It seems inevitable, an utter certainty, the rule, not the exception. Any time someone publicly complains of the lack of reverence in what passes for worship in so many modern churches, a particular objection is bound to be set forth. “David danced naked!” or “David danced in his underwear!”. Those who make this objection think it is doubly strong, because not only did David supposedly behave in this way in the worship of God, but Michal, his wife, wrongfully judged him for behaving in such a way and was subsequently cursed with barrenness for the remainder of her days. I even remember some “Christian Rock band” in the late 80’s or early 90’s had a song entitled “Dancing Naked” that boldly proclaimed at the end that they would not be surprised if those who spoke out against their form of worship would not be able to have kids. (My wife and I both find this form of music to be irreverent in worship, but God has graciously blessed us with eight children, to answer foolishness with foolishness.)
But where does this common claim come from? Did David actually behave in such a way in the act of worshiping God? Should we all keep our mouths shut when we witness what appears to us to be irreverence in worship in the fear that God may judge us for holding such standards?
Let us look at the Biblical passages in regard to this event and see what they teach us. The event was the bringing of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. I will provide the pertinent passage, 2 Samuel 6:14-15, 20 in three major English versions.
Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.
20 Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”
And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet.
20 But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!”
And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”
We see first of all that David was not naked. Verse 14 informs us that he was wearing a linen ephod. As Mathew Henry notes, “On this occasion David laid aside his imperial purple, and put on a plain linen ephod, which was light and convenient for dancing, and was used in religious exercises by those who were no priests, for Samuel wore one, 1 Samuel 2:18. That great prince thought it no disparagement to him to appear in the habit of a minister to the ark.” An ephod was not underwear, but a light religious garment.
We have no reason to believe that the ephod was all that David was wearing either. It was customary to wear an ephod along with other garments, not by itself, as we can see here:
Leviticus 8:6-9 Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. 7 And he put the tunic on him, girded him with the sash, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him; and he girded him with the intricately woven band of the ephod, and with it tied the ephod on him. 8 Then he put the breastplate on him, and he put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate. 9 And he put the turban on his head. Also on the turban, on its front, he put the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
And the parallel passage, 1 Chronicles 15:27 speaks directly against the idea: “David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who bore the ark, the singers, and Chenaniah the music master with the singers. David also wore a linen ephod.” (emphasis mine)
As if these facts were not enough to lay aside the claims of David dancing naked, or in his underwear, an understanding of this event in its context makes the idea even more indefensible. David’s first attempt to bring the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem failed. He had acted irreverently by transporting the ark on a cart instead of following God’s specific instructions in regard to its transport. As a result, God struck Uzzah dead for touching the ark. Now, a short time later David is carefully following God’s instructions. He has taken the time to study God’s word on the matter and is reverently obeying.
That same law that demanded such detailed obedience with regard to the ark is not silent about nakedness. Take this passage for instance:
Exodus 28:40-43 “For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats for them, for glory and beauty. 41 So you shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister to Me as priests. 42 And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs. 43 They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place,that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him.(emphasis mine)
When offering worship to a Holy God, a careful lack of nakedness is demanded! To “uncover nakedness” is repeatedly used as a euphemism for unlawful intercourse throughout the Mosaic law. And even as Noah’s two righteous sons were in the act of covering his nakedness they were careful to do so in such a way as not to unnecessarily expose themselves to it. So the idea that David would feel free to expose himself in the very act of rejoicing at the Lord’s goodness toward him in allowing him to bring the ark into Jerusalem, is patently ridiculous.
But must we at least admit that this scriptural example gives us warrant to include dancing in our public formal worship? I think not. This is not an example of dance as performance art. As Matthew Henry expresses it:
He himself attended the solemnity with the highest expressions of joy that could be (v. 14): He danced before the Lord with all his might; he leaped for joy, as one transported with the occasion, and the more because of the disappointment he met with the last time. It is a pleasure to a good man to see his errors rectified and himself in the way of his duty. His dancing, I suppose, was not artificial, by any certain rule or measure, nor do we find that any danced with him; but it was a natural expression of his great joy and exultation of mind.
Or as John Gill notes:
“not a set dance, or along with others; but he leaped and skipped as “car”, a lamb, does, and that for joy that the ark was like to be brought home to his house, without any token of the divine displeasure, as before.”
These expressions of David were no part of formal worship, but rather, on this special occasion were the physical manifestations of the outpouring of joy in his heart. This was no dance meant to entertain others.
But he was uncovered!
The idea that David was somehow exposing his nakedness or his underwear must surely come from Michal’s accusation: “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” But does this statement annul what we have already seen? Is all our evidence laid aside by this testimony? Again, I think not.
This is not the testimony of God in regard to David’s behavior, rather it is the statement made by a hostile witness. Michal was ashamed that David had not behaved himself in a stately manner as she supposed a King ought to, but had allowed his joy and exuberance to be displayed before the entirety of his kingdom.
Matthew Henry’s insights are very helpful here:
Observe, 1. How she taunted him (v. 20): “How glorious was the king of Israel today! What a figure didst thou make to-day in the midst of the mob! How unbecoming thy post and character!” Her contempt of him and his devotion began in the heart, but out of the abundance of that the mouth spoke. That which displeased her was his affection to the ark, which she wished he had no greater kindness for than she had: but she basely represents his conduct, in dancing before the ark, as lewd and immodest; and, while really she was displeased at it as a diminution to his honour, she pretended to dislike it as a reproach to his virtue, that he uncovered himself in the eyes of the maid-servants, as no man would have done but one of the vain fellows that cared not how much he shamed himself. We have no reason to think that this was true in fact. David, no doubt, observed decorum, and governed his zeal with discretion. But it is common for those that reproach religion thus to put false colours upon it and lay it under the most odious characters. To have abused any man thus for his pious zeal would have been very profane, but to abuse her own husband thus, whom she ought to have reverenced, and one whose prudence and virtue were above the reach of malice itself to disparage, one who had shown such affection for her that he would not accept a crown unless he might have her restored to him (2 Samuel 3:13), was a most base and wicked thing, and showed her to have more of Saul’s daughter in her than of David’s wife or Jonathan’s sister.
Or as Gill tersely notes:
because he had put off his royal robes, and put on a linen ephod; for that he had stripped himself naked cannot be supposed, nor do her words import so much though a passionate exaggeration of the case.
And so, with all the evidence before us we must rightly conclude:
David was not naked or in his underwear, he was clothed in a robe and ephod. He was not engaging in performance art. He was expressing the joy of his heart through his outward actions. Michal was not cursed because she felt David’s worship lacked reverence, but because she despised his willingness to lay aside his royal pomp and circumstance and joyously express his delight in God’s graciousness toward him and his kingdom.
Men who achieve a degree of greatness are often polarizing figures. This is not only true in the realms of politics and popular culture but in the church as well. Bland men rarely stir great passions, but men of conviction and gift often do. In recent days much has been written about one of the prominent preachers among Reformed Baptist. That man is Albert N. Martin. For four years he was my pastor and instructor in Pastoral Theology at the Trinity Ministerial Academy.
Much has been written about the public ministry of Pastor Martin. There are sermons that resonate with me nearly thirty years after hearing them. There are the dozens of Pastoral Theology classes that form the bedrock of my life and ministry. But there are three anecdotes that I want to share that have left the most lasting impression upon me.
In the introduction to his book Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, Dr. John Piper warns his readers, “Beware of conjecture about what lies in the pages of this book!” because “Quick and superficial judgments will almost certainly be wrong.”[i] I believe I can honestly say that I am safe from any accusation of failing to heed this warning because it has been at least 12 years since I first read the book. The idea of “Christian Hedonism” as presented in this book has afforded me many hours of thoughtful contemplation as well as instigated numerous lively conversations. I’ve spent hours upon hours discussing the topic with those who love it as well as with those who find it objectionable. I just read the book again (much of it twice), and I think I can present a fair, thoughtful and gracious evaluation of “Christian Hedonism” as it is set forth in Desiring God.
I want to begin by stating emphatically that this book contains a lot of wonderful doctrine. Dr. Piper treats the subject of God’s sovereignty in a compelling and God-glorifying fashion. His explanation of God’s delight in Himself as the highest good is quite commendable. His love of Scripture comes forth throughout the volume, especially in the chapter specifically about the subject. The chapter on suffering is fantastic! There is so much good in this book that it really bothers me that I have to say negative things about it.
I’m not sure who it is who teaches that doing something good to make yourself happy is sinful, or that enjoying God is not a Biblical motive for obedience and worship. I certainly have never come across this idea anywhere in the Reformed and Puritan tradition to which my reading is generally limited. But Dr. Piper certainly, without any trace of doubt, demonstrates from Scripture that any such idea is completely unfounded and unbiblical. If he had simply set out to prove that seeking satisfaction in Christ, enjoying and delighting in God, and actively yearning for comfort in the Almighty are good and Biblical motives for obedience and worship and a necessary element of the Christian life, I think I could have recommended the book.
A Part for the Whole
In the opening of the book Dr. Piper famously alters the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He changes the answer to the question “What is the chief end of man?” from “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever”[ii] to “To glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”[iii] In his immediate explanation for this change he makes the comment “Not that I care too much about the intention of seventeenth-century theologians.”[iv] Perhaps if he had concerned himself more with the intention of the catechism’s authors he would not have been so quick to change their answer. You see, the Puritans did not begin the catechism with a question regarding the purpose of man’s existence and then move on to something else, leaving it up to us to figure out how to fulfill that purpose. Please observe with me:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
Q. 3. What do the scriptures principally teach?
A. The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.[v]
You see clearly that they do not change the subject at all. 1. Man exists to glorify and enjoy God. 2. It is the Bible alone that teaches us how to glorify and enjoy God. 3. The principle teaching of the Bible instructs us in two areas: what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man. The remainder of the catechism expounds what it is we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man. So the entirety of the catechism directs us how we are to glorify and enjoy God. How do we glorify God? We glorify God by believing everything He teaches us in His word, especially with regard to Himself and by willfully obeying every command He gives us. How do we enjoy God? We enjoy God by believing everything He teaches us in His word, especially with regard to Himself and by willfully obeying every command He gives us.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.” Ecclesiastes. 12:13
Before anyone objects that it is possible to believe what God says and do what He commands from improper motives that do not glorify God, please realize that the catechism sets forth what form of faith and obedience truly glorify God. It is made perfectly clear that a mere intellectual acknowledgement of the truth of Scripture is not God glorifying. A living, active and vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that results in a life lived in willing obedience to, and adoration of Him glorifies God. And no one, upon completion of a study of the catechism, could rightly conclude that begrudging compliance or obedience in order to earn favor with God are in any way fulfilling the duties God requires of us.
This is why so many of those who criticize “Christian Hedonism” accuse it of being reductionistic. The means by which men are to glorify God and enjoy Him forever are manifold. All 107 questions have direct reference to man’s chief end. But Dr. Piper has reduced those multiple means of glorifying God to one, enjoying Him. While he does not altogether neglect all the other God given means, I believe the exaltation of this one above all others necessarily results in the overlooking of many.
I by no means wish to take away from the fact that God is indeed glorified by our enjoyment of Him. In fact I would argue heartily that the statement “A chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” is a thoroughly Biblical statement. If only he had changed two words instead of one….
The Means to the End
Dr. Piper is absolutely correct in his insistence that we must delight in God. He must be our treasure, our all in all. We need nothing but Him. We must seek all satisfaction and comfort in Him. We must desire God. This is the clear teaching of the Bible. It is also taught throughout the Reformed and Puritan tradition, as can be seen in the WSC and Heidelberg Catechism. I heartily agree with him. My problem arises with regard to the means he insists upon to achieve this end.
How, we may ask, are we to accomplish the goal of enjoying God? The thrust of the book as a whole seems to answer: “by determining that my primary reason for all that I do must be an active, conscious desire to find pleasure, satisfaction and comfort in God.” That really lies at the heart of “Christian Hedonism”. We are to live our lives with the primary goal of finding joy, satisfaction and comfort, but with the necessary qualification that this joy, satisfaction and comfort is to be found in God Himself, not merely in the gifts He bestows.
I have two major objections to this necessity of making the desire for pleasure in God the primary motivation for everything in the Christian life. First of all, while I agree with Dr. Piper, and the WSC that enjoyment in God is a good an proper motive for worship and obedience, I also recognize that in some aspects of the Christian life and in some situations that we as Christians find ourselves, it would not in any way be necessary to insist that a desire for pleasure in God should be our primary motivation.
Perhaps the clearest example from the Bible is found in Genesis 22:1-19. God commands Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a burnt offering. We are not privy to all of Abraham’s thought processes as he contemplated this difficult command, but Hebrews 11 sheds light on the matter. Now for the sake of illustration, imagine the scene with me and contemplate how Abraham might have answered Isaac if, once tied to the altar, he asked his father “Dad, what are you doing?”
I think we can imagine, with Biblical insight, that with tears running down his cheeks, he might answer something like this: “Son, the Lord our God has commanded me to offer you up as a sacrifice unto Himself. You know I cannot do otherwise than what He commands. But listen, Son, you need not fear, only trust Him. You see, He who cannot lie has made me many promises that he will accomplish specifically through you. He will not fail to make good on His promises, so I conclude that He must be intending to raise you from the dead.” We recognize in this story that Abraham glorified God by the means that the WSC prescribes, by believing what God says and by doing what He commands, even in the most trying of circumstances.
Now attempt to imagine Abraham’s answer if he had been a Christian Hedonist. “Son, you know that I am a Christian Hedonist and seeking and finding happiness in God is the primary motivation for all that I do. Now God has commanded me to kill you, so my path to happiness requires that I do so…” Even with the further explanation of trusting that God would raise him from the dead, do you see the ridiculousness of the answer? It would be just as silly for Abraham to make such arguments to his own heart as it would be to pose such an explanation to his son.
Please remember, I am not saying that seeking satisfaction and happiness in God is not a legitimate motivation for worship and obedience! I am saying that we ought not to insist that it should always be our primary motive, because, quite frankly, there are situations in the Christian life in which it ought not be. I am also aware that we could go through some sort of mental algebra to show that at some level, satisfaction in God is still a motivating factor in such circumstances. My point is that it doesn’t need to be, and often shouldn’t be our primary motivation for what we do, and that doesn’t mean that we aren’t therefore glorifying God as we should.
When I need to discipline my children, what is my motivation? Is the fact that I love them and know that chastising them for disobedience is the best thing for their souls an allowable motive? (I am one that can honestly say that it often does hurt me more than it hurts them.) Is the fact that I have been commanded to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord enough? Is Proverbs 23:14, “You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell” a good enough motive? Is the best way to glorify God in the chastising of my children really to go through whatever mental gymnastics are necessary to spank them in order that I may find pleasure in God? Again, I know that at some level that is somehow in play, but to insist that it be foremost in my mind is in my opinion completely unnecessary.
Dr. Piper does not believe his teaching is at odds with the WSC, and he even states of the Heidelberg Catechism “The fact is, the entire catechism is structured the way Christian Hedonism would structure it.” But it is at this point that he is quite wrong. When answering the question, “How are we to enjoy God”, both catechisms could be accurately summarized with the words of the hymn “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” Neither catechism has any notion that it is necessary to actively seek happiness and satisfaction in God as the primary motive for all we do in order to accomplish the goal of glorifying and enjoying Him.
The Delight of Duty
My second objection to this aspect of “Christian Hedonism” is the seeming failure to recognize duty as a legitimate and necessary means of both glorifying God and enjoying Him. Much effort is set forth in this book to warn against the danger of performing duties for the wrong reasons. Very little is spent in admonishment against the neglect of duties (the one notable exception being the duty to delight in God, of course). Nearly every time the term duty comes up it is in a negative light.
Again, seeking pleasure in God is a legitimate motive for obedience. The Bible presents us with a multitude of legitimate motives to obey God: love, gratitude, fear, as a response to mercy, in awe of God’s holiness, in order to fulfill the purpose of displaying God’s image aright, to name a few. But in Dr. Piper’s zeal to extol this motive, I fear an important truth may be obscured. We owe to God perfect, perpetual, willing obedience for the simple reason that He is God. If God tells me to do something, and I require any other reason than the mere fact that it is God who gave the command, it is sin and provocation on my part. God graciously gives us a multitude of further motives, but if the fact that God commanded it isn’t enough, we have an immense spiritual problem. A sad fact is that I have run into far too many “Christian Hedonists” who actually think that obeying God simply because He’s God is wrong. I wish Dr. Piper had been half as concerned about the tendency of fallen men to fail to recognize and fulfill their duties as he was to make sure they don’t perform their duty for the wrong reasons.
But here is the fact that Dr. Piper seems to miss. If we recognize our duty toward God and determine to fulfill it, if we willfully obey God’s commandments for any or all of the Biblical motives, the result is satisfaction in God. We do not need to make that satisfaction the primary reason for obedience. I believe every true Christian has felt the satisfaction that comes from obeying God simply because He is God. Not satisfaction in a job well done, NO! Satisfaction in God Himself: the satisfaction promised in John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
I guess my point is two-fold. 1. Heartfelt, willful obedience results in happiness in Christ, whether we make that happiness the reason we obey or not. 2. Failure to obey results in a loss of happiness in Christ, even if we are attempting to make happiness in Christ the primary motive for everything we do. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” Christian Hedonism rightly emphasizes the duty of delight, but woefully neglects the delight of duty.
The most frustrating aspect of the book when I first read it was what I will here refer to as equivocation. You see, Dr. Piper seems to have two distinct definitions for Christian Hedonism that he uses interchangeably without seeming to notice. He begins with what I will refer to as definition #1. Here a Christian Hedonist is someone who willfully determines to make the pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction in God their chief motive for life. An example of the use of the term by def. #1 is “Then I was converted to Christian Hedonism. In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.”[vi] The definition I will refer to as def. #2 is anyone who recognizes God as their greatest good and actively seeks pleasure and satisfaction in Him. This definition is clearly in view in chapter 2 for instance which he entitled “Conversion, the Creation of a Christian Hedonist.” When he speaks of his becoming a Christian Hedonist he does not seem to be speaking of his original experience of being savingly joined to Christ by faith. But in his chapter on conversion, he points to the fact that in every true conversion there is a fervent seeking after God as our greatest good and declares it the creation of a Christian Hedonist.
As far as these definitions go, I would say that in the case of the first, the term is an accurate description of the philosophy, but the philosophy is unbiblical at points. In the case of definition #2 the term Christian Hedonism is not a very good description, but at least the philosophy it describes is Biblical. If a hedonist is someone who’s primary motivation is to find pleasure, then a Christian Hedonist would be a good description for someone who makes the pursuit of pleasure his primary motivation, but seeks that pleasure in God alone. But someone who delights in God, and recognizes that seeking pleasure and satisfaction in God is a Biblical motive is not therefore rightly called hedonistic, but does have a clear Biblical foundation for that way of life.
The problem is that in chapter after chapter Dr. Piper provides solid Biblical evidence for the definition #2 Christian Hedonist, but continues to press us to become definition #1 ChristianHedonists, for which I see no Biblical support.
Another frustrating aspect of the book is Dr. Piper’s repeated use of false dichotomies. He makes his argument for Christian Hedonism, and then defends it with an argument that assumes there are only two possibilities, and Christian Hedonism is the right one.
Consider this example:
Someone might object that in making the joy of worship an end in itself, we make God a means to our end rather than our being a means to His end. Thus, we seem to elevate ourselves above God. But consider this question: Which glorifies God more—that is, which reflects back to God more clearly the greatness of His glory—(1) a worship experience that comes to climax with joy in the wonder of God? Or (2) an experience that comes to climax in a noble attempt to free itself from rapture in order to make a contribution to the goal of God?
This is a subtle thing. We strive against God’s all-sufficient glory if we think we can become a means to His end without making joy in Him our end.[vii]
First notice the false dichotomy: either our worship culminates in climax of joy and wonder in God because we made joy in Him our end, or we seek to worship God with a strange desire to avoid satisfaction in Him. From where does the idea come that the only alternative to worshiping for the purpose of finding pleasure and satisfaction in God is to worship with the motive of not finding satisfaction? This is a non sequitur. But I find the final statement here to be the most difficult. “We strive against God’s all-sufficient glory if we think we can become a means to His end without making joy in Him our end.” If we come to worship our Savior simply because He is worthy of worship, with no conscious motivation of seeking joy in Him, we are not worshiping Him, but rather striving against His all-sufficient glory? This is a troubling statement indeed.
I believe this passage, along with his statement in the introduction are very problematic. There he said, “In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.” (I understand how he could argue for the truthfulness of this statement. If all men always seek happiness, then to worship God while not seeking happiness in Him would necessitate the seeking of happiness in something else instead. But please read the statement again and consider the following.) There are countless motivations to worship the living God! Countless Biblical motivations: love, gratitude, fear, reverence, an irresistible response to even a glimpse of His magnificence, holiness or glory… Yet he can boldly proclaim without qualification “it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.” These kinds of statements are unhelpful to say the least.
Another example occurs at the beginning of chapter 4, Love, the Labor of Christian Hedonism, where he states “the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Or, to put it another way: If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.” Do you see the false dichotomy? Either the pursuit of pleasure is your motive, or you aim to abandon the pursuit of pleasure. Let me present another example from the Christian life where the pursuit of pleasure will not be the prime motivating factor, but love is. You find that a dear brother in Christ has fallen into serious sin. Your heart breaks as you recognize the destructive influence the sin is having upon him and you fear for the salvation of his eternal soul. You determine that you must confront him, in love and mercy and grace, but you must confront him. Your heart churns and aches, but your love for this dear friend constrains you to admonish him with all the grace and courage that you can prayerfully muster. Are you failing to love your brother and please God because the motive of finding pleasure and satisfaction in God is not your conscious motivation for your actions? Of course not. We could, again, go through the mental gymnastics necessary to find the connection that proves that at some point there is some aspect of our motivation that is indeed the pursuit of happiness, but is that in anyway helpful in this duty? Do I really need to rebuke my brother for the purpose of securing my own happiness? Again, I think this is just silly.
Consider another statement , this one from the epilogue, and test it in reference to the situation with the need to confront a brother in sin. “The pursuit of joy through mercy is what makes love real.”[viii] Is my love for my brother not real because I am not rebuking him in order to obtain joy through mercy? Of course I do go to my brother in the hope that he will repent and receive mercy! But that is not the same thing as insisting that my purpose for rebuking him must be the pursuit of joy.
Emotion in Place
The final feature of Christian Hedonism that we need to address is the great emphasis that it places on the emotional aspect of man. Perhaps the most widely known words of this book are found in the popular slogan “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him”.[ix] This idea sounds wonderfully spiritual, and I would agree that it expresses a truth, but it is my concern that it places undue emphasis on our emotions.
This slogan is tailor made for the conference Christianity that has embraced it. Thousands of zealous Calvinists gather together and worship the Living God through the faithful expositional preaching of the word of God. To those who embrace this slogan, this must be the very essence of glorifying God. Such worship is truly spiritually exhilarating, a mountaintop experience to which little can compare. I have nothing against such conferences, I see them as mighty evidence of the work of God. The problem is that our emotional makeup does not allow us to remain on the mountaintop. When our emotions inevitably enter a valley, the Christian Hedonist response is to put all effort into getting back to the mountaintop, for it is only there that God is rightly glorified.
Consider one of the attendees on the Thursday following an incredibly blessed T4G. The adversary has taken full advantage of the emotional low he knew would come. The demands of his vocation are pressed to unusual heights, his wife misunderstood something he said and is hurt and angry, his teenage daughter is giving him attitude and his toddler is sick. He is informed that a good friend from church has said hurtful things about him and he finds out that the person whose salvation he has been earnestly seeking has hardened himself to the gospel and is hanging out at strip joints. How ought this man go about striving to glorify God in such a situation, when outward circumstances oppress and tyrannize him? Is yearning for the mountaintop and praying earnestly to return to it really the best way to seek to glorify God now? Is it not patently obvious that the means by which he should strive to glorify God are the means laid out in the catechism? The best way to seek the glory of God is to determine to remain faithful regardless of outward circumstances and emotional turmoil. A constant determination to live a life of principled obedience, to conquer every temptation toward unbelief and remain lovingly obedient whether he feels like it or not. Just as Abraham glorified God in the most trying of circumstances so must he, by trusting and obeying his Lord and Savior.
I do not think we can overemphasize the danger of placing such importance upon emotions that all other faculties of the soul become subservient to them in the effort to reach the goal of pleasure, even if we are determined to find that pleasure in God alone. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) When Dr. Piper writes “It is better to say that we pursue our joy in God than to simply say that we pursue God. For one can pursue God in ways that do not honor Him:”[x], it is as if he were blissfully unaware that one can just as easily seek to find joy in God and end up delighting in something else without realizing it. A quick glimpse at the charismatic movement makes this abundantly clear.
John Owen discusses the role of the mind in governing the other faculties of the soul in this way:
The ground of this efficacy of sin by deceit is taken from the faculty of the soul affected with it. Deceit properly affects the mind; it is the mind that is deceived. When sin attempts any other way of entrance into the soul, as by the affections, the mind, retaining its right and sovereignty, is able to give check and control unto it. But where the mind is tainted, the prevalency must be great; for the mind or understanding is the leading faculty of the soul, and what that fixes on, the will and affections rush after, being capable of no consideration but what that presents unto them. Hence it is, that though the entanglement of the affections unto sin be ofttimes most troublesome, yet the deceit of the mind is always most dangerous, and that because of the place that it possesseth in the soul as unto all its operations. Its office is to guide, direct, choose, and lead; and “if the light that is in us be darkness, how great is that darkness!”[xi] (emphasis mine)
Owen’s view is in stark contrast to Christian Hedonism, for to fully embrace Christian Hedonism is to surrender the mind’s sovereignty to the affections.[xii]
A Christian must be careful to govern his emotions and will by his mind, determining to keep them subservient to the word of God, because he recognizes the natural propensity for his emotions to rule over him. Christian Hedonism’s simultaneous exaltation of emotion and neglect of objective obedience is an extremely dangerous combination. It is my sincerest concern that allowing the emotions to reign in such a way will inevitably result in more heartache than satisfaction of soul.
I sincerely hope I have succeeded in my attempt to graciously and thoughtfully assess the book Desiring God and the notion of Christian Hedonism without misrepresenting them in any way. I assure you that any failure on my part was purely unintentional. Much of the book is wonderful. I was quite surprised at how much I benefitted from the chapter on Suffering, considering how much of the book I had disagreed with up until that point, but as I contemplated the matter it became quite obvious why. The desire and hope for joy and comfort and satisfaction in God that far surpasses our understanding is repeatedly set forth in Scripture as the means of sustaining the Christian in times of suffering. I hope no one has understood my position to be a denial of the Biblical truth that a significant part of man’s chief end is to enjoy God forever, because I would never deny such a glorious and blessed truth. I in no way deny that we ought to actively seek pleasure and satisfaction in the Almighty. I would not even represent my position as accusing Dr. Piper of overemphasizing the duty to delight in God. How could that ever be overemphasized?
If Dr. Piper had simply set out to defend the importance of enjoying God as a necessary element of the chief end of man, as the Puritans did, this would have been a much better book. However, his simultaneous insistence upon the need to consciously strive for that enjoyment, along with his neglect of many Biblical means for reaching it, forces me to the conclusion that Christian Hedonism is an unbalanced view of the Christian life and ought not to be followed.
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!
Let us all seek to glorify God by all Biblical means and let us enjoy Him forever by every Biblical means.
I’d like to complete this short series on delighting in God’s moral law with three further thoughts that should help spur us on and motivate us to imitate Paul and the Psalmist.
First, take a moment to contemplate what a day in your life would be like if everyone in the world perfectly obeyed God’s moral law. You could trust everything you read or heard. You could make every business transaction without fear of being ripped off. You could go wherever you wanted to without fear of harm from others. You could flip through the TV channels without seeing images that corrupt your mind. I think we can all agree that that would be one awesome day! Well, what kind of ridiculous hypocrites must we be to recognize the benefits of others keeping the law, yet refusing to do it ourselves?
Second, consider the foundation and nature of the moral law. It is the transcript of the character of God Himself.
Many years ago I was terribly disappointed to find that the administrator of one of my favorite websites had decided to leave the Reformed Baptist church he had been a part of. Part of his explanation for doing so was extremely disturbing to me. He told of how in his church they had studied the 10 commandments as they are expounded in the Westminster Larger Catechism, and how troubling that was to him. Anyone familiar with this section of the catechism will agree that it is extremely thorough. (In my opinion it is the finest concise exposition of the moral law in print.) But for this man, the exhaustive precision of what God requires was just too much. He told us that he thought to himself “Who could possibly do all this? Why even try?” I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself, “What in the world is he going to do next time he comes across Matt. 5:48?”
Well, I have a much better use for this section of the catechism for you. Read through it again, examining the precision and exhaustive detail of the perfect obedience our Creator and Redeemer demands of us. But do that with two considerations in mind: 1. Ponder the fact that this is a description of exactly how our Lord Jesus Christ lived as he walk upon this earth. He perfectly kept every miniscule detail without the slightest deviation of any kind. Do you want to know what Christ is like? Study the moral law. 2. Consider the moral perfections described and realize that this perfection was not just something God came up with willy-nilly. This truly is the transcript of His character, to understand and love these commandments is to understand and love the author of these commandments. We all long to be more conformed to the image of our Lord and Savior. Conform yourself, inwardly and outwardly, to the demands of His moral law so that you will be more like Him.
And finally, I will conclude with what I believe ought to cause every believer to delight in God’s moral law. This has been the desire of my heart since the moment of my conversion. But unfortunately, the church has been so inundated by false teaching and fuzzy thinking about the law that it almost sounds like heresy to many. We delight in the moral law because it informs us how we can please the one who created and redeemed us!
Ralph Erskine put it this way:
A rigid matter was the law
Demanding brick, denying straw
But when with Gospel tongue it sings
It bids me fly, and gives me wings
For the unconverted man, the law is an unbearable burden. Making demands he can never fulfill, and providing absolutely no aid or consolation to anyone guilty of the slightest deviation from its requirements. But the gospel turns the law into something altogether different! Through the gospel, God takes the stony rebellious heart out of us and replaces it with a heart of flesh that seeks after God and yearns to please Him. The law then instructs us how we can show our gratitude and love for Him for whom we now live. Please allow me to make the necessary qualifications.
Unconverted man can do NOTHING to please God!
No one can do ANYTHING to earn God’s favor or salvation!
But neither of these truths contradicts the fact that Christians CAN and SHOULD live and behave in such a way that is pleasing to God! Paul Washer put it this way:
“[A lot of people] think that Christianity is you doing all the righteous things you hate and avoiding all the wicked things you love in order to go to Heaven. No, that’s a lost man with religion. A Christian is a person whose heart has been changed; they have new affections.” ~ Paul Washer, sermon, “Dating, Courtship, and Marriage.”
What are the new affections he speaks of? They are the love of Christ and the desire to please Him. But how do we go about accomplishing the desire to please Him? Is it that difficult to understand that one way to please someone is by doing what He tells you to do? It is Christ Himself who said “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:14.
Our obedience is utterly imperfect, it could never deserve God’s favor, but He looks upon our feeble efforts as a father watching a small child attempt to please him. He has cleansed the multitude impurities from our obedience with the blood of Christ and is truly pleased with it.
2 Corinthians 5:9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.
Colossians 1:10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
Colossians 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.
1 John 3:22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
This is why every Christian should delight in the moral law of God. Every true Christian eagerly desires to please the One who redeemed him. The moral law teaches us how to accomplish the goal of living a life pleasing to Him.
In part one I discussed one of the greatest obstacles that can prevent Christians from delighting in the law as they should. In part two I want to point out what I believe is one of the greatest motivations for delighting in the law of God. I hope to follow up with more posts with the purpose of helping Christians to delight more in the law of God. For the sake of clarity, I am referring to the moral law of God as summarized in the 10 commandments & the 2 great commandments, and expounded throughout the Bible, especially in texts such as Matt. 5 – 7.
The Law Increases our Love for Christ
The heart of every true Christian heartily echoes the desire set forth in Elizabeth Prentiss’ hymn:
More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!
Yes, we already love Him, but we know we can never love Him as much as we ought. We yearn to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, for that is what He deserves. This may come a surprise to some, but the law is one of God’s primary ways to accomplish the goal of increasing our love for our Savior.
Please consider with me the following passage, Luke 7:36-50:
Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” 41 “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
I fear a great many Christians misunderstand this passage. When they read “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little”, they take it as if Christ were saying that this Pharisee didn’t love him much because he didn’t have that many sins that needed forgiving, compared to this sexually immoral woman. This attitude can be seen in the way so many churches crave to hear testimonies of people who were “really bad” sinners before they were saved, and in the way that many Christians seem almost jealous of such testimonies. But that is not what our Lord is saying at all.
Please stop and think about this for one moment. Does our Lord really look upon the haughty and prideful heart of this hypocritical, unkind and merciless Pharisee and judge it to be better than the heart of a sexually immoral woman? Of course not, the Pharisees had succeeded in cleaning up the outside of the cup very nicely, but the vile putrid corpse rotting inside puts off a stench that is reprehensible in the nostrils of a holy God! Pride, hypocrisy and lack of love for fellow sinners are the most abominable of sins to God. So Christ wasn’t pointing out that this adulterous woman was more sinful than Simon. Our Lord was pointing out that the reason this woman loved Him so much was because she realized how great a sinner she was. It was the knowledge of the greatness of her sin that gave rise to the wondrous volume of love she poured out at her Savior’s feet.
So one of the lessons we ought to take from this passage is that a primary means of increasing our love for our Savior is to realize just how much He has saved us from. The more we realize how much we have been forgiven, the more we will love Him. God’s appointed means for showing us our sin is His law. (Romans 3:20) Go to the law and let it expose your sin. Yes, it hurts! I despise the agony of a guilty conscience as much if not more than most people. But we do not wallow in guilt and self-pity when the law exposes our sin. We flee to Christ, to be washed afresh in His cleansing blood and to receive from Him the necessary power to repent and forsake that sin. The temporary pain that is brought by the knowledge of your own sinfulness cannot compare to the blessing received through it, for that blessing is a greater love for our Great High Priest and Redeemer, Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is most certainly one of the reasons for the general shallowness of the broad scope of Evangelical Christian churches, isn’t it? The law is avoided like the plague. Sin is seldom mentioned, and when it is, it is in the vaguest of terms. Sin is never defined, it is just something we acknowledge as “bad” but avoid talking about if we can help it. No wonder these churches are filled with people whose love for Christ can be exhaustively demonstrated by mindlessly singing a handful of Christian jingles and dancing a little jig a few times a month.
But I want to point out one more wonderful truth before closing. The man, woman or child who was brought up in a Christian home with nurture and discipline, who rarely even openly disobeyed his/her parents, let alone ever committed sexual immorality or abused drugs can love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every bit as much, if not more than someone like me, who filled their belly with the filth of this world before God so graciously saved me. Every one of us has a seemingly bottomless cesspool of sin within our hearts. He who delights in the law will allow it to reveal his own sins to him, that he may love His Savior all the more for it.
Book Review: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection By Thabiti M. Anyabwile
A few months ago my wife asked me to give her some suggestions for devotional reading. She wanted something that would help stir up her heart in devotion to Christ as she contemplated entering a new year. I did give her a handful of suggestions, and she has benefited from them, but by the time I got through half a chapter of this book I knew that what I had in my hands was exactly what she needed!
In much the same way that Isaiah calls us to “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9), and the Apostle asks us to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1), Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile invites us to take a long look at Jesus Christ. His new book, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, is both a call to enter into the contemplation of our Savior, and an excellent catalyst to assist us in the undertaking. This is a wonderfully heart-stirring book, and I heartily recommend it to every Christian reader.
Pastor Thabiti uses five questions, rooted in five passages of Scripture, to help us to dwell on the mystery and glory of Christ’s death and resurrection. In Chapter 1 he asks, “Is There No Other Way?”, drawn from Matt. 26:42, “Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”. As we are drawn to contemplate the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection for the accomplishment of our salvation and the display of God’s glory, I trust your heart’s devotion to Christ will be as strengthened as mine was.
In Chapter 2 we consider the question “Why Have You Forsaken Me?” from Matt. 27:46. This question brings us to consider what actually took place that day as Christ hung on the cross, and the effects that the answer to that question have on our hearts are truly limitless. In Chapter 3 the question for contemplation is “Where, O Death, is Your Victory?” in light of 1 Cor. 15:55. Which bids us to think about the treasure that is ours as a result of Christ’s finished work.
“Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?” is asked in Chapter 4, as we are brought to Luke 24:5. And Finally, we consider the question “Do You Not Know These Things?” in Chapter 5, as we consider Luke 24:18 “Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?’” In this final chapter we are brought to contemplate not only what we believe about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but on what basis we believe these things, as the subject of epistemology is raised to a fruitful end.
Each of the five chapters concludes with a list of additional questions for contemplation. These are not the typical study questions that just seem like they are meant to see if you actually read the chapter. These are questions well suited as aids to help us to think long and hard about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to contemplate His Glory, to dwell upon His matchless grace, until our hearts are bursting with praise to His glorious name.
In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The last time my heart was this stirred by a book was when I read “The Heart of Christ” by Thomas Goodwin! There exists no true Christian who would not benefit from taking the time to think deeply upon the majesty of our Savior, and this book is a fantastic means to that end.
I also recommend listening to the Confessing Baptist podcast’s interview with Pastor Anyabwile about this book.
The Psalmist describes the blessed man as he whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1:2). And the Apostle Paul himself declares that he “delight[s] in the law of God according to the inward man”(Rom. 7:22). Yet a large portion of the professing Christian church today would instantly condemn anyone who delights in the law as a “legalist.” The very idea that the Psalmist and the Apostle were guilty of legalism is on its very face preposterous. But let me further put this idea to rest with a simple truth. The legalist does not, indeed cannot delight in the law of God, for whenever the law of God is misused and abused as a means of procuring favor with God it is an unbearable burden! That is why legalism inevitably twists, truncates and manipulates the law of God into something that it is not, something that the legalist is able to fulfill, at least in his own mind.
Undoubtedly, the reason behind the disdain so many professing Christians hold toward the law of God stems from the fact that they have never bowed the knee to King Jesus. They have entered the “church” by means of an easy-believism “gospel” and have never surrendered their hearts and lives to the dominion and Lordship of their rightful King. They sit securely upon the throne of their own heart and sternly reject the right of anyone, including the God who holds their life in His hands, to tell them how they must live. Every time they are confronted with the law of God their conscience is reminded of the fact that they owe obedience to one greater than themselves and therefore they reject and despise it. There is only one solution for anyone in this frame of mind: Repent and believe. Surrender your life to the King of kings and Lord of lords and trust in Him alone to save you from your sin. Give yourself to Him, take His yoke upon you, for it is indeed light, and He will carry you to glory.
How Can I Delight in that which Brings Guilt and Shame?
I want to focus, however, on a question that others may have. Even those who have truly been converted and love the Lord Jesus may still wonder at times “How can I delight in the law of God? It is the law that brings my sin to mind. It reminds me of how much I fail my Lord and it fills my conscience with guilt and shame. How can I delight in something that does that?” I believe the answer to this question will not be difficult for us if we just look at the conscience from a Biblical perspective.
Unregenerate sinners have various unbiblical means of dealing with guilt, and unfortunately, these habits are not instantly eliminated from our minds at the moment of conversion. We need to consciously recognize and reject them. I will focus on two primary ways that the world deals with guilt and then contrast these with the means the Bible gives us for dealing with it.
Balance Guilt with Blame
One of the most common things unbelievers do with a guilty conscience is to shift the blame from themselves by concentrating the focus of their energy on someone else doing something that they consider to be so much worse. Perhaps the clearest example of this in our society is the strange marriage of pro-abortion advocacy with animal rights advocacy. It seems so illogical that those who have no concern for the rights of a human being as long as that human being resides within the womb of its mother should at the very same time spent their time and energy fighting for the “rights” of anything and everything within the animal kingdom. Until you realize that this principle is at work. The guilt they have for advocating murder in some cases is somehow, in their conscience, relieved by focusing on someone else doing something cruel to something else. The Christian is not immune to this principle however. How often, when faced with the guilt of our own sin, do we instinctively point to someone else doing something worse instead of dealing with our sin Biblically?
Pretend it isn’t Sin
The second of the two most common ways that the world deals with the guilt of sin is simply to pretend it isn’t sin. This stands out the most in our society in the homosexual agenda. The fight for “gay marriage” isn’t about “marriage equality” at all. It is about sinners trying to quiet their consciences. They know what they do is wrong, but they want to do it anyway. They fight to convince themselves and are able at times to quiet their stubborn consciences. They do everything in their might to remove every reminder that what they love to do is in fact sin. But every time they are confronted with someone who holds to the Biblical truth their conscience is again disquieted and this opposing view must be silenced so that they can return to their slumber! That is why the simple truth that according to the Bible homosexuality is sin, is being outlawed as “hate-speech” in place after place. Again, unfortunately, Christians are not immune to this practice. We have certain sins we are quite comfortable with, and when our conscience is awakened by the law of God our first reaction can be that we don’t want to hear it. Keep the law to yourself so I can go on in my blissful ignorance! Well, needless to say this is not how Christians should deal with guilt.
Dealing with Guilt Biblically
Before looking at how we should deal with guilt according to the word of God, I just want to point out one important thing about both of these worldly ways of dealing with it. Neither of them does anything at all to actually deal with the problem of guilt. They are both nothing but mind games! They are means of self-deception, nothing more. The Bible provides us with the one and only means of dealing with guilt that actually fixes the problem! What is that? Short answer: Christ.
When the law confronts us with the guilt of our sin, there is only one thing to do: Flee to Christ. 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Don’t hide from your sin, don’t cling to your sin, take your sin to Christ! Confess and forsake your sin and leave it at the foot of the cross. He is faithful, not only to forgive you and cleanse you from the guilt of your sins. But he is also faithful to cleanse you from that sin. It is Christ and Christ alone who can give you the strength to forsake that sin, to cause you to see it the way He sees it and flee from it in disgust.
If you allow the law of God to work in your heart in this way it will inevitably become a delight to you. Allow the law to test your heart, to go down to the very depths of your soul and shine it’s light upon you. Let it expose your most intimate and secret sins, those you have been hiding even from yourself. But when you come face to face with the wickedness of your own heart in the mirror of God’s holy law do not despair. Do not be overcome with the dreadfulness and despicableness that you will inevitably find. For no matter how vile and putrid it is, the blood of Christ has more than enough power to wash you white as snow. Take it directly to the foot of the cross and lay it before your compassionate Savior. Oh what a Sweet Savior He is, for He will draw you unto Himself and cover you with His undying love.
The Question Reversed
So you see I must reverse the question. Dear Christian, how can you fail to delight in the law of the Lord. How can you not delight in that which constantly draws you to the foot of the cross and causes you to lay hold of your Savior afresh and cling to Him with all of your might? The great delight of the law of God is that it enables us to find our greatest delight in Christ Himself!
In part two I will share a number of further thoughts to help enable us to be that blessed man of Psalm 1, constantly delighting in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.
Ever since my first exposure to the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God I have been fascinated by the subject of Compatibilism. God has decreed from eternity past whatsoever shall come to pass, including the actions of sinful men, yet men are still fully responsible for the sinfulness of their actions and God is in no way the author of sin. Meditating on this subject has brought me countless hours of fruitful contemplative reflection over the years.
By far the most substantive and thorough treatment of the subject I have ever had the pleasure of reading is a book that has been long out of print.
The Court of the Gentiles, Part IV, Book III, Wherein the Nature of Divine Predetermination is Fully Explicated and Demonstrated, both in the General, as also more Particularly, as to the Substrate Mater, or Entitative Act of Sin: with A Vindication of Calvinists and others from that Blasphemous Imputation of Making God the Author of Sin,
by Theophilus Gale, published in 1678. I believe Gale was a professor of Philosophy and a member of Thomas Goodwin’s church. (One day I would love to see a republication of this momentous work in contemporary English, Gale uses a lot of words that are no longer found in an unabridged dictionary.) Gale’s work is unique in that it is both philosophically sound and profoundly Biblical. The doctrine of Compatibilism is proved through Scripture, not philosophy. The doctrine is, quite simply, forced upon us if we hold to the conviction that all things in Scripture are necessarily true. Where Gale excels all others is in his ability to demonstrate that these truths can all be held together in a way that is indeed philosophically satisfying as well as faithful to the whole counsel of God. While I may have begun my study of the subject of Compatibilism as an intellectual pursuit, as I began to see it throughout the word of God it became much more than that. I now recognize this principle to be one of the most comforting truths revealed in Scripture.
A few years ago I had an opportunity to preach at Emmasdale Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia. When I asked Pastor Makashinyi if there was a subject he would like me to address, he told me that some in the church were fairly new to the Reformed faith, and that some basic teaching in that area would be helpful. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to share the Biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty (rightly described as Compatibilism), as it is presented in Scripture, in the hope that it might bring them the same comfort that it has afforded me in times of distress and trial. I did not enter into the philosophical realm, as this was a sermon, not a lecture. But I did my best to set forth the Biblical evidence and apply it to our lives.
I would simply ask that you might overlook my lack of eloquence in the hope that you may experience the same consolation to your soul that this doctrine has afforded me.
1 God has Decreed in Himself, from all Eternity, by the most wise and holy Counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever come to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin, nor has fellowship with any therein, nor is violence offered to the will of the Creature, nor yet is the liberty, or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established, in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power, and faithfulness in accomplishing his Decree.—1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith
Resting in God’s Decrees (sermon outline)
Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
I. God’s Decree is whatever comes to pass.
Isaiah 14:24 The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand:
Isaiah 43:13 Indeed before the day was, I am He; And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand; I work, and who will reverse it?”
Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, “My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’
Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, “He has no hands’?
Daniel 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
Psalm 115:3 But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
Psalm 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.
Ephesians 1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
Romans 11:36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
II. Including the sinful actions of men.
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.
Acts 2:23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;
Acts 3:18 But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.
Acts 4:27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.
III. This does nothing to eliminate the sinner’s guilt.
Isaiah 10:5-12 “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation. 6I will send him against an ungodly nation, And against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, To seize the spoil, to take the prey, And to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7Yet he does not mean so, Nor does his heart think so; But it is in his heart to destroy, And cut off not a few nations. 8For he says, “Are not my princes altogether kings? 9Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? 10As my hand has found the kingdoms of the idols, Whose carved images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria, 11As I have done to Samaria and her idols, Shall I not do also to Jerusalem and her idols?”‘ 12Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Lord has performed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, that He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks.”
2 Samuel 16:7-12 Also Shimei said thus when he cursed: “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! 8 The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” 9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” 11 And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. 12 It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.”
2 Samuel 19:19 Now Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king when he had crossed the Jordan. 19 Then he said to the king, “Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me, or remember what wrong your servant did on the day that my lord the king left Jerusalem, that the king should take it to heart.
1 Kings 2:8-9 “And see, you have with you Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a malicious curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim. But he came down to meet me at the Jordan, and I swore to him by the LORD, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ 9 Now therefore, do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man and know what you ought to do to him; but bring his gray hair down to the grave with blood.”
IV. This does not make God the Author of Sin!
1 John 1:5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
Genesis 50:20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
Job 1:6-22 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” 9 So Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” 12 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house; 14 and a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 when the Sabeans raided them and took them away—indeed they have killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 16 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 17 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three bands, raided the camels and took them away, yes, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 18 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: “ Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” 22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.
Job 2:9-10 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity (evil)?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
V. This should be one of our greatest comforts.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
(How God used an Arminian Bible college to make me a Calvinist)
My wife and I were converted in a conservative Southern Baptist church in Sioux Falls, SD. Growing up, I had attended United Methodist and Evangelical Covenant churches where the preaching was very bland and easy-believism was the norm. This SBC church was the first place I had ever heard sound expository preaching, and in my extreme naivety I assumed that all Baptist churches were like this one, standing firmly on the inerrancy of Scripture, preaching boldly against sin and faithfully proclaiming the gospel. So when I “surrendered to preach” I enrolled in the local Baptist college which had a 3-3 program with the North American Baptist seminary in town. It only took a few weeks on campus to realize that all Baptists are not conservative and this college was no place to train for the ministry. So I spent quite a bit of time researching for the most conservative Southern Baptist Bible college I could find. My search led me to Florida Baptist Bible College in Graceville, FL.
Fav Point Calvinist!
Moving from South Dakota to the Florida panhandle in January was awesome! It was -18 degrees when we left and in the 60’s when we arrived. The day after we moved into the on-campus married housing I was enjoying the balmy weather and chatting with my new neighbor in our shared front lawn, when a senior student stopped to say hello. He had just “made the loop”, visiting all the Southern Baptist seminaries in order to decide which one to attend for his post-graduate studies. At some point in the conversation he said to my neighbor, “You’ll never believe what they got for a president at Southern. –a FIVE point Calvinist!” :O (He was referring to Dr. Mohler of course.) I had never heard the term before, so after the senior had driven away I asked my neighbor, “What is a five point Calvinist?” He didn’t know exactly how to define it, and he seemed somewhat neutral on the subject, but he made it quite clear that most students looked at it as a very bad thing.
A few days later we were having dinner with another new student and his wife. When the fact that I liked Spurgeon came up in the conversation I was told “Oh, you must be a Calvinist.” To which I had to reply, “I don’t know what a Calvinist is.” My friend was still in the discovery phase, but his explanation was enough to peak my interest. I was very busy with all the various duties required in the first semester of a new college, a new job and family (at that time we had 2 children), but I knew this was an issue I wanted to learn more about.
I joined the Theology Club, hoping to engage in some additional “iron sharpening” and fellowship. This hope, unfortunately, was very short lived. We had only one meeting that I can recall. At that meeting the decision was made to host a debate: Calvinism vs. Arminianism. I was pretty excited, thinking this would be of great benefit to my understanding of these matters. Within a couple of days my excitement was turned to dismay. The college had forbidden us from having a debate on the topic! Their suggestion for a better topic of debate: abortion. I was completely dumbfounded! The theology club isn’t allowed to debate a theological issue? What in the world is there to debate about murdering babies? What a joke! Needless to say, the Theology Club simply disbanded. By this time I had two friends who shared my conservative views, and we spent most of our spare time talking about theology.
Finally, a Definition
It seemed like a day could not pass without hearing something in class or on campus about Calvinism, “five pointers”, or something of that nature. I remember quite clearly when I finally found out what “five point Calvinism” actually was. I was up late, (about 1:30 am as I recall) working on a paper, when I had to look up a term in my “Dictionary of Theological Terms”. As I was putting the book down, it suddenly struck me, maybe the term “five point Calvinist” is in here. Well sure enough it was! Under the heading “Five points of Calvinism” I found the TULIP definition as expressed in the words of J.I. Packer. I eagerly dove in, wondering what monstrous doctrine I was about to uncover.
I began to read:
Total Depravity… well that’s clearly Biblical, all men are born dead in trespasses and sins, why would anyone have a problem with that?
Unconditional Election… Why would anyone disagree with this either? If all men are completely unable to choose God what else could be the case? And besides, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Limited Atonement… Well that’s clearly wrong, 1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
Irresistible Grace… Of course, God’s grace cannot fail to accomplish His purpose.
Perseverance of the Saints… Well Duh. How could anyone ever have eternal life temporarily?
Ok, ok, what is going on here? Why is everybody so worked up about “five point Calvinism”? Four of the five points are as plain as the nose on my face. I remember waking my wife up and reading each point to her and asking “This is Biblical isn’t it? What’s wrong with that? Am I missing something?” My wife didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm, but she agreed with me that four of the five points were obviously Biblical. What a realization, I was a four point Calvinist before I even knew what the word Calvinism meant. Funny how serious Bible reading and expository preaching can bring that about, isn’t it?
Arminian Antics and Strawmen
My friends and I became convinced that someone at the college was coaching chapel speakers, asking them to deride Calvinism whenever possible. I distinctly recall one speaker, when he came across the term elect in his text, giving a completely irrelevant explanation of its meaning and concluding with the declaration: “And that’s the only place election appears in the Bible!” We looked at each other in disbelief. Did he know he was speaking at a Bible college, to people who have Bibles?
Perhaps the funniest incident regarding Calvinism that I can remember was in my Christian Education class. The instructor had for some reason brought up a question about what you as a parent should do if your daughter stays out a couple hours past curfew. Immediately a voice from the other side of the room piped out, “If you’re a fav point Calvinist, she wuz sposed to come home late!” Of course this was met with abundant laughter.
But this anti-Calvinist atmosphere did do one thing for me and my friends. It drove us into the library. Oh the library, sigh… What a wonderful, peaceful, glorious place. There we devoured everything Calvinistic we could find. A.W. Pink, Ian Murray, Charles Spurgeon and John McArthur were the most helpful to me at first, and J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness gave me a taste for the puritans, and we all know what a treasure trove can be found there!
The Fifth Point
But even though many of the arguments I came across in defense of limited atonement seemed logical, I could not be convinced, not in the slightest. 1 John 2:2 was always ringing in my ears every time the subject came up. I prayed for understanding & spent much time in meditation over that verse. I then decided to do all the research I could and delve as deeply as possible into the meaning of that verse. I had my Complete Word Study New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, and I was determined to get to the bottom of every word and phrase. Then suddenly, something amazing occurred to me. It was as though God just switched a light on in the dark room that I had been groping around in. Wait a minute, if that verse means what I thought it meant, then there can’t be anyone in hell! If Christ has propitiated God’s wrath toward every individual who ever lived or will live, then no one can ever suffer under God’s wrath. Scripture is clear that all who die outside of Christ will suffer eternally under the wrath of God. Well what do you know, I’m a five point Calvinist!
I left FBTC after only one semester, it was much more conservative than Sioux Falls College, but it was still far too liberal for me. I think I’ll always have fond memories of my time there, for it was the beginning of my “cage stage” of Calvinism. I wasn’t yet what I now consider reformed, but I was indeed a “Fav Point Calvinist”!