Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Six: Oh Mercy

Murder: it’s the one thing Batman doesn’t do. Batman drives a tank. He dances. He fights sharks; disposes of bombs; acts like a pirate. But, Batman never kills. After his parents’ murder, Bruce Wayne refuses to kill. He’ll beat you, but he won’t kill you. Ultimately, Batman favours mercy over murder.

Yet, in an infamous scene at the end of Batman Begins, Batman’s mercy runs dry. Batman Begins ends with Batman, vastly outnumbered, racing against time to save his city. An ancient army of ninjas are focused on destroying Gotham by unleashing fear through a train and a microwave. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Batman clashes with their leader, Ra’s al Ghul, as the train hurtles towards Gotham’s destruction. Batman manages to overpower Ra’s al Ghul. But: Ra’s isn’t afraid. He knows, from past experience, that Batman favours mercy over murder.

Ra’s is relying on Batman’s mercy. Mercy means Ra’s al Ghul’s plot will be successful: Gotham will be crippled by fear. So, will Batman be merciful?

“I won’t kill you”, Batman grumbles, “but I don’t have to save you”. He leaps from the train, and leaves Ra’s al Ghul to die.

What’s this got to do with Precious Remedies?Brooks - Precious Redemies

Brooks’s fifth device is about mercy. Satan lures us into sin by “presenting God to the soul as one made up all of mercy” (50). Unlike Batman, God doesn’t break His word or His rules. God’s mercy is not arbitrarily determined. God doesn’t offer His mercy on a Sunday, and then determine to crush us on a Monday. If you’re in union with Christ, as the gospel proclaims, God’s mercy is constantly guaranteed: “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Yet, Satan’s lies are so outrageous; he even warps our understanding of God’s wondrous mercy. Satan makes little Ra’s al Ghuls out of us all. He convinces us that God’s mercy means God’s passivity. If God is a God of mercy, delighting in mercy? Satan convinces our hearts “”you need not be so fearful of sin…so unwilling to sin…[God] will not take [action] against [this sinning soul]…so why should you make such a matter of sin?”” (50). In our wilful pride, we twist God’s mercy and grace. We bend our union with Christ into an excuse for sin.

How are we going to fight this device?

Remedy #1: seriously consider that it’s the sorest judgement to be left to sin.

“O unhappy man, when God leaveth thee to thyself, and doth no resist thee in thy sins”. Before exile, Israel was left to wallow in sin. This was judgement. There is no horror greater than being left to our stubborn hearts. There’s no terror more terrifying than being left to follow our own counsels (Psalm 81:12). Being left in sin isn’t a sign of God’s mercy; it is an unmistakable sign of God’s judgement. In fact, Brooks shows God’s true mercy when he prays: “ah Lord, this mercy I humbly beg…lay what burden thou wilt upon me, so thou dost not give me up to the ways to my own heart” (50-51, emphasis mine). Indeed, our false conceptions of God’s mercy lead us into true judgement:

“in the gospel days, the plagues that God inflicts upon…abusers of mercy are…blindness of mind, hardness of heart, benumbedness of conscience, which are the thousand times worse than the worst of the outward plagues that can befall you” (53).

In Brook’s mind, it’s self-evident: God is merciful when He reveals our sinfulness. God is merciful when He deals with our sinfulness through union with Christ. God is merciful when He empowers us to resist sinfulness by His Spirit. Therefore, Satan lies. The ‘mercy’ Satan promises only results in judgement.

Remedy #2: seriously consider that God is as just as He is merciful.

Scripture is clear: God is a merciful God. On Mount Sinai, the LORD proclaims: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). Overwhelmingly, the LORD’s self-revelation is one of mercy and grace to stubborn, hard-hearted, golden-calf-following people. YHWH is a merciful God. But: the very next words remind God’s people that He is at the same time a holy-just God: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). God is a just God.

It’s on the Cross that we see justice and mercy so clearly: “witness the pouring forth of all His wrath upon His bosom Son, when He did bear the sins of His people” (51). Our response, to the fully just and fully merciful God, should never be a continuation of our sin. Instead, like Moses hearing the LORD’s self-revelation, we worship God for His mercy and justice (Exodus 34:6-7).

Remedy #3: seriously consider that God’s saving mercy isn’t universal.

God’s mercy is extended to all who are made in His image. He mercifully sustains the universe; sustains the earth; sustains our lives. But, His saving mercy only extends to those He’s set apart through Christ for holy obedience by the Spirit. He shows “steadfast love to thousands of those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments” (Exodus 20:6). “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

Brooks’s mediates on these passages, before asserting:

“when Satan attempts to draw thee to sin by presenting God as all made up of mercy…reply that though His general mercy extends to all the works of His hand…His special mercy is confined…to them that love Him and keep His commandments…trusting in Him…and thou must be such a one here” (54).

As partakers in God’s special mercy, we rejoice in the gospel by holy obedience to the One who has set us free.

Remedy #4: seriously consider that God’s mercy is the most powerful argument to fence your soul against sin.

Finally, Brooks brings this device to its point. Batman’s mercy isn’t an excuse to overthrow Gotham with a microwave. If anything, Batman is a deterrent. God’s mercy has never been an excuse to overthrow His holiness. God’s mercy has never been an excuse for our rebellion. Instead: God’s mercy to us in the gospel is the single most powerful argument to flee from sin. Indeed, “there is nothing in the world that renders a man more…like Satan, than to argue from mercy to sinful liberty; from divine goodness to licentiousness” (55). Experiencing mercy is the “choicest means” to preserve our soul from sin. No-one makes this point clearer than Paul:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?…For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:1,2,5).

When Satan lies, muttering “oh, mercy” to our souls, Brooks reminds us of our best defence. We respond to his lies with “oh, the wondrous mercy of the Father, that has set me free”.

Machen on False Teachers

On the first Monday of September I posted some advice from John Gresham protect-religion-1312319Machen on the use of theological terminology in sermons. In that same volume of addresses, God Transcendent, Machen also has something to say about the danger of false teachers within the church. This is an issue I tackled a number of weeks ago in the middle of August in The Enemy Within from the letters of 2 Peter and Jude. However, Machen is so strong on this issue that I thought it was worth revisiting.

Distinction equals Power

Machen begins his address with this justifiable concern: ‘If the sharp distinction is ever broken down between the church and the world, then the power of the church is gone’ (pg. 104). Being distinct gives the church power; or put another way, being different gives the church credence. After all this is what Jesus, Paul and Peter all call for:

…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mt. 5:16).

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (Col. 3:5, 12).

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:12).

If this distinction disappears, then so does the authority the church have in proclaiming the message of the gospel; transformation in Christ cannot be preached by people who have not changed. The difficultly, according to Machen, is that diluting the church is one of Satan’s great tactics. Machen contends:

It is a great principle, and there never has been a time in all the centuries of Christian history when it has not had to be taken to heart. The really serious attack upon Christianity has not been the attack carried by fire and sword, by the threat of bonds or death, but it has been the more subtle attack that has been masked by friendly words; it has been not the attack from without but the attack from within. The enemy has done his deadliest work when he has come with words of love and compromise and peace. And how persistent the attack has been! Never in the centuries of the church’s life has it been altogether relaxed; always there has been the deadly chemical process, by which, if it had been unchecked, the precious salt would have been merged with the insipidity of the world, and would have been thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men. (pg. 104)

In the name of ecumenicalism, compromise, peace and unification Satan has planted his ticking time bombs in the church. As they go off one by one the church’s testimony, reputation and credence crumbles little by little.

The Source

The source of this problem, Machen argues, is a lackadaisical approach to church membership:

At such a time, what should be done by those who love Christ? I think, my friends, that they should at least face the facts; I do not believe that they should bury their heads like ostriches in the sand; I do not think that they should soothe themselves with the minutes of the General Assembly or the reports of the Boards or the imposing rows of figures which the church papers contain. Last week it was reported that the churches of America increased their membership by 690,000. Are you encouraged by these figures? I for my part am not encouraged a bit. I have indeed my own grounds for encouragement, especially those which are found in the great and precious promises of God. But these figures have no place among them. How many of these 690,000 names do you think are really written in the Lamb’s book of life? A small proportion, I fear. Church membership today often means nothing more, as has well been said, then a vague admiration for the moral character of Jesus; the church in countless communities is little more than a Rotary Club. One day, as I was walking through a neighbouring city, I saw, not an altar with an inscription to an unknown god, but something that filled me with far more sorrow than that could have done. I saw a church with a large sign on it, which read somewhat like this: ‘Not a member? Come in and help us make this a better community.’ Truly we have wandered far from the day when entrance into the church involved confession of faith in Christ as the Saviour from sin. (pg. 113-114)

This fascination with numbers, which is as fashionable today as it seems to have been then, opens up the church to great dangers. How? By allowing people to join who may not be truly regenerate, just to bolster the books.

The Answer

What is the remedy? In what ways can we protect the church and its witness?

What are you going to do, my brothers, in this great time of crisis? What a time it is to be sure! What a time of glorious opportunity! Will you stand with the world, will you shrink from controversy, will you witness for Christ only where witnessing costs nothing, will you pass through these stirring days without coming to any real decision? Or will you learn the lesson of Christian history; will you penetrate, by your study and your meditation, beneath the surface; will you recognise that in which prides itself on being modern an enemy that is as old as the hills; will you hope, and pray, not for a mere continuance of what now is, but for a rediscovery of the gospel that can make all things new; will you have recourse to the charter of Christian liberty in the Word of God? God grant that some of you may do that! God grant that some of you, even though you be not now decided, may come to say, as you go forth into the world: ‘It is hard in these days to be a Christian; the adversaries are strong; I am weak; but they Word is true and thy Spirit will be with me; here I am, Lord, send me.’ (pg. 115)

We, leaders and members of churches, are the answer. However, that is only true if we do not shrink from controversy, ensure we do not overlook error and stand firmly on God’s Word.

The Refugee Crisis – by Tracy Ellison

AFP/Getty Images

As we have watched the news over the last few months there has been increased concentration and recognition of the plight of refugees and migrants. In Europe we have seen a significant increase in the numbers of people on the move, especially into Eastern Europe. There were an estimated 280,000 detections for the whole of 2014. However, 350,000 people have been detected at European borders from January – August this year; and these are obviously only numbers of detections, many will have entered undetected.

The vast majority of the refugees are coming from Syria, fleeing the conflict there and the brutality of Islamic State. The BBC News during September quoted UN figures for Syria. According to these figures Syria had a population of 22.2 million. Since 2011, 4 million people have left the country as refugees, 7.6 million have been internally displaced and there have been 191,000 deaths.

Amongst those figures Open Doors estimate that 700,000 Christians have left Syria since 2011 due to frequent attacks, abductions and murders. Some Christians have remained in Syria and the church is involved in helping those who are internally displaced. These people are very often the poorest and weakest members of society. Thankfully they are helped by organisations such as Open Doors. Currently Open Doors are supporting 9000 displaced Christian families in Syria every month.

While we may not find ourselves on the frontline of this crisis it does not mean we can ignore the magnitude of the situation. We can and should pray for the situation in Syria, praying that there would be an end to the civil war and resolution of issues within the country. As part of the wider problem we should also pray that Islamic State would be dealt with – seeking wisdom for governments and world leaders involved in eradicating these violent threats.

We must also pray for Christians who remain in Syria, these brothers and sisters in Christ are part of the persecuted church. Syria is Number 4 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Pray for the protection of believers who have chosen to stay in order to help others, that they would have strength to continue to follow God in the face of such opposition. Pray especially for Muslim background believers as they are particularly vulnerable in these difficult circumstances. A concrete example of this is the 230 people abducted from a Syrian City at the beginning of August – pray for them in their captivity and for their release. Also, ask for God’s help and strength for the church as they serve internally displaced people – this is tiring and often dangerous work. Pray that God would save the people they are serving and that the church would grow, even at this tragic time.

We should also pray for refugees arriving in Europe. There is a need for practical arrangements and provision for them. We must also pray for those who are Christians, asking that they would know God’s help and that as time goes on they would actually become part of evangelising a spiritually dark Europe. However, there are faithful churches throughout Europe and so we can pray for those who are not Christians; that they would hear the gospel and come to faith in Jesus.

We must pray all of this in the knowledge that God ‘is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think’ (Eph. 3:20).

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Five: Sins of the Saints

Brooks - Precious RedemiesHopefully, you’ve been reading Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices along with these posts. If that’s the case, you’ll probably have noticed something striking. It’s not the amount of classical allusions and illustrations; it’s not the seventeenth century prose. It’s the repetition. Over and over again, repetitious elements resurface in the remedies. Each specific remedy is tied to a specific device; but the remedies for that specific device as a whole recapitulate elements from previous sections. Over and over again, repetitious elements resurface in the remedies.

What’s the deal? Should Brooks’ tome be simplified to a tract? Should Precious Remedies be reduced from 253 pages to 23 pages?

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

As excursus go, this is pretty important. If we want to crack the rest of the book, we need to grasp Brooks’ repetition. If we want to give our all in our combat against our sinfulness, we need to understand why repetition is vital.

Here’s my thesis. Last week (at the time of writing), I had a week off work. I know what you’re thinking: how does a young, married male, living on the fringe of Belfast, spend his free time? Naturally, I spent it catching up on housework. I carried out our household chores with aplomb. I tided. I hoovered. I washed. I dusted. But: seven days later? Everything is back to the way it was. The same floors need hoovered again. The same dishes need washed again. The same bins need emptied. If you want to keep your house tidy, you need to carry out the same chores again and again and again. If we want tidiness and order, we’ve got to keep repeating the same principles of basic cleanliness and applying them to specific instances of need.

So, in Precious Remedies, repetition is neither a vain, nor a dull, thing. If we want to fight for holiness, Brooks’ repetition teaches us that we must repeatedly apply the gospel to our specific instances of temptation. Every day, we keep working the gospel into our thinking. Perhaps this is why Brooks begins every remedy with the phrase “seriously to consider”. If our minds are to be Christ-shaped, it’ll take more than a once-off clash against our flesh. It’ll take repetition of the gospel. Through this daily application, the Holy Spirit will help us fight against our deep-dwelling, long-lingering sin.

Sins of the Saints.

I realise that “Sins of the Saints” sounds a bit like an exposé of the inner-machinations of Southampton F.C., so bear with me. Brooks argues that Satan’s fourth device is to expose our minds, hearts and souls to the “best men’s sins” (45). By this, Brooks has in mind infamous moments in Scripture: David’s murderous adultery, Hezekiah’s pride, Noah’s drunkenness, Job’s impatience, Peter’s denial, and so on. Brooks isn’t arguing that we should ignore these incidences, shrugging them away to preserve the untarnished reputation of our spiritual ancestors. Instead, Brooks highlights how Satan selectively preaches “the best men’s sins” to our souls, deliberately omitting the consequences of “the best men’s sins”. Satan hides “their sorrow and repentance from our souls” (45).

Essentially, this argument Satan uses to tempt us with this device: “David indulged his lust, and David was God’s covenant king. So, why shouldn’t you? Peter denied Jesus, and Peter was the main disciple. So, why shouldn’t you? “The ‘best men’ in Scripture sinned. Why shouldn’t you?”. Satan uses the sins of the saints to tempt our flesh toward disobedient rebellion against God. How will Brooks apply the gospel to this specific area of temptation?

Remedy #1: seriously consider that the Spirit has recorded the saints’ repentance.

David fell into adultery. But, he rose in repentance. Hezekiah’s heart inflated with pride. But, he humbled himself in repentance. Job cursed the day of his birth. But, he repents of this quick speech. The saints “knew that repentance was the key to the kingdom of grace” (46).

Brooks illustrates this remedy with a moment in church history:

“Theodosius the emperor…excuses his own foul act by David’s doing the like [therefore arguing that he should be allowed to partake in the Lord’s supper]; to which Ambrose replies, “Thou hast followed David transgressing [so] follow David repenting, and then think thou of the table of the Lord” (46).

Our souls are easily tempted to sin. The souls of the saints were easily tempted to sin. But: this is not an excuse for our sin. Instead, it’s a call to repent with the saints. “Many can sin with David and Peter that cannot repent with David and Peter, and so must perish forever” (46).

Remedy #2: seriously consider that the saints didn’t turn sin into their trade.

This remedy is not focused on our indwelling sin. Instead, Brooks’ focus is on deliberate and wilful acts of sinful rebellion. Brooks reminds us that the saints fell, in this manner, “once or twice, and rose by repentance, that they might keep the closer to Christ forever” (47). Therefore, we cannot use them as an excuse for our deliberate acts of sin. In a startling passage, Brooks exposes our hearts to the depravity of using Scripture in this manner:

“Thou hast [by using the recorded sins of the saints in this manner] contracted upon thy soul a kind of cursed necessity of sinning, that thou canst as well cease to be, or cease to live, as thou canst cease to sin…thou canst not, thou wilt not lay [sin] aside, though thou knowest that if thou dost not lay [it] aside, God will lay thy soul aside forever…if sin and thy soul do not part, Christ and thy soul can never meet” (47).

Deliberate sin is killing us. If we’re not killing it first, we’ll be trapped in depravity without Christ in the end.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that God disciplines His people for their sin.

This is a vital point. Following Brooks’ strong rebuke, we might be afraid that we’ve made ourselves apostate. But: if there’s no assurance of salvation through the gospel, there’s no point in Brooks applying the gospel to specific instances of temptation. Therefore, Brooks makes it clear: “God doth not, nor never will, disinherit His people for their sins” (47). Instead, the Father disciplines His children. Taking the example of David, we see that when David sins, God disciplines him (2 Samuel 12:10). Hebrews 12 makes it clear that this discipline applies to all children of the new covenant:

“”My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?…He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11)

God has always disciplined His children, so that they might share His holiness thereby yielding the peaceful fruit of righteousness. “It is mercy that our [discipline] is not execution, but a correction” (48). Therefore, “when Satan shall tell thee of other men’s sins to draw thee to sin, do thou then think of the same men’s sufferings to keep thee from sin” (49).

Remedy #4: seriously consider the reason God records the falls of His saints.

Brooks argues that there are two main reasons for God recording the sins of the saints in Scripture. The first reason is to keep us from despair, issuing from the burden of sins, when we fall, not wilfully or deliberately, but through our “weakness and infirmity”. The second reason is to warn us to stand firm, in case we fall in a similar way.

Therefore, God did not record His children’s sins as an incentive to sin for future generations. “There is nothing in the world that can so notoriously cross the grand end of God’s recording of the sins of His saints, than for any from thence to take encouragement to sin” (49). In fact, such a soul is “Christless [and] graceless” (50).

My soul, do not listen to Satan’s selectively preaching of the sins of the saints. Satan deliberately obscures their repentance; their affliction; the purpose of Scripture. Because Satan seeks to kill my faith. Instead, my soul: listen to the gospel. Sin must be repented. Discipline must be accepted. Scripture must be fully known. Because the Father, by the Spirit, through the Son, will bring my soul to share in His holiness and the peaceful fruits of righteousness.

Machen on Theological Terminology in Sermons

The Preacher

Every preastudy-bible-open-1307514cher faces the constant struggle of crafting a sermon (or at least should face the struggle). The reason it is a struggle is because preaching is much more than simply rightly understanding a text or theme of Scripture. As important as correctly understanding the text or theme is, the preacher must also consider the structuring of the address, the illustrating of the points, the application of the truths, and the overall communicating of the meaning among other things. A large part of this struggle is deciding on the use of theological terminology in the sermon.

The preacher can often be found asking himself, ‘should I use the term sanctification, or simply say being made more holy?’ ‘Whenever I speak of God’s characteristics do I proclaim him as omnipresent or simply say he is everywhere all the time?’ ‘I never actually read the term trinity in the Bible, should I use it at all?’ And so on and so forth.

J. G. Machen

For all those preachers out there asking themselves the same questions here is Machen’s advice from an address found in God Transcendent (Banner of Truth, 1949):

Some men would be horrified by this use [justification by faith] of a theological term; they seem to have a notion that modern Christians must be addressed always in words of one syllable, and that in religion the scientific precision of language which is found so useful in other spheres must be abandoned. I am by no means ready to agree. (pg. 88)

In my opinion this could just as easily have been written or spoken last week as opposed to almost 100 years ago. Today we are told that we must simplify everything, no one wants to hear heavy theological sermons on a Sunday morning – they want something easy to listen to, not too guilt-ridden and above all else, short. What Machen suggests we lose in that instance is precision in our language. I agree, the term sanctification contains much more within it than just ‘being made holy’ – it includes the source of being made holy, the purpose, the means, etc.

However, Machen does acknowledge that there is often a gap to be bridged whenever it comes to the use of theological terms in preaching. He continues:

One way [to bridge the gap] is to bring the Bible down to the level of the people; the other way is to let the people be lifted up to the level of the Bible. For my part I prefer the latter way. (pg. 88)

In modern vernacular we either dumb the Bible down, or smart the people up. The principle being espoused here is clearly giving time over to the detailed explanation of theological terms so that the people come to understand and love these terms. Therefore, Machen concludes,

I am by no means ready to relinquish the advantages of a precise terminology in summarising Bible truth. In religion as well as in other spheres a precise terminology is mentally economical in the end; it repays amply the slight effort required for the mastery of it. (pg. 88-89)

Hence Machen’s advice on theological terminology in sermons would be to inclued it. He encourages the preacher to mentally tax his congregation slightly in the hope that they will master the scientifically precise language of theological terminology.

Next Week’s Preparation

For the preacher who is now looking toward next week’s preparation what does this mean?

Firstly, I think this advice gives us the courage and impetus to include theological terminology in our sermons. It is not something to be shied away from. Secondly, I think this advice acknowledges that we must take the time to explain in a fair amount of detail what these terms mean when we use them. As noted by Machen this may be mentally taxing for our congregations (and, if we are honest, for us as preachers). However, if we do so the reward is great – a people who possess a repertoire of theological terms, who can succinctly summarise biblical truths and whose thoughts and understanding will have been lifted up to the level of the Bible. This can only be for everyone’s good.