues, however, that this reached an intense pitch in the thought of B.B. Warfield who often gave evidences a foundational rather than a supporting role. Warfield believed that textual criticism would vindicate and clarify the problem areas of Scripture. Scripture was therefore not so much self-authenticating as evidence-authenticated. Controversially, later evangelicals such as Daniel Fuller and Clark Pinnock have claimed to be following Warfield's principle of letting 'induction control from beginning to end' to its logical conclusion in developing a doctrine of limited inerrancy. In this sense even Creation Scientists are comparatively less fundamentalist (as Barr himself suggests) than those that revise their biblical interpretation to fit scientific opinion.

Chapter 5 enacts a dialogue between liberal and fundamentalist opinions of one another and between their respective views of Scripture. The tension of objectivist and subjectivist tendencies within the evangelical position are drawn forth rather well (although it should be recognised that this has always been a difficulty for liberals as well). Harris maintains that evangelical inductive apologetics bears little influence in individual testimonies and experiential factors are instead predominant.

Harris then devotes two chapters to Dutch Neo-Calvinism as represented in Abraham Kuyper's thought and influence. Kuyper's abiding influence is traced in following chapters. Cornelius Van Til's apologetic similarly discounted evidences and according to sources this was one of the main reasons for the 1937 schism at Westminster Seminary. Van Til follows Warfield a considerable distance on inerrancy and therefore, in Harris's opinion, limits the effectiveness of presuppostionalism as an alternative to rational empiricism. Harris finds Van Til's mix of British Idealist philosophy with Kuyperian ideas and Calvinist theology together with Warfieldian thinking rather strange. She also concludes that both presuppostionalism and evidentialism display circular reasoning departing from deductive premises.

In the last chapter evangelical engagement with phenomenological hermeneutics is considered.

In many ways Harris extends the critique applied by James Barr. One doesn't need to adopt Barr's theology to recognise the sharpness of some of his observations. In fact recent evangelicals such as David F. Wells have recognised the absence of theology in evangelicalism. What Barr emphasises is the opportunism or determined pragmatism of evangelicals which entails making use of the work of those not theologically or philosophically alligned for their own ends. One doesn't need to go back to Thomas Reid, the example of C.S. Lewis is appropriate enough. This magpie mentality believes in making evangelicalism 'electable', contemporary or relevant and it is this populist impulse which perhaps defines Protestant fundamentalism - anything is suitable so long as it works. This attitude goes back to 'The Fundamentals' themselves: Volume 2 concludes with 'Tributes to Christ and the Bible by Brainy Men not known as Active Christians'. In this sense Harris's volume is a useful assessment of the options and weaknesses facing evangelicals in the present time. It demonstrates the rootlessness experienced by evangelicalism in not adhering fully to Reformed theology.