Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ! As we look back over the past several years we truly want to “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Lives have been touched by our Lord’s power and grace in so many ways that it would be impossible to list them all! Yet these have also been years of humbling ourselves, repentance, and faith. We have been stretched and challenged, often times beyond what we thought we could endure, and yet God has always proven faithful to us. As elders we are humbled and continually thankful for every member of this church who has publicly stood and identified themselves with our Lord Jesus Christ, and with us, a particular expression of his body in his kingdom.
Over the past several years there has been an issue which has frequently surfaced in our deliberations as elders. It has not dominated our discussion, and yet it continually surfaced as a matter of significance to us. This issue is our denominational affiliation. After quite a few years of discussion and exchanging and reading many letters, articles, memos and papers, and after much prayer, repentance and searching of our hearts, the elders at our session meeting on December 12, 1989, approved the following resolution, “That the Session recommend to the Congregation that New Life Presbyterian Church withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and affiliate with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).”
While there was much sentiment for realignment to the PCA among many in our congregation and on our session several years back, as elders we felt it was wiser to wait. We were (and still are) the largest church in the denomination and we did not want to take action that would be “precipitous”, causing many other churches to leave the denomination following our lead at a time when there was much tension in the denomination.
Since that time quite a few churches have, in fact, realigned from the OPC into the PCA. Our daughter/sister church in Northeast Philadelphia was one of them. Our daughter/sister church in Fort Washington has organized in the PCA. New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido, pastored by Dick Kauffman (one of our former elders) has also made the move. Now we believe it is time for us to do the same. We believe this step would glorify the Lord, and would strengthen the ministry of New Life here in Glenside as well. We think you will agree with us that this would prove to be a positive, exciting, forward looking movement for our church to make in the times in which we live. We seek, therefore, your prayerful endorsement of the Session’s decision, that we might move ahead together with unity of mind and heart.
I. A brief history of this matter:
In 1936 the OPC was formed when a small group of churches and ministers separated themselves from the large northern denomination of Presbyterians due to that denomination’s defection from biblical truth. In 1974 the PCA was formed by a similar separation of conservative churches from the large southern denomination of presbyterians and for similar reasons.
In 1979 the PCA proposed to the OPC and to the RPCES (another body of presbyterians) a plan inviting them to join her ranks. That plan was referred to as “J & R”, meaning joining and receiving. J & R was a method of union devised in order to shorten the normal process of negotiated merger, which ordinarily takes many years. It was an attempt to demonstrate to the world the unity of the body of Christ which Jesus prays for in his high priestly prayer in John 17.
These seekings after biblical unity are complicated and sometimes rocky. In 1980 the PCA withdrew the invitation to the OPC. The RCES joined the PCA in 1982 via the J & R process. In 1984 the PCA reissued a J & R invitation to the OPC. In June of 1986 the General Assembly of the OPC rejected that invitation. A two thirds vote was needed for approval but the vote was only 54% yes and 46% no. In the several years that have followed, the OPC has made it quite clear that it does not favor a J & R plan as a method of union whereas the PCA has also made it clear that it does not favor a lengthy process of negotiated merger. Some in our denomination may disagree, but for all practical purposes the union between the OPC and P C seems extremely unlikely. Those of us who believe that the union of these two virtually identical churches is a biblical imperative made clear in our Lord’s will for Christian unity (John 17, Ephesians 4) have been very disappointed.
We now have a decision forced upon us in the absence of such union. Where do we belong? Where can we best move forward with the kingdom vision God has given our congregation? Both of these denominations are biblical in their doctrine and structure. Where does our church fi t most strategically in the light of our philosophy of ministry, and the times in which we live? We have concluded that affiliation with the PCA is clearly the better choice for us, since the prospect of union between the OPC and the PCA is dim.
II. Key Reasons for affiliating with the PCA:
A recommendation to move into the PCA is based primarily on positive assessment of the PCA, not on negative reactions to the OPC. We love both churches and believe we could function in either body. We should hasten to say that both denominations are imperfect, and we will add to the flaws and failures of either one. We recognize that the OPC has certain strengths that are not found in the PCA, but in general we believe that we can function best in the PCA. We believe that we are more in step with its general direction and priorities. We are enthusiastic about i s aggressive commitment to reach our nation and the world for Jesus Christ. In the PCA we see the following things:
1. The PCA is a church with vision. We are very enthusiastic about the ministry vision that characterizes the PCA as a whole. The PCA is committed to an aggressive vision that includes reviving America and reaching the world for Christ. In fact, World Harvest Mission (WHM), which had its birth through our church, has received enormous support in the PCA, even leading to a mutually helpful cooperative agreement with their denominational foreign missions program. (Something we have been unable to establish with the OPC.) We believe that we can commit ourselves enthusiastically to the priorities that have marked that church in recent years. They are the same priorities that we have as a congregation. We believe that in the PCA we will be in step with the general movement, able to learn and be stimulated by our brothers, and able to contribute to the movement.
2. The PCA is increasingly a national presbyterian body. Though it is a young denomination, it has grown quickly in many parts of the United states and Canada. It has a potential to make a difference for Christ in North America. It has over two hundred thousand members in almost a thousand churches. Thus, we see the PCA can have a significant role in our society by proclaiming the gospel, standing up for God’s truth, and living out of a visible lifestyle of love and unity. It is a denomination that is still at the formative stage. We can be a significant part of this new movement of the Lord. We believe that the PCA represents the kind of national presbyterian body that we have wanted to be a part of for many years.
3. As mentioned above, our daughter churches and other sister churches have already realigned, and there are many other similar churches in the PCA who share our vision and philosophy of ministry. These are few in the OPC. It is a wonderful privilege and joy to work with like minded pastors and churches.
4. Both denominations care seriously about the city. Yet, at this point in time, it appears that the PCA is self-consciously seeking to be more than a primarily white suburban denomination. The majority of its church planting works in the USA are in major metropolitan areas. Ministries are growing that reach Koreans, Blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese and French-Canadians. They have made a tremendous effort to work with Tim Keller to establish a church in New York City and there is also this same commitment at a regional level for our city, Philadelphia. We believe there is a great need for unity and a concerted effort in ministry if we are to make a serious dent in the problems of this great city. And if we don’t reach the cities of our land for Christ, we won’t reach the nation. So we are convinced that our urban ministry at New Life will be strengthened through the urban focus and fellowship in the PCA.
III. The process of re-affiliating:
The process is rather simple. The OPC Form of Government gives clear direction on how to leave the denomination. Furthermore, the scriptures do not seem to speak directly to denominations. Thus, the ethics of this sort of realignment do not seem to be a problem. But the session did spend a great deal of time discussing the ethical considerations of such a move, and only after we had concluded that it was biblically permissible did we come t o a recommendation.
We believe that the Scriptures teach that to leave one denomination is not necessarily to leave the body of Christ. It is, rather, to leave one part of the church to join another. Our action is not motivated by disregard for the government of the OPC. As mentioned above our action is provided for in the OPC Form of Government and we are following that provision carefully.
In the very act of withdrawal we are seeking to be subject to our OPC brethren. We have no desire for autonomy. On the contrary, we intend to join another presbyterian denomination which, just like the OPC, requires obedience to its standards and to its form of government.
The OPC Form of Government (Chapter 16, section 7) which we follow says:
“A congregation may withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church only by an affirmative vote of the congregation at two successive meetings of the congregation, duly called by the session, notice of the proposed action having been included in the calls for the meetings. The meetings shall be held not less than three weeks, nor more than one year, apart. If the vote of the first meeting is in favor of withdrawal the session shall inform the presbytery promptly, and the presbytery shall have the opportunity, at the second meeting, to dissuade the congregation from withdrawing. If the congregation, at the second meeting, reaffirms its previous action it shall be the duty of the presbytery to prepare a roll of members who desire to continue as members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and to provide for the oversight of these continuing members.
Thus we recommend the following schedule:
A. The unanimous session recommendation December 12, 1989, that New Life withdraw from the OPC and affiliate with the PCA.
B. Session decision announced to the congregation Sunday, December 17, 1989.
C. We are scheduling Saturday morning, January 6, 1990, a t 9:00 A.M. as a time for congregational discussion for anyone who feels they need extended clarification or discussion of this matter.
D. We are scheduling Sunday evening, January 7, 1990, at 6:00 P.M. as a called congregational meeting to have further discussion of this issue, prayer and the first vote.
E. If the first vote is affirmative, we would notify the presbytery at its February 3, 1990, meeting.
F. We would schedule the second congregational meeting for Sunday afternoon, February 1 at 4:00 P.M. in order to hear a delegation from the Presbytery and then to take the second vote. If the second vote is affirmative, we would then apply to the PCA for membership. A certified list of our members would be received without examination. Our elders and deacons would meet as a group with a committee from the receiving presbytery for a group exam and time to get acquainted. All ordained ministers would have to transfer their membership individually and would be examined by the receiving presbytery as it saw fit.
G. A special service of reception would be held by the PCA presbytery to welcome us into its fellowship.
IV. A final word:
In taking this action we want to make clear that we have a deep appreciation and respect for the ministry of the OPC. We have enjoyed its fellowship and are grateful for the birth of our church in its bounds. We have many brothers and sisters we love in the OPC and that will never change.
Yet our loyalty to Christ and his kingdom leads us to want to promote Him and His cause by placing ourselves within His church as strategically as possible. We believe that, for New Life Glenside, our work will be less hindered, and more encouraged, within the PCA. We believe that this is a time of great opportunity given to us by God as a church. Our hope is that God will grant us grace so that we will use the opportunity, not in a spirit of pride, but in a spirit of humility and repentance. We believe God is calling our whole church to a period of repentance and self-examination. We as elders want to encourage you to join us in humbling ourselves before God and seeking His mercy in the form of reviving grace. Certainly there are sins in all of us that the Lord wants to sweep clean.
Pray for a spirit of unity and harmony among us and of great love for our Lord and His church as we make this important decision together.
Warm greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus! I will not be able to attend the session meeting this Tuesday since Rose Marie and I will be just returning from Nashville. But what a great joy it is to know that He is Head of the body and not we ourselves—and that we can draw upon His wisdom and not our own!
I have in view our deliberations concerning the prospect of a move to the PCA. We need a wisdom which is not from man and a grace for enduring through a time of testing, yes, and perhaps even to walk in humiliation. Already I give thanks that God has been moving with power in our midst in these matters. For example, Thursday morning we labored and agonized in prayer over these issues and heard a report from John Yenchko about his time spent this week with two key leaders in the OPC. It seemed to us at this wonderful prayer time, a session of tears, that the Father had especially anointed John with wisdom and grace to spend a whole day with these two brothers and listen to them speak about their priorities and in turn speak to them concerning the priorities Christ has placed upon His church from the Scriptures.
Truly I hallow God’s name for being with John and giving him heavenly wisdom and patience and courage in a most challenging situation. God is at work.
I also wanted to take seriously David Powlison’s request that we each meditate and pray and list pros and cons concerning our proposed move to the PCA. In my own thinking I tried to get down to gut level reasons which are in my own heart and mind.
I come up with three primary reasons for staying in the OPC. 1 am thinking of visceral objections to our leaving. First, it is possible that a move into the PCA will be fraught with uncertainty, pain, and strains in relationships with those who for many years have been fellow members of the OPC with us and in some instances long time, dear friends. That makes the move very painful.
Second, it might seem that there is more that can be done in the OPC to work through its problems and to go to the PCA would be to leave in the lurch those brethren who are seeking to fulfill the Great Commission in the OPC. It might even seem that there is a need for a prophetic rebuke to alert the leaders and people of the OPC and it would appear that such correction could be offered more effectively from within the denomination. It’s personally frustrating to leave without having dealt with some of the problems and have seen progress in working with them. Isn’t this the way of loyalty?
Third, there is a fear of the change itself. The PCA has problems of its own, some like ours in the OPC and some associated with a southern American culture.
I took these matters before the Lord and by His grace became willing to stay in the OPC—if that was His will.
In prayer and meditation this week I found myself wanting to do almost anything to avoid leaving the OPC. I sought to cleanse myself from personal or prejudicial motivation and told Him I was even willing to go through the pain of all the judicial conflicts which likely lie ahead of us if we stay in the OPC if it was His will for us to stay. I was willing to sit down personally with the key figures who are moving in the opposite direction from us at New Life and enter into deep conflicts—and even to consider pressing charges against them if that is warranted.
By grace I went further. It seems clear to me that if we stay in the OPC John and I must be willing to rethink our ministry priorities and job descriptions. Litigation in the OPC can really be time consuming and drawn out. (In 1950 the Sloyer conflict was in presbytery for ten years. Sloyer finally left the denomination and, I believe, he died not long afterwards as a fairly young man.) John will need to take time away from his ministry to the congregation, and I will need to back off from the writing and World Harvest. We will also need to labor to bring the congregation aboard what we are doing and why and on a constant basis. We will need to work overtime to protect the congregation from reaction to the OPC and bitterness.
I think this will be extremely unpleasant or at least very painful for the whole church. Sooner or later charges are almost certainly going to come our way—there are apparently eight pages of charges filed anew against Harvie Conn. What happened to the Wheaton Church is another window into which we can see the future. And Joe’s experience in the local presbytery is part of a broader picture. There is a great deal of bitterness and frustration out there tied in with the decline of the OPC foreign missions program and so many churches leaving the denomination for the PCA and now with the Wheaton church going into the EPC. People have been hinting about bringing charges against us maybe for a couple of years. So far it’s been mostly talk, but with what happened to Wheaton and Joe there’s obviously a new wind blowing.
But there is more. The major reason for staying concerns working to correct the OPC. I mean beginning with our own deepening repentance and then having John and me, along with other elders, sitting down with key leaders in our presbytery and the denomination and seeking to get them to face up to sins and errors in the church. The elders will all need to take time to work on this undertaking together.
If this does not bring about some correction, then we would need to prepare charges ourselves against some of these brethren. I assume that these charges would take the form of violating two parts of their ordination vows: the vows to keep the peace and unity of the church. In the OPC you vow to “study the peace, purity, and unity” of the church. I think it would also be necessary to bring charges against men for prejudicial and unconstitutional treatment of Joe.
Now there is nothing that appeals to me less. If we elect to stay and do battle, then such matters as substantial trips overseas are over for me. I simply must be here for presbytery and G.A. Our elders must also take turns in going to presbytery, perhaps several will need to go. We will also need to form a committee of elders to work on these issues and have increased session meetings.
Also we should expect that if this kind of conflict ensues, it may well get national publicity, at least in Christian circles. It could also get into the local newspapers. This has often happened in our nation when church conflicts heat up.
Mysteriously, God made me willing to do all these though I did not love the thought. I think this is amazing grace which came out of a love for these men who differ with us. Strange visitation from heaven!
But after a day or two I thought of the dishonor to Christ that could come from these public conflicts. I hung my head with sorrow over the thought He would be shamed by endless debates and charges and countercharges that likely will take place.
But most important: it occurred to me that we would by staying and entering into increasing conflict we would be giving up the priorities Christ has given us. On the side for realigning with the PCA what is our one overarching consideration? It is our desire to enhance our work in fulfilling the Great Commission and to avoid entanglements and conflicts that would hinder this ministry.
What cleared the air for me was two convictions which I have reason to hope came from the Lord. 1) God’s will for me is not to become the prosecuting attorney in the OPC but to fulfill my calling in obedience to the Great Commission. 2) God’s will is not for me to be the Holy Spirit. I am not able to reform people who are not ready or willing to listen to me or anyone else call them to repentance. I think the same is true for John. He is not called to be either a prosecuting attorney or the Holy Spirit.
I thought of the many calls to repentance which have gone out to leaders in the OPC and to church members. Clearly what John said so well to the two key leaders he met with this week was another such call. Harvie Conn has made such calls with great power at the times of G.A.’s meeting. I have written a letter to the church with the same burden. Doubtless people have repented in our churches, and any true Christian must repent. But I am thinking of what has come to be known as the OP outlook. It is not the accepted style to confess to one another sin and weaknesses. In three instances where I saw repentance take place publicly in the OPC the repentances came under strong attack as doctrinally suspect.
You see, dear brothers, ours is a denomination which has separated itself from liberalism/modernism for good reasons, but in the process its priorities became defensive and negative. It came to exist less and less to proclaim the gospel and more and more to defend itself by pointing out sins and weaknesses in others. Even to admit weaknesses and failings and sins in our denomination became a sign of compromise—of giving in to the enemy. Almost by definition—or at least by unconscious attitude—such a mindset rejects the whole idea of repentance for our denomination and anyone who proposes it. Repentance is seen as an admission that “the cause was wrong.” Gradually “the enemy” became more and more fellow Christians—not just theological liberals but evangelicals and reformed who were different. The result is that the OPC has become a church where the priorities are not evangelism and missions but perfecting procedures and distancing ourselves from any brethren who seem to diverge from these perfecting norms.
It, then, is not simply that I don’t feel like being in the OPC. It is a matter of the basic calling of ourselves as leaders and as a congregation to serve the Lord of the church and to obey His command to go and preach the gospel.
My final humbling lies right here. I am thinking of the first three visceral reasons I mentioned for staying in the OPC. I was converted in the OPC and love its doctrinal roots in the glorious Reformation, all my memories are here. I have never belonged to another church except the Christian Reformed Church. There are things about the PCA that seem all too much like the OPC, though in a somewhat different form. But it has been inexpressibly humbling for me to confess that denominations, unless revived by repentance, usually fade after fifty to seventy years. To admit that this is what happens in history and that I cannot change this history is crushing to my pride. Somehow I feel in my heart there ought to be one more thing to do, one more attempt to call men to repentance, one more way of rationalizing this chaotic aspect of life, or some way to minimize, wish away, the dreadful effects of sin in Christian movements.
But it is also freeing for me to recognize my limits. Very freeing for my conscience. I am not the Holy Spirit. I can trust the OPC to His working. I can and must endure the pain of seeing my beloved society of fellow Christians become more and more ingrown and to avoid repentance as a thing of shame. To leave may mean that we shall be misunderstood and judged by them. Oh, I love to preach about being forgiven like the publican, but I hate to be treated like one by the church where I found Christ! Brothers, it hurts deep, but it hurts clean!
I believe I can also learn from history. Denominations rise under the stirring of the Spirit. He is breaking into the world, to use B. B. Warfield’s expression, like “a pent-up stream” and that stream works through denominations, but when complacency, rigidity, pride, and defensiveness overtake the Christian institutions and denominations, He often raises up new denominations and mission societies or even sends revivals to seemingly dead ones. No church or institution can ever become an end in itself; when this takes place the Holy Spirit of the Father proves that God can take care of Himself. He never permits us to make Him a prisoner of our institutional priorities.
The Israelites think that God is under their control, and confident of this fact they take the ark of the covenant into battle. They end up powerless and defeated. But when the glory departs from Israel, the God of glory raises up a Samuel and a David to replace an Eli and a Saul. While it may be no fun to flee like a David avoiding Saul, that way leads to revival and reconstituting the people of God.
You have my thoughts, beloved brothers. Let us always lead the way with our own repentance. My prayers are with you though I cannot attend our meeting on Tuesday. May the grace of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit be with your meeting on Tuesday evening. You have my love and prayers.
Most affectionately in Christ,
“Letter to Elders of New Life Church concerning Affiliating with the Presbyterian Church in America,” 8 December 1989.
We … who are reformers are often part of the problem. We are in the position of trying to clean up others with hands that are dirty. [T]o recover ourselves and model renewal for others in the local church, we must begin by humbling ourselves. We do this by identifying ourselves first of all as a living member of Christ’s body, the people of God. We are one with the people of God. As such we have Christ’s promise as the ascended Lord to enable us and others to do “greater works” than He did during His public ministry on earth. As we pray and claim His promises, the Spirit enables us to live out our mission in the local church which is to function in the world as Christ’s missionary instrument.
Now comes the hard part. [T]he supreme concern of the ascended Lord is the Great Commission. His master purpose for the local church is for its members to go with the gospel to the lost … We shall be looking at Christ’s imperial vision for conquering the nations through His ambassadors taking the message to them. The intention is to relate this to the life of the pacesetter and the life of the congregation to which he or she belongs. Here we are going to talk about authority for the conflict.
Why is authority so important? Simply because of the intensity of the conflict. In the world outside the church proclamation of the gospel meets with active resistance. In the local church itself the gospel command meets passive resistance, the indifference of the comfortable and self-sufficient.
Active resistance to the gospel in the world can take the form of a raised eyebrow, outright mockery and ridicule, slander, or worse. A pastor friend of mine was actually thrown out the front door of a home by a man who eventually became a Christian. According to Jesus, the mission of the church in the world is always conducted by His “sheep in the midst of wolves.” He says bluntly to His disciples: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
Sometimes hatred of the gospel can be equally bitter within the church, but ordinarily opposition from within to grace takes much more subtle forms and can be harder to handle emotionally. Either way the idealist reformer is likely to be crushed by opposition from within and without.
He is also exposed to the temptation to fight evil with evil. He meets opposition from human wills and he struggles against this opposition by asserting his will. One of the most obvious ways this happens is through gossip. You are attacked and misrepresented. Evil motivation is attributed to you. You defend yourself in the same spirit and manner. You spread your own opinions about the opposition in the heat of the moment and in the agony of your suffering. It all seems so justified. And it is not hard to end up being roasted in the very bon-fire you yourself touched off or at least the one you added some fuel to.
For this reason we need to think through the nature of Jesus’s authority and how it relates to us and the conflict which always lies before us. What we want to concentrate on here is the exercising of authority in the local church by the person who wants to see it obedient to the Lord’s command to go with the gospel to the world.
An example will help to give the problem a sharp edge and outline. A young man who had a leadership position in a Sunday school came to me and said something like this: “In our church there is a problem that is very upsetting. This couple won’t speak to me. I don’t know what to do about it and I don’t think our pastor does either.” Pain was written all over the face of this young man. He loved the Lord and it really hurt him to see this particular middle-aged couple oppose any attempt to change the program and now to be alienated from him personally.
In name they were evangelical Christians, but they seemed to have a bias against doing anything toward reaching the lost. So his emotions were really mixed. On the one hand, he wanted to have an attitude of love toward them but on the other hand he found himself resenting them for their antipathy to outreach. What was worse, much of the real authority in the church was in their hands. They contributed handsomely to the church budget each month. The wife had great influence in the Sunday school by virtue of her having been active in its program for many years, and the husband had equally great influence on the board of elders because of his age and his prominence in the community as a successful businessman.
As I listened I could have drawn my own portrait of this couple, or at least a variation of it bearing a remarkable resemblance. Let’s call them Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus Jones. They are in their middle fifties. Typically Mrs. Jones dominates the Sunday school or some other favorite program of hers. She is the prevailing negative voice on the Christian education committee. When a new idea surfaces at a committee meeting, her face turns cold. As she listens her whole body forms into a stiff angular position. Her voice acquires an edge to it as she states her case against the new proposal. Her defense doesn’t need preparation. It’s always the same. “It’s about time we remember,” she says with chill emphasis, “what happened when we permitted the junior high class to have breakfasts in the church. You can remember, don’t you?” The question is purely rhetorical. Everyone remembers. She has never let them forget. Crumbs were left in the kitchen, ants followed. It’s not so much the familiar facts that intimidate the other committee members. It’s her vision of Indians about to attack, her genuine fear that there are barbarian types “out there” who are ready to desecrate all that is holy.
Cyrus may seem kinder than his wife. Yet he is a super conservative when it comes to the development of the work of God’s Kingdom. He is nice to the pastor, gives him a $200 check each year for Christmas and is courteous to others. She looks more like the “bad” cop who can lose her temper on command; he is more like the “good” cop who tries to smooth things over and tone down any conflicts. One of his favorite remarks when tensions build between him and other leaders is that: “We don’t really mean to leave the church unless things get out of hand.” By “things getting out of hand” he means the introduction of any program which would bring strangers into the fellowship in significant numbers. Since he may contribute something like $400 monthly to the church budget, this remark has authority all its own.
What the young man needs is to see that people like the Jones’s couple have an authority based upon their own vision of what is the church and its purpose. One perceptive observer of the Christian church has called their church “religiousness within a secular framework.” It means that people participate actively in their church ritual and subscribe to its creed, but take their working point of view from the world and not from Scripture. They have a worldly theology.
In Mrs. Jones’s theological outlook, she views the church as the building located at the corner of 22nd Street and Pine. The people who file in for worship around eleven o’clock each Sunday morning are primarily guests. Since the building and not the people are the “church,” she treats the church building with great respect and the people with bare courtesy. She has no concept whatsoever that they are “the people of God” and “the body of Christ.”
Cyrus has essentially the same point of view. But his focus falls more on the organization of congregational life. His supreme concern is to keep the church institution from being overrun by “strangers.” It was his efforts which last year blocked the hiring of a pastoral assistant to do evangelism. He said, “We just couldn’t afford it.” Yet what he meant was: “We want to protect our own little church life and keep our social club pure from upsetting contacts with people who are different.”
What the young man has before him is a conflict between authorities based upon two different visions about the church and its role in the world. Folks like the Jones’s have a secular faith concealed under a garb of religiousness. Their secularism has many features. First, what it leaves out. It is a point of view completely out of touch with Christ’s lordship over history and the mandate of Christ to conquer all nations by the power of the gospel in reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Its adherents have little practical sense of the purpose that Christ has given the church to evangelize the lost. Into this vacuum such religious secularists put the forms, structures, and habits of Christianity without any awareness of the power of a living Christ over worship and life.
A central figure in this worldly theology is the pastor. [H]is role is that of nice men. But he is also expected to be more than that. He is also a primary source of comfort for those who want a little of Christ but not too much. As a preacher, he is expected to be intellectually stimulating, perhaps even biblical, but never to go so far into the prophetic role as to give offense. He must not create conflicts of a foundational sort in preaching or counseling just because his supreme responsibility is to console. As chief consoler he is to baptize, teach, comfort, marry, and bury. In a word, his priestly task is largely to meet the emotional needs of those who have lost virtually all practical touch with God and His purpose for the church.
Since I have applied the word “religious” to this point of view, it is appropriate to ask exactly how this approach warrants such a name. Isn’t it simply secularism disguised as Christianity? Since secularism is simply the widespread suppression by people of the consciousness of God, we must agree that this is secularism. But it is secularism with a twist; a devilish one. It is really religious sentimentalism, a kind of idolatry of the emotions in which the person puts his faith in the forms and practices of the church institution rather that in the Kingship of Christ. In this sense it is intensely religious. The knowledge of God is being suppressed by the use of religious forms and practices. The forms themselves become a substitute for the knowledge of the Most High.
The inner nature of this “religiousness within a secular framework” is made apparent by conflicts that I have observed in churches both conservative and liberal. For example, I know of a highly conservative congregation where the pastor made what seemed to him to be a small change in the liturgy. He changed the title in the bulletin of the main prayer in the morning worship service. He substituted the title “Congregational Prayer” for the wording “Pastoral Prayer.”
To his amazement and chagrin, he discovered one of the leading members of the congregation bearing down on him with all the inevitability of a circular saw cutting through soft wood. Because of this change he was accused of grave error in thought and practice. Immediate repentance was expected of the reeling pastoral victim.
I have chosen this example because the circumstances are so trivial. I could have cited any one of the countless battles over more important changes in worship forms in conservative churches that I know about. But this one illustrates the point that I want to make. It is that any change no matter how small is a threat to many conservative religious people, because their faith is practically summed up by emotional attachment to visible forms of worship and traditional practices in administering the life of the church. My fear is that the defender of the faith in this case had so lost touch with the Kingship of Christ that all loyalty of heart was being given to the visible expressions of worship. The real Lord of that life seems to have become the fixed order of the worship, not the ascended Lord of the Great Commission who overturns all our little human empires.
Seen from the angle of authority, this shift from the worship of the triumphant Lord to the worship of ritual means that Christ is being denied the right to make any changes as the King of the church—not just in worship forms but in the lives caught up in an idolatrous devotion to things that may be good in themselves.
I have encountered the same mind-set in liberal churches. Sometimes they are intrigued by hearing reports of the work of God under my preaching and witnessing and invite me to conduct a series of meetings, sometimes even agreeing that the purpose should be expressly evangelistic. In one instance in a nearby liberal church I was invited to give a series of three lectures on successive Sunday evenings on the subject of the gospel and our modern culture. Through the presentation I developed the theme that modern man was, at bottom, given over to hopelessness. By contrast, I said that the gospel could change the most hopeless appearing person if that one believed it. I underscored that it didn’t matter who that person was or what that person had done. My presupposition was the active Kingship of Christ as risen Lord who used His gospel message to change any believer’s fundamental relationships.
What happened at the end of the third lecture was a bit of an uproar generated by the pastor of the church coming to his feet and saying he did not believe Christ could change everyone. I believe his words were: “Christ cannot change just anyone. Some people have medical problems and are so mentally disturbed that only the medical experts can help them.”
What impressed me was his candor and the candor of the people in the congregation. In the hub-bub that followed people started arguing with one another. Some said Christ simply couldn’t change just anyone who believed. Others said—especially the younger ones—that they weren’t so certain that He couldn’t.
The question here seems to be different from that in the conservative church where tradition became a kind of religious lockstep for everyone. But beneath the surface, I think there are some striking parallels.
What these folks in the liberal church wanted to avoid was a supernatural Christ who has the kind of ongoing power to touch a life here and now and begin to make that life over in a radical manner. In a sense, you might say that in the typical liberal church the people have gone on strike and locked out the Owner of the church.
I know something of the same happens in conservative churches, though it is more covert. It seems to me that in many conservative and liberal churches the question of whether Christ is really there as risen Lord has been passed over. What has been substituted is a love of church music, of lovely church buildings, and habitual associations that are more sentimental than genuinely spiritual.
The proof is found in the lack of confidence in the transforming power of the message of atonement given in the gospel. This unbelief is shared by many people in conservative congregations. Practical atheists abound in conservative churches as well as liberal ones. These folks attend church and honor the Bible not because they are there to submit everything to the authority of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ but because of the emotional need that is met by traditional religious order and moral structure. One man put it to me like this: “Even if I didn’t believe God existed, I’d fight for Him all the way. I’d never miss church and would always insist that my family come too. We need religion in our lives. Otherwise the bottom will fall out of everything.”
So our problem is to get the conflict clear and to disentangle our feet from involvement with the secularist and sentimental view of Christ and the church. The difficulty facing the young leader in the Sunday school and his pastor was that they were in some measure accepting the secularist and sentimentalist view of the church which dominated the thinking of the middle-aged couple who resisted any and all outreach.
The pastor, for instance, if he is typical of Protestant clergy, may refer to the church building as “the house of the Lord” and act as though the “sanctuary” had some vague connections with the Old Testament temple. Thus holiness is not something inherent in the people, but in “holy” material things associated with worship. He is also pretty blind to the fact that emotionally he is for many people the head of the church and has taken Christ’s role as the priest of the church. He has not taught from the pulpit and elsewhere that the supreme concern of Christ for His church is obedience to the Great Commission. He is not even sure that “going with the gospel” is Jesus’s overarching priority for the church in the world. He sees gospel proclamation as one spoke in a wheel with many other spokes and has not understood the message of forgiveness is the rim which binds all the separate parts into one. He has therefore not attempted to arouse the “laity” from their passive stance toward worldwide evangelism and the accompanying good deeds which authenticate the gospel.
The result is that his conflict with people like the Jones couple is piecemeal and inconsistent and is all too likely to degenerate into a personality conflict centered around a clash of human wills. In summary his teaching lacks comprehensiveness and confidence because his own vision of Christ’s purpose in the world is clouded.
You cannot expect to have a part in seeing the church renewed unless you see that the heart of the biblical program for the church and the world is Christ’s authority and that by virtue of that authority He has constituted His church as His own special missionary agency in the world. I don’t see how you can challenge people like the Jones couple and others like them to give up their ingrowness unless someone much bigger than you disapproves of it and has another purpose for us.
The issue is that simple. Christ constituted His church in the world by His own supreme kingly authority as the instrument of His missionary enterprise. That’s why we are here. That’s our reason for being, not for our comfort, but for us to risk everything including life in order as soldiers of the gospel to fulfill His marching orders.
For that reason I invite you to look more closely at the biblical authority for a courageous faith which is strong enough to take on a passively resistant church and an actively resistant world. Otherwise your faith will be quickly damped down by the unbelief that you meet both inside the congregation and outside in the world.
[I]n the summer of 1970 my family and I spent the summer in Barcelona, where I spent a good deal of time meditating on the Scriptural promises. I don’t want to romanticize that time. The study was hard work. Hour after hour I labored over the Scriptures and then tried to reduce my thoughts to written form. I also took long walks for the purpose of pondering over the nature and character of these promises. I talked little with anyone, including my wife. I needed to be silent before God so that He could teach me. My central problem was too much awareness of people. I was far too easily intimidated by people like the Jones couple and often had my zeal quenched by them. Furthermore, I was often ashamed of the gospel in the face of strong opposition which I met sometimes in the church and sometimes outside. I needed in the words of Isaiah to learn to “cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils” and learn to obey God without question as a ready servant.
Gradually through systemic meditation, a new mind-set began to form in me. From Isaiah my faith fed on the theme of the nations spontaneously flowing to Jerusalem at the appearing of the Messiah. In the same book I encountered a vision of a Servant whose “law” went forth to distant “coastlands” and “isles.” His innocent life was offered as a guilt offering “for the sins of many.” From Isaiah, Joel, and Zechariah I learned about the “outpouring” of the Spirit of grace like a flood transforming water in the new age. In Ezekiel I discovered that this river of grace comes from a new temple. In the Gospel of John, I saw that many of these Messianic themes converge in Christ’s incarnation, completed work of suffering, and resurrection.
Prodded by Johannes Blauw’s insights in his The Missionary Nature of the Church, I came more and more to see the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20 as the keystone which brings together the whole structure of new covenant fulfillment under the supreme authority of the risen Lord. As Blauw says, Jesus’s claim to supreme authority is intended to alert us to His standing as the Son of Man in fulfillment of the great Messianic prediction of Daniel 7:13–14.
A look at Daniel 7:13–14 confronts us with a vision of absolute power being given over to one who is “like the son of man” by “the Ancient of Days” (God in His eternal being and sovereign authority). The text adds that this supreme master—“ a son of man”—will rule over every nation of the earth. Verse 14 says specifically that the proclamation of His authority is to include “all peoples, nations, and languages.” They shall serve Him. No part of the earth is excluded from His empire. The latter part of verse 14 further explains that this rule is permanent: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall never pass away.”
The heart of this new supremacy is kindness. This absolute Lord joins authority over the whole earth with a kindly humanity. Beasts arise from the sea to terrorize the earth. These worldly rulers govern with a fierceness like that of the lion, the leopard, the bear, and an unnamed monster beast which devours with “great iron teeth.” They are inhumane cruel dominators of mankind. By contrast, this “son of man” is not “like” them in their cruel imperialism. He is “like” a human being, a kindred spirit ruling over men for their good. His authority is supreme and never ending, yet it is not maintained by any armed might or oppression.
Spelled out in the light of new covenant fulfillment, this absolute but human authority is seen to consist in the conquest of sinners by the gospel message of forgiveness preached under Christ’s kingly authority. In the Great Commission the Lord Jesus announces that just such a loving authority has been placed in His hands. There is no maybe to it. No perhaps. He has it, and He must be obeyed. To disobey Him is to go against the supreme power in the universe and to reject His master purpose for the local church. He says, “All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations …”
The Ancient of Days has acted. All authority is given to the Son in His mediatorial office as the Messiah or Christ. The “therefore” of the following verse ties this authority to going with the gospel. The idea is: Christ has been enthroned over the universe by the victory of victories. Therefore take the gospel to all mankind. Go and conquer them for Christ.
When soldiers receive orders before going into battle, their responsibility is to listen to those orders, to understand them, and to obey them to the fullest detail. Their task is not to argue. They are silenced by the authority and wisdom of those over them. So it is with Christ. We are His soldiers. We are silenced by His commands. Anyone who resists His authority must give account to the King.
In a word, the ingrown church has no right to exist. Sentimental and secularized religion with all its self-centeredness has no right to exist. Our reason for being is summed up in the words “go and make disciples.” The church has been constituted as a missionary church by Jesus’s ascension to royal rule. He as a “life giving Spirit” has sent the Spirit into the church to accomplish this task through going with us “until the end of the age.” Our marching orders are as permanent as His authority and the promise of His presence.
In entering into conflict we often precipitate a wrong kind of battle by our fears. The young leader from the Sunday school confessed that he and the pastor agreed that the middle-aged couple were wrong and unchristian in their attitudes. “The truth is,” I added, “You are also afraid of them.”
I know all about it. Many times I’ve had the same fears. These inward tremors then immobilize you and people like them sense it. You are acting like you had no authority for teaching Christ’s vision of the harvest and no right as a believer to discipline people who oppose the outreach of the gospel. I think you and your pastor may be like me. I don’t like to suffer, so I let situations like this one drift. But you shouldn’t permit them to choose the ground for the conflict. I know they have opposed a particular program of outreach that you and other leaders favor. But you need to get down to your philosophy of ministry and their philosophy of the church as well. Have you and the pastor really taught them Christ’s vision for the harvest and His authority standing behind it? Have you challenged their view of the purpose and the nature of the church and presented Christ’s vision of its reason for being?”
What I urged upon him, and through him upon his pastor, was the necessity of systematic teaching in the congregation both from the pulpit and in the Sunday school about the missionary nature of the church. This teaching must be done with the authority of heaven and earth. I also counseled him to exercise the authority which he had as a member of the body of Christ in going to this alienated couple in the manner indicated in Matthew 18:15–17. Here Christ’s pattern is for going first in private when you have been sinned against, and then if your appeal for repentance is rejected, going with two or three more.
In going you are to seek to explain to them your deepest motivation for wanting outreach—which is nothing less than obedience to the Son of Man. You also want them to understand that this motivation is tied with Christ’s master purpose of the church which is to harvest the lost. Often what is said in a sermon lives in a special category until someone hears it explained close up on how it influences a life and personal conduct.
I think people like the Jones couple also deserve something more. They need systematic teaching done with Holy Spirit anointed authority. They need personal interaction, including loving and tender confrontation with their rejection of Christ’s authority over the church. But they also need to see the pacesetter act on the message. They need to see us silenced and awed first by the authority of Christ over all things.
[The pacesetter] needs to demonstrate in his life and ministry that the gospel message is supremely powerful because of its content dealing with man’s deepest problem—the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God through Christ. Let him expect that the Spirit of Christ is a missionary Spirit and will apply it savingly to human hearts. Christ is alive and I must act on it. I must live it, love it, obey it, and take the risks of such an adventure—which always includes suffering. Soldiers must not expect that battles are fought without pain and dying. Courage in witness must flow from such a commitment.
It was in late May of 1971 when I finished my series of lectures in that nearby liberal church. That Sunday evening I went home and bowed my knees to Christ’s authority in a new way after some painful heart searching. I prayed something like this: “Heavenly Father, I am not sure that in my heart of hearts I really believed what I said tonight about your message being able to change anyone. But now I confess my unbelief and repent of it. I commit myself now to believe your gospel can change anyone. I will act on that commitment with confidence that you will glorify yourself by changing people who appear to be beyond hope.”
In a short time after that commitment our lives were filled up with people that you might think only medical experts could change. In most instances that we know the “medical experts” had tried and failed. So some of these people actually began to live with us in our rather large home in Jenkintown, Pa. One of them was a strapping young woman who came from Building Ten of Norristown State Hospital, where one of the members of the nearby liberal church committed suicide. It had been decided by the medical authorities that the only way to control this young woman was to perform the equivalent of a modified lobotomy. But we took her in and can report after much agony on the part of many Christians, the gospel has proved to be a remarkable power in her life and ours. Today, more than a decade later, Christ has been glorified as supreme Lord in her life. She has never had the surgery. She has her problems, but she knows Christ as Savior. She holds a job, lives in her own apartment, and is a member of Mechanicsville Chapel. The woman psychiatrist who had her for a patient at Norristown State Hospital subsequently told me: “We really missed it with M_______. There is a power in faith that goes beyond anything we can do.”
C. John Miller, “Authority for the Conflict” (p. 14–25), Part 2 of “Building a Missionary Consciousness in the Local Church” (no date).
The pastor functioning as a servant and brother knows that work is the operative word for his calling: the pastor is a working model for his people. Like Epaphroditus he may be called to labor in self-giving right to the door of death (Phil 2:28–30), to study diligently as a scribe of the kingdom (Matt 13:32; 2 Tim 2:15), and to agonize in prayer for men (Col 2:1–3; 4:12–13).
On a daily basis, this means that self-indulgence must be put to death in the pastor. Self-indulgence represents a special and continuing temptation to the pastor because his time is largely in his own hands. It takes the form of physical laziness and sluggishness of spirit, which readily fosters fear. Personal timidity and physical exhaustion often seem to issue from the poisoned conscience of the slothful man.
It works like this: the pastor neglects his calling in the community, grows weary of study and finds his preaching and teaching a burden. He also thinks he needs more sleep. And his fear of people grows.
Other sins soon spin out of his disobedient life. Legalistic penance, wheel-spinning, the aggressive pushing of secondary causes in the church, the neglect of matters of first importance—he indulges in it all.
To be rid of this burden of self-indulgence, go to Christ, the perfect Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1–2). By faith hand the sins over to Him. Be specific as you confess your transgressions, and then trust in His forgiveness. He promises it (1 John 1:8–10).
If this does not bring fundamental help, ask your elders to pray for you, acknowledging your tendency to self-indulgence. At the same time, ask the Lord to search out your hearts for related sins, such as daydreaming and fantasizing.
What you may learn is that the pride that keeps you is the fundamental cause of your laziness. You may have been too proud to let the Lord search you and root out your pet sins, whatever they were.
But be comforted. The Holy Spirit will help you (Psa 139:23–24). Christ will write the Father’s laws and love on your heart (Ezek 36:24–25). And remember, repentance is normal for the believer, his way of responding to Christ and drawing near to the Father (Luke 15:20–24).
Sincere and swift repentance of sinful habits and attitudes can transform the ministry of the most discouraged, ineffectual pastor. Imagine for a moment a young minister who arrives at his study late, already feeling guilty because he has not begun the day in earnest prayer. Usually, the despair produced by habitual sins like these causes him to fritter away his entire time. But today he faces his sins head on. He begins his time by looking to Christ for help. He labors in prayer until he has experienced His cleansing and then seeks God’s wisdom in preparing his Sunday sermon (James 1:5–8).
This time, his preparation does not consist solely of an exegesis of the passage and the writing of the sermon text. Instead, the pastor relates his calling as servant and brother to his preaching. He makes a list of several people who concern him, people he suspects may be unconverted or believers with special needs. He then takes time to pray for them.
Afterwards, he returns to the shaping of the sermon in view of the needs of the men and women for whom he has just prayed. He gives up his academic vocabulary and the elements of bookish didacticism as he thinks of their souls. Illustrations come to mind as he mentally reasons from Scripture with these lost and straying sheep. With eyes of faith he sees them—and he will have their souls for God!
By the time he leaves his study, he cannot wait until Sunday to preach. That afternoon, he calls on these people to minister to them in their homes. He is becoming a man who preaches the Word in season and out, and his pulpit and his study are fused into a continuum: in the study he drinks of the gospel as a thirsty sinner, and in the pulpit he pours forth the overflow to other sinners like himself (John 7:37–39).
The pastor is on his way to becoming, like Paul, a model for witness to his people. He begins by seeking the knowledge of Christ from Scripture, a knowledge which so fills him with the love of God that old sins and habits are displaced by a new fulness. Though lazy and filled with fears, he brought forth both failings to Christ, seeking the strengthening of his faith.
This is the key: strengthening the Christian leader by faith. “The just shall live by faith” must include the pastor’s whole life, for it is this that enables him to concentrate his energies, define goals, repent of sins and honestly face up to his own limitations. It is this that makes him a fruit-bearing disciple, eager to have answers to prayer through his own preaching, to have lives come under the power of the gospel.
He is not content with a vague concept of “edification”—he prays for his hearers to be brought to a full knowledge of the Father and the Son (John 17:3). And by dealing with his own sins of pride, fear, laziness and lust, he is able to make the message powerfully concrete.
The pastor whom God has made a model for witness is one whose character is inseparably intertwined with his faith in the gospel message. If he did not have confidence in its power to change him, the awareness of his own sins would crush his ministry. But as he leaves his idols to serve Christ, he discovers that the message purifies his heart through faith, and liberates him from all his guilty fears (2 Cor 3:16–18; 1 Thess 1:9–10; John 3:1–3). He is a man set free to serve a living God.
C. John “Jack” Miller, Evangelism & Your Church, 58–61.
I wish to affirm that faith alone is the exclusive means for the believer’s continuance in justification. In the divine act of initial justification, faith alone obtains God’s once-and-for-all pardon and free acceptance. The same is true for justification as an ongoing manifestation in the life of the believer. My sins that are daily confessed are pardoned through faith without any addition of works.
There is a clear biblical rationale for this continued preeminence of faith in receiving forgiveness throughout your life. There is an inseparable connection between Christ alone and faith alone. Faith alone is just my way of taking nothing from myself and all from Christ. The ground or procuring cause of forgiveness is always and only the priestly sacrifice of Christ, and faith is always and only the sole means or instrumental cause for claiming His blood and righteousness for our acquittal before the throne of the Highest.
Your own conscience as a Christian readily confirms this conclusion. When you daily confess your sins, do you remind God of your course of covenantal obedience as a cause of acquittal? I think not. You claim in all humility the blood of Christ as your sole hope. In the presence of the Most High you deny that your good works could give you an interest in His favor. You acknowledge that apart from the justifying work of Christ your best efforts are filled with evil. In doing this, you act by faith alone — which is simply to say you look away from yourself to Christ alone.
Compelling Scriptural support for this attitude is found in Philippians 3. Paul is here speaking as a Christian man, not as someone coming to Christ for the first time. His choice of language is intriguing, almost paradoxical. You might almost sum up verses 4 through 11 as Paul portrays himself as laboring intensively not to rest in his own labors. According to him, everything that he had by way of gain from his law-keeping has gone overboard, tossed over by the Apostle’s own hands (v. 7). That is the past. But Paul did not see his struggle with Judaism and the way of law-keeping as a mere phase of his past. Instead, he sees the works-righteousness of Judaism as, in the words of G. C. Berkouwer, “a symptom of the threat to grace inherent in man’s sinful self-importance.” As such, then, the struggle against law-works goes on in Paul’s ongoing life as a man of God. In vs. 8 the battle against works is in the present. Paul says: “Yes, what is more, I certainly do count all things to be sheer loss because of the all-surpassing excellence of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffer the loss of all these things, and I am still counting them refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (William Hendriksen’s translation). Knowing the deceitful way of man’s arrogant heart, Paul makes it the first order of business in the present (and the future too) not to run after anything but “the righteousness from God which depends on faith” (v. 9 RSV). In this matter of justification paradoxically he labors not to have “a righteousness of my own” (v. 9). The idea is that Paul does not trust himself. He gives all his attention to making sure that he may not be drawn away by “man’s sinful self-importance” to build a record of achievement sufficient to earn a stake in his justification.
The matter can be made even clearer by looking at Paul’s citation of the examples of Abraham and David in Romans 4:1-8. It seems certain that both men were believers and already justified by grace at this time. The citation of Genesis 15:6 in vs. 3 indicates that Abraham had been a believer for some years, and the quotation from Ps. 32 of David’s experience is unquestionably the statement of faith of a man already a believer and therefore already a justified person.
Now considering that Paul is speaking to believers, note the direction of Paul’s reasoning. He argues that Abraham was acquitted through faith altogether apart from works done by him. Verse 2 introduces the subject: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not toward God” (ARV). Verse 5 then draws the conclusion: “and to the one who does not work but trusts in Him who justifies the ungodly, His faith is credited to Him for righteousness.” The opposition between faith and works here is obvious. This faith-works dichotomy is found in the life of the believer whenever justification (pardon of sins and acceptance with God) is in view.
The same line of thought is applied by Paul to David with equal vigor. He writes: “So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness without works” (vs. 6). This “without works” is the same as saying nothing from man but all from God. Or to state the issue more precisely, Paul is teaching that even the noblest believing men — Abraham and David — cannot rely upon their good works for their justification. Whenever the specific concern is the acquittal of sinners against the charge of sin, the only condition is that of faith.
My purpose, then, is to affirm that always in justification understood as remission of sins we must see works and faith as in opposition. I am persuaded that this is the Reformed way. Among the continental Reformed, of the seventeenth century, Ludovicus Crocius (1636) states flatly: “So not only are those works excluded from the act of justification, which are emitted before faith and conversion, but also those which proceed from faith (my italics). Gulielmus Bucanus (1609) is so zealous to exclude all works from justification that he concludes: “As regards justification faith is purely a passive thing, bringing nothing of ours to conciliate God, but receiving from Christ what we lack (my italics).
Francisco’s Burmannus (1699) sums it all up this: “Indeed faith is so opposed to works in this matter that it even excludes itself if it is considered as a work. Although regarded by itself it is a work, in justification it is not regarded after this manner but purely as an instrumental work” (my italics).
In the British tradition, Anthony Burgess, prominent member of the Westminster Assembly, states: “That distinction of faith justifying … which is lively and working, but not AS lively and working; is not trifling …” He adds: “Neither is this justification by faith alone, excluding the conditionality of works to be applied to our justification at first only, but as continued; so that from first to last, we are justified all along by faith …” (my italics). He concludes: “… The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, not faith to works” (Rom 1:17).
Speaking for the Independents, John Owen also writes:
“Some say that, on our part, the continuation of this state of our justification depends on the condition of good works; that is, that they are of the same consideration and use with faith itself herein. In our justification, itself there is, they will grant, somewhat peculiar unto faith; but as to the continuation of our justification, faith and works have the same influence unto it; yea, some seem to ascribe it distinctly unto works in an especial manner, with this only proviso, that they be done in faith. For my part I cannot understand that the continuance of our justification hath any other dependencies than hath our justification itself. As faith alone is required unto the one, so faith alone is required unto the other, although its operations and effects in the discharge of its duty and office in justification and the confutation of it, are diverse …”
But James Buchanan, successor to Thomas Chalmers in the chair of divinity at New College in Edinburgh, is even stronger in maintaining that in the relationship to justification works and faith are opposed. He is of the view that the pride even of believing man is sufficient to turn the fruits of the Spirit into law works. He reasons that “the same works” can be described from two standpoints. From the standpoint of the “fruits of sanctification,” they are “an odor of a sweet smell, holy, acceptable to God,” but from the standpoint of the ground of our justification, or as forming any part of our TITLE to that inheritance, they are to be utterly rejected, and treated as ‘dung’ and ‘filthy rags’ with reference to that end.”
Perhaps better than anyone else Calvin puts it all together. Speaking in the Institutes of the opposition between faith and works, he says that it is necessary to reject the position of even “the sounder Schoolmen.” They grant that “the beginning of justification” consists in the sinner’s being “freely delivered from condemnation.” On this point “there is no controversy between us.” Where we differ is that these “sounder Schoolmen” teach that “the regenerate man … being once reconciled to God by means of Christ … is afterwards deemed righteous by his good works and is accepted in consideration of them.”
By contrast, Calvin says that throughout our lives “We must hold fast” our trust in Christ, not in our works. To prove his point, he turns to Romans 4 and its citation of Abraham and David. He reasons along lines that I have already expressed in this work. Concerning Abraham, Calvin writes:
“Abraham had long served God with a pure heart and performed that obedience of the Law which a mortal man is able to perform: yet his righteousness still consisted in faith. Hence, we infer, according to the reasoning of Paul, that it was not of works. In like manner, when the prophet says, ‘The just shall live by his faith’ (Hab. ii. 4), he is not speaking of the wicked and profane, whom the Lord justifies by converting them to the faith: his discourse is directed to believers, and life is promised to them by faith.”
In the same context, Calvin also says of the citation of Psalm 32:1-2 by Paul in Romans 4:7-8:
“It is certain that David is not speaking of the ungodly, but of believers such as himself was, because he was giving utterance to the feelings of his own mind. Therefore, we must have this blessedness not only once, but must hold it fast during our whole lives (my italics). Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days but is declared to be perpetual in the church (2 Cor. v. 18). Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death — vix., ablution, satisfaction, expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of grace, but ‘by grace’ are ye saved,’ ‘not of works, lest any man should boast’” (Eph. 2:8-9).
After spending several more pages explaining why the better Schoolmen are mistaken, Calvin drives the final nail. In the continuance of justification, these theologians talk about the “partial righteousness” of the believer and the gift of “accepting grace” which makes up for its incompleteness. As far as Calvin is concerned this is stuff and nonsense. They forget that the law of God always demands absolute righteousness of the believer as well as the unbeliever, “the only righteousness acknowledged in heaven being the perfect righteousness of the law.” For this reason even the best works of the believer have no place as a cause or condition of our justification. At this point Calvin’s writing exhibits unusual energy and intensity of conviction. He wishes to allow no loophole for works. He seizes the language most familiar to the Schoolmen — that of Aristotle’s four causes. Concerning the efficient cause, we can find nothing of works here. This can only be “the mercy and free love of the heavenly Father toward us.” The material cause cannot be works but Christ and His righteousness. The final cause “is the demonstration of the divine righteousness and the praise of His goodness.” No works here. And the instrumental cause? That can never be works “but faith.” The nail has gone home. Now nothing is loose. Faith guarantees that it is of grace in the Christian life. It is clear why Calvin in the Institutes puts justification by faith in the section dealing with the Christian life. He wants “the saints” to know that for grace to be all in all for them “the blessing of justification is possessed by faith alone.”
My purpose, then, is to affirm that always in justification understood as remission of sins we must keep faith and works in opposition. The sole condition for continuing in justification from sins is faith alone. For the Reformed, Calvin says the matter is not negotiable. It is the biblical way, issuing from the vision of the majesty of God. When we lift our eyes to the King on high, our good works always dissolve into nothingness. In awe, we cry: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant” (Psalm 143:2). Concerning the comprehensive salvation of the believer, we insist upon the necessity of good works with all vigor. But in this specific matter of forgiveness and acceptance with God in relationship to Christ’s priestly office, we must hold unwaveringly to faith alone. This must be as true of the believer from the moment he first trusts in Christ to the moment of his death. He is ever in danger of converting the fruits of the Spirit into legal works presented to the Father as a good record warranting acceptance.
Among Christian leaders this temptation is the most common one. Because their position and religious activity, they often stand well in the eyes of men. Then gradually they feel “justified” before public opinion by their performance and attainments. From this human self-evaluation it is but a small step to self-elevation before God. When this happens, the conscience begins to be troubled, and confession of sin becomes oppressive and half-hearted (Lam 1:14). The wheels of life go heavy in the sand, with the result that a great deal of churning about produces very little (Psalm 39:11), work and worship become increasingly mechanical, and the spirit is left restless and unsatisfied even in the midst of intense Christian activity (Heb. 9:14). Day and night the hand of God is heavy upon the believer, and he may experience physical sickness in this state (Psalm 32:3,4).
Once at a pastor’s conference, I met a young man who described himself along these lines. He explained that when he first entered the ministry God put an unusual blessing upon his life and work. Under his guidance, every part of the church life proved to be fruitful. This brought him great joy. But after two years something went wrong, first with himself, then with the congregation. He was mystified. Where did the power of the Spirit go? Why did He [God] withdraw a large measure of the blessing?
The young pastor suggested an answer: pride. To this insight, I added a question: “Do you suppose that somehow you began to offer your good works and accomplishments to God as a basis for your justification?” I explained the matter much as it is set forth in this chapter. To my astonishment, he looked as though he had been cut to the heart by a dagger. In a moment he burst into tears.
After leaving him alone for a couple of hours, I returned to my even greater astonishment and found him with joy unlike anything I had ever seen before in a minister. He had been through deep waters but had landed on the rock of Psalm 32 and Romans 3-4. “Of course,” he explained, in effect, “I was already a Christian. But through my self-righteousness and pride I was leaning heavily on my own record for my relationship with God.” He concluded that this was partly unconscious. He had no idea that he had for all practical purposes abandoned justification by faith alone and mixed in work as part of his hope of acceptance with God.
But does this suggest that there is more than one justification? Are we to conclude that Abraham, David, and our young pastor were justified twice? Not at all. I find no evidence in Scripture for repeated justifications. But the Bible does teach that real pardon does continue to take place after the first and final imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner through the conditionality of faith alone. The initial act of definitive or absolute justification brought into being an unalterable relationship. Further remission of sins is the effect and consequence of that first imputation. Subsequent forgiveness is, then, through faith alone as an application of that initial act of justification. It is not a second and different act of justification.
So further pardon is not a repeated justification. The Scriptures know nothing of the shakiness and doubts that go with the schemes of multiple justifications. At the same time, subsequent pardon is not reduced to a charge by the initial declaration of forgiveness by God. It is all too easy for us to think that justification via imputation is a cold, dead legal issue, settled forever is some remote heavenly courtroom. This caricature is just close enough to the truth to be dangerously misleading. In fact, justification is a final legal pronouncement settled in heaven. But what has happened in much so-called Christian thinking is the acceptance of the devil’s own distortion. “Once-for-all” is bent so as to mean “far-off”, “inert”, and “inapplicable”. Carried a step further, this partly unconscious trend expresses itself in the mental attitude that it is somehow doctrinally unsound to confess sins too heartily and feelingly — or daringly to believe that they have been completely removed by the blood of Christ. At bottom, the idea is: why ask for something you already have as a justified Christian?
Finally, this caricature of justification by faith alone ends up either turning the confession of sins into a meaningless routine or causing confession to God through Christ to cease altogether. After all, the man thinks: Am I not already forgiven? Are not my sins already under the blood?
But such careless presumption is not the way faith. Faith knows that further pardon is no charade. It is actual. When we confess our sins in Jesus’ name by faith alone, we must know that they are truly forgiven for His dear sake alone. The conscience as the courtroom of the soul is really set at rest altogether apart from any other conditionality than faith in Christ. Through such trust the accuser of the brethren is really cast down. What we are now enjoying as believers is the application of that justification to our present struggle against our sins. In this intense warfare it is of the greatest encouragement to know that the blood of a righteous high priest is forever mine and that in the midst of many sins I can daily claim it as my sure hope before the heavenly Father.
Some brothers will be sincerely troubled by this teaching, in many instances because they are distressed by lack of reverence today for God and His laws. They especially are concerned by what they see as downplaying the cost of discipleship in much contemporary evangelism. As a consequence, they want the necessity of obedience to be kept up front in our message. Faith alone, therefore, sounds like easy-believism and salvation without discipleship. Though I share this concern, I am equally concerned that this motivation not lead us to confuse different kinds of necessities. For example, there is a necessity involved in the forgiveness of others, in daily repentance, and in new obedience in general. But this is a different kind of necessity, a different kind of conditionality, from that which we have been speaking. It is a necessity of obedience to Christ’s prophetic and kingly offices, the necessity of evidence establishing the reality of my faith in Him. But the necessity or conditionality in relationship to justification and the continuance in it is of a unique kind. Faith can do something that no other Christian grace can do. It is able to embrace Christ and His forgiving mercy. Humble faith can do that. When the justified person is guilty of sin, when his conscience presses hard upon him bringing him to the edge of despair, then faith can effectively plead Christ’s priestly sacrifice. It brings a fresh cleaning of guilt before God and a renewed experience of His justifying grace. This is both a sweet comfort and a powerful jolt to our pride.
If the church of God and the individual believer are to walk in freedom, then we must keep this distinction clear. Otherwise, we are in danger of blurring the nature of the gospel itself. We do not want to forget that we must exercise repentance and new obedience. But this above all must be remembered: when it comes to the remission of sins, God requires only one thing — faith alone embracing Christ alone.
 Faith and Justification (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 78.
 Cited in Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics: Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 554.
 Anthony Burgess, Original Sin (1659), from unnumbered pages in the postscript. So also John Ball, Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (1645), p. 20, Ball says that faith and works are inseparably joined in the person being redeemed but that in “the matter of justification and salvation in the covenant” they are opposed. I am indebted to Mr. David Lachman for both of these quotations.
 John Owen, Justification by Faith, (Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace Pub. Co., reprint), Ch. V.
 James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House: reprint 1955), pp. 363–64.
 Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Company, 1958), BK III, Ch. XIV, Sec. 11.
[00:00:04] Turn in your Bible to Luke 11, beginning to read with verse one,. [00:00:08][3.6]
[00:00:10] One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, When you pray, say father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. [00:00:35][25.2]
[00:00:37] Then he said to them, Suppose one of you has a friend and he goes to him at midnight and says, Friend, lend me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me and I have nothing to set before him. Then the one inside answers. Don’t bother me. The door is already locked and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything. [00:00:57][20.4]
[00:00:58] I tell you though, he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend. Yet because the man’s persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you ask and it will be given to you seek and you will find. Knock on the door will be open to you. For everyone who asks, receives. He who seeks, finds and to him who knocks the door will be open. [00:01:21][22.4]
[00:01:22] Which of you fathers if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead, or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion. If you then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? [00:01:41][19.0]
[00:01:42] And then Matthew eighteen. We have these words most striking in verses 19 and 20, Matthew 18, verses 19 and 20. [00:01:57][15.1]
[00:01:58] Again, I tell you, if two of you on Earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them. [00:02:12][14.9]
[00:02:13] And then Acts chapter one in verses 13 and 14. This is after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. The disciples have gathered together in the upper room. [00:02:25][11.5]
[00:02:25] When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus and his brothers. [00:02:49][23.8]
[00:02:51] And then Acts two verse one, apparently still continuing in prayer, we read: when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. [00:03:00][8.8]
[00:03:03] And then turning back with me to Luke, Chapter 11, we come to these words of the disciples addressed to Jesus: Lord, teach us to pray, Lord. Teach us to pray. [00:03:17][14.0]
[00:03:21] Usually we think of this in an individualistic way, Lord teach us … really we translate it, Lord, teach me to pray. But you’ll notice the text does say teach us to pray. And of course, that does mean me and you, but it also means us together. [00:03:36][14.8]
[00:03:37] So we’re going to be talking today about praying together effectively. [00:03:40][3.3]
[00:03:42] And I’d like to begin by just asking what is prayer? [00:03:45][3.2]
[00:03:46] And I think we can say that prayer is talking to God. [00:03:51][4.8]
[00:03:52] We’re going to be seeing what is effective prayer and then how to pray effectively, how to do it together. We need to start off by asking ourselves just what is prayer? [00:04:01][8.3]
[00:04:01] And I think it’s a pretty good definition to say prayer is talking to God and then you might add on the basis of Jesus name. [00:04:09][7.6]
[00:04:10] But that still hasn’t brought us to what effective prayer is. And I believe effective prayer is talking to God about some distinct thing. [00:04:22][11.9]
[00:04:26] Because many times when we try to pray and get through, the reason we don’t get through is we don’t really have anything in particular we’re praying about. [00:04:36][10.6]
[00:04:37] You know, you have a very guilty feeling that somebody here at New Life wants you to get up in the morning and have devotions and you feel you should. But there doesn’t seem to be any strong motivation for it. And it isn’t going to be effective if you do because you don’t have any distinct thing that you want to pray about. It’s all rather vague. [00:04:56][18.6]
[00:04:57] And so it means then that somewhere in effective prayer, it isn’t that you get up in the morning and you get your revolver out and blow out your brains and then you pray, and that effective prayer consists without any mind in action. [00:05:11][14.6]
[00:05:12] No effective prayer must involve the head. Some understanding that you want to get something from God. [00:05:19][6.4]
[00:05:21] All right. It’s talking to God then about some distinct thing, but then it wouldn’t be effective unless what happened? Unless you got an answer. Nobody’s going to keep on praying if he doesn’t get answers. [00:05:33][12.8]
[00:05:36] Well, I know some people who do, I should say, I mean its their whole religion. But most of us are too lazy. I’m not going to keep on praying if I don’t get answers. [00:05:45][9.0]
[00:05:45] So effective praying is talking to God about some particular thing and then getting an answer to that request. It might be deliverance from a temptation or a bad habit, and that can really fuel your desire to pray. You say, well, look, if I got rid of that one or if God got rid of it for me, maybe I’d better try a little more of this. It whets your appetite. [00:06:07][21.9]
[00:06:08] And so effective prayer begins to develop. Or maybe you’re in temptation and you thought, man, I’m going to go down and you couldn’t even think of any noble way to pray. You couldn’t even remember the Lord’s Prayer. And you just cry out, Lord, help me with this temptation. And He did. And you walked away surprised. Oh, dear. You know, this kind of works. I wonder what happened. [00:06:27][19.3]
[00:06:28] And then you may have a tremendous problem dropped in your lap of a health kind of a health kind. Daniel Adams, you see here is a very serious matter. And we all pray and we see an answer. Or we prayed earlier in the year, remember when we had that time, we all prayed for increased income and no one told me if their income diminished. But now that might have happened. I don’t know. But anyway, all kinds of people came forward and said they had more income afterwards. [00:07:02][34.0]
[00:07:04] And, well, that’s effective prayer. It’s something that happened. And we’re told it’s all right to pray that because in the Lord’s Prayer at Lord’s Prayer, it says, pray for your daily bread. And that’s something you need. And so you pray for that. [00:07:17][13.6]
[00:07:18] Well, having said that, it brings us to the question now: How do you pray effectively? What is the way you do it? [00:07:25][7.0]
[00:07:27] And our text has a lot of help for us. And in verse six, it says about prayer, it really begins with these words. “I have nothing.” I have nothing. [00:07:36][9.8]
[00:07:38] You see, if you have a strong sense of your own competence, there’s nothing coming down the road that you can’t deal with, there’s not much reason to pray. [00:07:47][9.1]
Jack Miller: [00:07:49] But when something comes down the road that is too big even for you to deal with, then you say, what do I do now? [00:07:56][7.7]
[00:07:58] I remember when I was about 14, I was a young atheist. I did not believe in God for many years. And my sister, the doctor, says she’s going to die. And what does the young atheist do when his sister is going to die? You know, what a young atheist does? He says, God, I don’t know whether you exist, you probably don’t, but if you do, I’m going to be better if you would make my sister live. Well you know, my sister lived, but I didn’t change. [00:08:32][33.7]
[00:08:33] But the need was there for the first time. And I realized I was not complete in myself. Human adequacy became very inadequate. What can you do? [00:08:43][9.1]
[00:08:45] And so this, I have nothing to set before him. I have nothing. That’s the need side of how to pray. Realizing your needs. [00:08:54][9.1]
[00:08:56] When I was in North Carolina recently with Rose Marie. And I we went down there for a conference and we were trying to enlist people both for missions and also material support for some of our missionaries. But even more than that, we’re trying to help them to learn to pray, that each church might be a missionary power. And while we were there, so much blessing came from them to us. It was really exciting. And one of the young men who’s there is a doctor and he’s a graduate of Jenkintown High School in nineteen seventy four. And so he’s very much interested in becoming a missionary. And so he was telling us how he became a Christian. He told us all about life in Jenkintown. It was interesting how many people we knew together and so on. And it was like Old Home Week. But he said when he got out of medical school, at first it went well. Then he got in the third year and he began to discover his own inadequacies. He had a struggle with some close relationship that went sour and he felt guilty over it and he felt he did the wrong thing to the other person. And he said, how do I get rid of that? I’m adequate. And he was really troubled by that. And then he said, I began as I went into my third year, I began to get more time in the hospital. I began to see more people. And he says, I have a kind of integrity in me and I don’t lie to patients. And when I think they’re dying, I can’t stand there and say, well, just take this pill and you’re going to be all right. And he said, I didn’t know what to tell them. And he said some of them were terribly frightened and I had nothing to say. And he said I had this one patient who was really frightened and she was afraid she was going to have a stroke and maybe die. And he says, I couldn’t tell her that she might not have a stroke and die because I thought she was going to have a stroke and die. So he just felt completely inadequate and his brother in law had been witnessing to him. So he got down on his knees, this proud young doctor, and he cried out, Jesus, show yourself to me, God, show me Jesus. I don’t know anything. [00:10:59][123.5]
[00:11:03] As he walked into that room the next day, and when he walks into the room, he goes over to the bed, he still doesn’t know anything. And the woman is so frightened, she’s a little lady down from the Appalachians. And she asked them the questions again. I’m going to have a stroke. I’m going to die. And he says, look, and he says are you a Christian? [00:11:24][20.7]
[00:11:26] And I looked up at him, you know. I hadn’t heard anything like from him before. And he says he didn’t know where it all came from. But he said, but if you’re a Christian, you must believe that God has a plan over your life. And it must be a good plan. And if it’s a good plan, you don’t need to be afraid. Are you Christian? [00:11:42][15.4]
[00:11:43] She looked at him and she became a Christian at that point, and he says the funny thing was she changed completely right in front of me. And instead of being a person who’s frightened, that her very fears are so great they might kill her, she became a woman of faith. And I’ve never seen fear in her since. And he said I was astonished at the effect of my words on that woman and the fact I saw nothing but faith. And the next time I said, you know, I guess I believe this too don’t I. And she walked out of the room and he says, I became a Christian in there, too. Out of his own words. [00:12:16][32.4]
[00:12:16] And God heard his prayer, the night before, born out of this sense of I don’t have any resources, I’ve got no bread, I don’t know how to do it. And he prayed. And, you know, if you had told him, boy, you really know how to pray effectively, he would have said, I don’t know a thing. Because you see, effectiveness comes when you don’t know a thing. [00:12:34][18.0]
[00:12:36] I remember that when I first became a Christian, it was so wonderful. You remember that time when you first became a Christian. And finally I decided, you know, I really am a chaotic person. I was a student and I would often stay up till three o’clock in the morning and I never hit the sack before 3:00 and my morning classes got visited occasionally by me, not too often. And I had that in my background and I decided, boy, I got to change this. [00:13:06][29.8]
[00:13:06] So I organized, reorganized my life over a period of about six months to a year and begin to show up even at eight o’clock classes. And it was difficult. But then finally I got myself reorganized and I began to get up at six o’clock every morning and pray for an hour. [00:13:20][13.2]
[00:13:20] And was I really adequate? My life was so adequate and I was so satisfied with my six to seven o’clock devotions. I went around exhorting other people to have six to seven devotions, you know. [00:13:30][9.9]
[00:13:30] And then I got married. And we got married and suddenly I discovered Rose Marie wasn’t really red hot about that hour from six to seven. In fact, she said, sometimes your smile at six is a little hard to bear. [00:13:45][14.8]
[00:13:48] So anyway, and then she got pregnant and she had morning sickness every morning from six to seven. So I spent the devotion period bringing tea and toast and trying to provide her a pan if she needed it, whatever. [00:14:05][17.5]
[00:14:06] And so it was in this I became very inadequate. And I thought, I’m losing knowing how to pray. But then it dawned on me somewhere along the line eventually that it isn’t six to seven that teaches you to pray. It’s the morning sins that teaches you to pray. It’s a wife you can’t cope with that teaches you to pray, a husband you can’t cope with that teaches you to pray. [00:14:31][24.5]
[00:14:31] It’s much more basic. It becomes effective when you know you don’t have any clue how to put anything together. And yet you believe maybe out there somewhere, God knows how to put it together. [00:14:43][11.8]
[00:14:44] Are you catching what goes into prayer? And the thing the Lord convicted me. They asked me to speak down there at North Carolina on repentance and missions, repentance and outreach. And I ask myself, Lord, Lord, I don’t want to go down there unrepentant and tell everybody about repentance. That would make me sick at my stomach. And I’m sure God would be nauseated by it too. [00:15:07][23.5]
[00:15:08] And I said, God is there anything about me that you have problems with this morning. Turned out I have quite a few things I discovered, and one of them was looking squarely at how much I lean on human adequacy, my own or somebody else’s, how much I lean on human resources, how much I lean on that which is visible, and then I just asked, God forgive me, I want to lean on you. [00:15:33][24.7]
[00:15:34] And that’s where it is. You don’t lean on yourself or your strength. The whole idea of praying is you’ve got nothing. The man comes at midnight, the knock is there, and he has to say to his friend, I have nothing. And of course, he has nothing. And it’s the insistent realization of that in his heart that keeps him knocking until he gets an answer. [00:15:55][21.5]
[00:15:56] And then the other side of praying is this. And that’s found in verse thirteen. And it says there is a promise and the promise is if you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? [00:16:14][17.7]
[00:16:16] Now, God sometimes exaggerates. Isn’t that true? Its true, the Bible overstates stuff, way, overstates stuff, right? Do you believe the Bible does that? Now, I want to know, do you believe the Bible exaggerates? A lot? And that you appropriately have to cut it down to reality? Right. [00:16:44][28.1]
[00:16:47] Because the picture here isn’t the way most of us pray. It doesn’t seem to be what most of us believe. It says that God has a heart for those who are needy, those who have no bread. He’s ready to give the bread of the Holy Spirit on an ongoing basis. [00:17:02][15.1]
[00:17:03] Notice the language of the text. He says here that, verse nine: Ask, seek and knock. And then he says, you’re going to receive, you’re going to have, the door will be open. And the verbs there are in the present tense, ongoing action. And therefore it means you keep up doing it. And every day, in effect, you ask for the Holy Spirit and the Father is committed to giving him to you. And the central substance of your life, the bread, you see, the combination. He moves down talking about bread, eggs, fish, the substance of life, necessary for life. And then he just moves in and drops that substance language and uses the true substance language of the Holy Spirit. [00:17:45][42.4]
[00:17:47] And he says, I promise to give you every day the Holy Spirit when you ask for him. When was the last time you asked for the Holy Spirit? [00:17:54][7.4]
[00:17:57] Obviously, you cut this one down. You either ignored it or you thought it was an overstatement. God couldn’t love me that much to give me his very life in his Son on a cross and then from that Son and the ascended Son to pour forth on me at my conversion, my rebirth—at the rebirth and conversion he gives me the Spirit—but then daily to give me more of his strength, more of his wisdom, more of his joy, more of the thanksgiving, more of his power, more of his peace, more of his calmness. [00:18:29][32.5]
[00:18:32] I have nothing, but then I have a full cupboard coming to me whenever I ask and believe and claim the promise, do you see? [00:18:43][10.4]
[00:18:43] And so that’s effective prayer. But now the question comes, how do we pray effectively together? [00:18:48][5.0]
[00:18:50] And here we find what we need to see is that prayer, we often think of it too subjectively, too defensively. What can I pray and have God help me with so I can get out of my next scrape? You know, I got myself in this beautiful, tangled mess. I blew it this morning with my husband, with my children. I was obnoxious on the telephone. It was a great beginning for the day. And I need Lord, get me out of this. Help me get it all straight. [00:19:27][37.0]
[00:19:28] Or something is wrong in your studies or your work. You’re in danger of getting fired. Or you might make a major mistake and then you pray through that and you say, boy, I really got the Holy Spirit’s blessing, and you didn’t really. You only got a crumb and you said I had a whole loaf. [00:19:48][20.0]
[00:19:50] Because the point of the passage is that the abundance of the Father’s gift John 7:37-39 says: if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, he that believes in me, according as the scripture has said from within him shall flow rivers of living water. Enough for yourself and enough to overflow to other people. Abundance. [00:20:17][27.8]
[00:20:19] When Jesus talks to the woman at the well that he says, you know, young lady, if you got to know the truth, you’d sure have a great trickle of water running in you. You’d be able to get out of all your scrapes. You will be able to straighten it out with those husbands. You know, you got a little problem there, five of them. The last fellow your not married to. A little problem. But we will give you a trickle. Jesus doesn’t say that. He says will give you a spring, an artesian well inside of you. [00:20:49][29.6]
[00:20:49] And, you know, when she believed that she even forgot about all her problems and ran back telling people about Jesus. There’s a man out there who told me everything I ever did. [00:20:58][8.8]
[00:21:00] And she came with a Christ consciousness, which is the primary work of the Holy Spirit. To make you aware of the glory of Christ, the wonder of the Father’s love. Those are the things that matter. And to love others in that miraculous way, with the intensity with which you love yourself. To live in the monotony of life, where things are the same, where the same dull things must go on and on, and to live there with a kindliness, a tenderness and a patience that says, that advertises, that the Spirit is working in your life, that you are a supernatural person in very ordinary circumstances. [00:21:43][43.0]
[00:21:45] And that’s what prayer is all about and how does that come? [00:21:49][3.8]
[00:21:50] Well, we have to have recognition that there is additional power conferred upon the church officially when we come to pray together. [00:22:00][10.5]
[00:22:01] We see all of these marvelous answers to prayer. And we’re told in Matthew 18, it’s this very simple. If we want to go beyond where we are, it can’t be simply individualistic. If you just pray by yourself at some point, it’s going to start to dry up. It will, because that’s not God’s normal. [00:22:22][20.8]
[00:22:23] Truly effective prayer finds its life in praying with other Christians. [00:22:29][5.7]
[00:22:30] Notice this promise in Matthew, 18, verse 19. Again, I tell you, if two of you on Earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name there Am I with them. [00:22:44][13.9]
[00:22:45] Now have you ever gone to a prayer meeting where the attendance was really down and everybody was demoralized. And some dear saint prayed something like this? God, this isn’t much tonight. And we’re all kind of discouraged. But we remember that promise where you said that we’re two or three are gathered together in your name, there you would be in our midst. And it goes on and on. And the spirits in this group and everybody is down. I mean, you almost crawl out of the place when that prayers finished. And you feel like you’re whistling as you walk by the graveyard. That everything is dead and you’re scared and nothing is going to matter. And so you just kind of pray this as a kind of a pious gesture. That, you know, isn’t it too bad we’re all discouraged tonight and attendance is so bad. [00:23:29][44.2]
[00:23:31] And that prayer promise has been so ruined by the Christian church in our time. And I don’t want you to pray it that way. That’s wicked. That’s not the purpose of that. This is a disciplinary context about a wandering sheep and about going after that wandering sheep and the authority of the church and bringing that one back to God. And if that person refuses to repent, then the excommunication really is a thing before God. [00:23:57][25.9]
[00:23:58] And this prayer context here, then, is one of great authority. It’s of the authority of the highest sort. And so the promise when you come into the new covenant is that we will be praying because the Spirit is going to bring us together to pray. That is his ministry. He’s going to take our inadequacies individually and as a body. And he’s going to bring us together. And when we come together, he has promised that he will be there and he will be working. [00:24:24][26.4]
[00:24:25] And you see here the close identity of Jesus and the Spirit. I’m going to be there. The Spirit is going to be there. Same thing. Because Jesus, in his triumph, earned the Spirit for us. [00:24:35][10.3]
[00:24:36] And so the promise is that when we agree, when we have one mind on anything, the Father bends his ear, reaches forth his hand and moves. And the greatest hindrance to this is not claiming. [00:24:57][20.5]
[00:24:59] You see, now we begin to see that effective prayer moves into the dimension of authority. That God has made every one of us a priest and a king and a prophet in this world. We bear authority. And if we do not exercise it collectively, we insult the God of the promises. [00:25:17][18.0]
[00:25:20] And not to come together and pray with other Christians is to hinder, to stifle, and to risk the whole ministry of the Spirit in the church and in your own life. [00:25:34][14.2]
[00:25:36] And when you come to the norm in the New Testament in the Book of Acts, when you turn there to Chapter one versus 13 and 14, those apostles who could not pray before together, who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, we find here in verse 13 of Acts one, they go upstairs and the group is listed and then the women are there and we we discover the word is used in the Greek. [00:26:03][27.4]
[00:26:04] You know, people object around here sometimes to say in the Greek, but I don’t know any other way to say it. The Greek says they had one mind, one accord. [00:26:12][8.1]
[00:26:15] And it means that they were all of one mind. And because they were of one mind, they got what they asked for. And what did they get? A little small thing. What happened afterwards? They kept on praying constantly in prayer. What happened? A little thing called Pentecost. How would you Like that for an answer to prayer? [00:26:34][19.3]
[00:26:40] And when we read, was Pentecost enough, well, when they had finished Pentecost, they had these terrible struggles and great victories and we read in Acts 4, verse twenty three, the same word is used. And when they get before God and they say, they announced to God, they are there with one accord, they are there in agreement and they’re asking for a new filling of the Holy Spirit. [00:27:01][20.6]
[00:27:03] And in our tradition, some people have been so afraid of being branded Pentecostal that they felt the safest thing to do was to avoid any contact with the Holy Spirit. [00:27:11][7.6]
[00:27:13] Now, that’s terrible. Nobody has cornered the Holy Spirit, including ourselves or anyone else. [00:27:19][6.1]
[00:27:20] He’s sovereign and he has given us certain ways of working and certain ways of proceeding. And if we follow those, we’ll see revival. [00:27:27][7.3]
[00:27:29] I believe this is probably the single most important sermon I have ever preached. And it may be for your life, the single most important one, too, because the conclusion follows, will you be committed to corporate prayer? Will you join with other believers in praying together? [00:28:07][38.0]
[00:28:10] Believers began doing that, and eighteen fifty eight there was a prayer meeting in Ontario, another one in Massachusetts and a third in New York City. Six men gathered in New York City in agreement, Concord, that we will pray for revival in America. [00:28:31][21.0]
[00:28:34] Within one year. I cited this once before and I said, I hope I haven’t exaggerated. I said ten thousand people a week were being converted. I was wrong. I went back and checked. And my mind was blown. It was fifty thousand a week. [00:28:49][14.9]
[00:28:52] And all people were doing was praying and giving people the gospel. There’s no Billy Graham around, no Billy Sunday, no Dwight L. Moody. Just praying Christians. Praying for revival, praying for the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin, to awaken the conscience of the nation. [00:29:11][19.3]
[00:29:12] Look, our struggle with abortion. It is a terrible one. And we have this whole burden of one of our members was arrested for his part in a sit in demonstration during the week. [00:29:24][11.9]
[00:29:25] But you see, we’re not going to win that struggle unless we have a revival, because what’s the problem is not simply with abortion. It’s a lot of people getting in the wrong bed. If everybody stayed in the right bed there wouldn’t be a problem. If you didn’t have sexual intercourse until you got married, there wouldn’t be a problem. We need a rebirth of some basic concepts in America, namely virginity is a good thing until you’re married. [00:29:52][27.4]
[00:29:54] And where are we going to get that? Are we going to go out there with swords and kill all the people who don’t agree with us? [00:30:00][6.5]
[00:30:01] No, we need a persuasion from heaven. We need to be humbled ourselves and purified ourselves. And therefore, if that’s what we get, then we will have revival. [00:30:10][9.6]
[00:30:12] You see all these Korean churches springing up around here. I say to myself, good night these Koreans are taking over America. Everywhere I look, there’s a Korean sign. Where are they all coming from? Well, the answer is they’re coming out of a prayer meeting. [00:30:24][11.9]
[00:30:25] In Korea there was a revival. They started around 1906 and 1907. They got together and they repented of their sins and they had some early morning prayer meetings, five o’clock up in the mountains. And what do you know? The Korean church exploded. They’re sending out missionaries to Indonesia. They’re sending them out to Taiwan. [00:30:43][17.8]
[00:30:45] What’s going on here? They’re praying. Are you going to stay behind? Are you going to stay behind, are you going to really go along with the Lord? [00:30:56][11.5]
[00:30:57] Well, we have a week of prayer coming up. We’ve been asking God to bring us out a hundred a night. I don’t know how many God’s going to bring out. That’s his prayer meeting, not mine. [00:31:08][10.3]
[00:31:15] David Bryant is going to come here in the spring and talk about the release of the Holy Spirit through prayer. Where will you be in this? [00:31:24][9.2]
[00:31:25] I believe this year, this week of prayer is going to decide whether New Life Church will live or die. It will even decide whether it should live or die. We have no guarantee that we should continue unless we are living up to the light we have. [00:31:45][19.9]
[00:31:47] And if you have the light, and I can give you a lot more text from the Bible about corporate prayer and its power. I can’t do that. We don’t have time. [00:31:53][6.5]
[00:31:54] But we have a desperate need. We need everything. And we need to sue God for the Spirit to change our lives and to change our nation. [00:32:02][7.4]
[00:32:03] And I just tell you, the Lord’s convicted me. I, I feel utterly unworthy to talk about this subject of prayer. And I just think that we ought to just have some prayer. And if you’ve never prayed before, like Perry, our doctor friend, will you pray now and say, Jesus show me yourself, I need you. I’m calling on your name to save me. But let’s just have some time to pray. [00:32:37][33.6]
[00:32:55] Teach us to pray for us to pray, forgive us for a lack of desire to come together. [00:33:04][8.4]
[00:33:12] Thank you our Father that you have called upon your people to do things together. This is in your Word in varioius places. Now give us a heart that is united in seeking your blessing that we might have a share in it and that we would do your will with all our hearts. We pray in Jesus name, our Lord and Savior, Amen. [00:33:33][20.9]
[00:33:46] Lord, the reason we have not is because we ask not. Help us to ask. [00:33:50][3.3]
[00:33:58] Lord we ask that you would fill our hearts with a zeal for prayer. That we will be glad to pray before you knowing that it is prayer according to your promise. [00:34:07][8.9]
[00:34:07] Oh, Lord, here we are, no longer orphans, but your sons and daughters, with the gift of being able to talk with you and see you do things in our lives and the lives of others. And yet Lord we refuse most of the time to even come to you in prayer. Yet Lord we rejoice when we see prayers answered and we see its power. Give us as a congregation to know this power of prayer. to know that things can be changed immediately, to know Lord that we can effect the other side of the world, or even the hearts of a person right next to us to prayer. Lord just bless us with an ability not to listen to our flesh, or to Satan, but to know that the Spirit in our lives works in prayer. Give us a heart to pray more. [00:35:00][52.9]
[00:35:08] Father too I pray that you would give us a vision for praying together as a large group that even those of us that may not pray out loud would be encouraged in their faith with those that do pray. Lord we see a real sense of your Spirit encouraging us all, these people who are committed to pray together. [00:35:26][17.9]
[00:35:30] We thank you, Heavenly Father, that we can come and specifically pray for particular items as your children with you our Father. We particularly pray Father that those all over our nation who will be watching the debates tonight before the presidential elections. We pray, Father, that you would grant to those who watch wisdom that they would know who to vote for in the election. We pray, Father, that that individual candidates would demonstrate where they are and what they stand for, so that the people would be able to judge wisely. We ask this specifically, Father in Jesus name, Amen. [00:36:20][50.4]
[00:36:25] Father in heaven, we now bring before you our prayerlessness. We have not prayed, and then sometimes when we have prayed, we have been vague and wandering. And other times, Lord, we have prayed without faith. And we ask you to forgive us that. We also ask you to forgive us our laziness and sloth. Lord, I have been guilty of just a slothful mind, a slothful body, and I just ask you to change that in me and each one here. And we especially ask you to forgive us for not taking our needs to the Father. That we have often Father rather preferred to worry and fear. We let ourselves be consumed by anxiety and we didn’t claim the bread of the Spirit. And right now in Jesus name, we’re asking you, Father, to send your Spirit upon this gathering. We are agreed on this great point. We want the Holy Spirit to come upon lives. We ask you, Lord, that you would come with mighty convicting power to some who are sitting here who yet are complacent in their sins, and they have hidden agendas even from themselves, and secretly are sold out to their own pleasures, their own comforts, their own honor, their own glory. And we ask your Lord to come. And maybe that’s true of all of us. You know, our hearts. And so come and convict us and then free us and then show us Christ and give us a fresh knowledge of your love. [00:38:08][103.0]
[00:38:09] Lord, I’m praying together, representing this body in the name of Jesus for a knowledge of the wonder of Christ’s love to come upon us, to realize the great sacrifice he made and that that love is unchanging, that it’s unconditional, and that the Spirit is inside of us and living. And he will not be defeated. And though we do not know how to pray, he will teach us. And so we pray that you would give us such a confidence in prayer, such a confidence in the Spirit, such a confidence in Christ, that we would live different lives. Father, we ask it of you. We are so helpless. We are so frustrated left in ourselves. We have nothing. And Lord, we long to see thousands of people streaming to Christ. We long to see this place so jammed at eight thirty that you can’t even get in because God has been speaking. That we have to make more doors and have to have a larger place to meet. God, we can’t do that. And therefore we’re claiming it on the basis of your promise. And then we plead with you for a blessing on our homes. O we are asking you, Lord, to bless us with love in our families. Put in each of us a heart of tenderness and love. O God put sacred holy love in us. And then we pray for our nation. We agree together to ask that there would be a putting away of abortion, divorce, adultery, and there would be a recapturing of your teaching that a person should be a virgin until married. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen. [00:39:44][0.0]of [00:39:44][95.0]
This morning I listened to a Glenn Beck interview with Voddie Baucham.
Using the Old Testament concept of a “remnant,” and quoting Reformed leaders J. Gresham Machen and Abraham Kuyper, these men uncritically presupposed a remnant theology to support their views of the world today.
Since Christians often assume a “remnant theology” to support our views, on this Reformation Day, it is useful to hear why Jack Miller concluded that “we must abandon the idea of a Calvinist remnant” in this age of abundant grace.
[T]hose promises God gives us in Scripture are not an abstraction—instead, practically speaking, “each promise is a hook for pulling our faith into the heavens. There we catch God’s missionary vision of a world filled with His praise.” [Jack Miller] began to diligently chart these promises of God throughout the pages of Scripture.
In his studies that summer [in 1970], Jack saw that the Old Testament prophet Isaiah drew a contrast between two distinct ages: the former age—which Jack himself also referred to as the old age—and the new age, or the last days. Isaiah compared the desert that had been central to the old age with the divine promise of a watered garden that would come in the new age. God promised that in the new age there would be an outpouring of water—which signified his Spirit—on those who were thirsty and that streams of water would flow on the dry ground (see Isa. 35:6–7; 41:17–20). Where there had once been only withering and desolation, he promised a new age of abundant fruitfulness—an age that would even include the Gentiles. Whereas the Lord had left only a very small remnant during the old age (see Isa. 1:9), he promised that in the new age his righteous servant would justify many by the knowledge of God (see Isa. 53:11). After the Lord’s house would be cleansed by a spirit of judgment and burning in Isaiah’s age, his glorious presence would cover the whole of Mount Zion and her assemblies (see Isa. 4:4–5). All the nations would flow to the mountain of the house of the Lord (see Isa. 2:2), and he would make a feast of rich food for all peoples (see Isa. 25:6–8). These Old Testament prophecies applied to the new age that has begun with the coming of the Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and will continue to the new heavens and new earth.
As he studied these promises, Jack reached several conclusions that radically differed from those that are commonly held by Reformed people.
Many Reformed Christians tend to believe that they live in an era of increasing apostasy and expect only a small number of people to be saved. Under this assumption, an embattled Reformed church construes its primary role as one of defending the truth. One pastor summed it up when he said, “Apostasy has reduced us to a remnant. We should really rejoice that ours is the privilege of purifying and strengthening these few.”
But Jack rejected this assumption: “Today we have the banquet of abundant grace! We must open the eyes of faith to the wonder of God’s saving purpose, reaching out . . . to embrace the nations.” Though a remnant-minded church might view it this way, evangelism could not be secondary; it was, Jack said, “God’s first priority for His Word and His Church.” He concluded, “In the new age, the state of life and power is normal for the church. . . . Rather than only a few people saved during an age of apostasy, Scripture itself characterizes the New Testament as fields white for harvest and the gathering in of large numbers of people.” Jack argued that many will be saved, rather than just a few—that we live in the age of abundant life. In view of what happened at Pentecost, Reformed people must “abandon the idea of a Calvinist remnant.”
Jack next abandoned another misguided notion: the idea that “Arminians are bound to be more successful evangelists” than the Reformed are. He was glad that Arminians took evangelism seriously; nonetheless, he believed that if God’s promises in Scripture are true, then Reformed people should be the greatest evangelists of all. The absolute sovereignty of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ provide believers with the greatest possible motivation and confidence for evangelism.
Finally, Jack questioned a view that was common among Reformed people regarding prayer and evangelism. Calvinists tend to agree that prayer changes the one who is praying. They also agree that prayer is important for missionary work and has been commanded by God. But Jack argued that many Calvinists had the idea that “[because] God is sovereign . . . nothing much is going to happen in prayer”—leaving them unsure how or why prayer was important and thus also leaving them with little motivation to pray.
In contrast, [Jack] concluded that the sovereign Lord had ordained prayer as the means for Christians to activate the fulfillment of God’s missionary promises. He explained,
“Christians . . . have missed the exciting link between prayer and God’s purposes in the world. It is, simply, that prayer starts the promises of God on their way to fulfillment! In prayer, God allows us to lay hold of His purposes as these are expressed in His promises. . . . By claiming God’s promises as we petition Him in prayer, we set God’s work in motion (Luke 10:1–3, Acts 4:23–31). Unbelievable as it may seem, the omnipotent God permits our requests to activate the fulfillment of His mighty promises in history (Rev. 8:1–5). As the laborers pray, He begins to ripen the harvest for reaping (Acts 13:1–4).”
When I pray and do evangelism, I have laid hold of God’s own . . . method [of salvation],” Jack wrote. Therefore, he concluded elsewhere, “we must get down to knee-work.”
Michael A. Graham, Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller (2020), P & R Publishing, 80-83.
This morning I’ve been meditating on a phrase in Psalm 16:7: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” What does “The Lord is my portion” really mean?
J. Gresham Machen has said that “God is the most obligated of all beings.” Doesn’t that sound so counterintuitive? In our consumer culture such a statement sounds sinful and offensive.
When I queried my Jack Miller Research Library searching for occurrences of “The Lord is my portion,” I found a section written by Jack in an unpublished essay entitled “Faith versus Magic,” in which he makes a similarly startling statement: “If you could say you owned God, the Lord is my portion, you are the richest person of all.” What?
Take a moment and read what Jack Miller had to say about the power of faith when the Lord is my chosen portion.
“And that brings us to the third thing, that faith has power in it. And in the Bible it’s virtually a synonym—used virtually as a synonym—for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the person who has faith has Jesus Christ. If you have faith—well let me back up a little bit and put it to you in another way. In the Bible we’re told that with God all things are possible—we’ll all agree that the Bible teaches that, I think. Now did you ever think of how strange it is that we are told by Jesus that all things are possible to him that believes. Do you realize how staggering that is?
You know, we get into the habit of just reading through the Bible and we’re accustomed to these things, and they have a certain rhythm to them, and we just read right on through them. Do you realize, then, what a staggering thing it is to say of a man’s faith, that all things are possible to him that believeth? Now the only One of whom you can say that is One whose name is Omnipotence, the Almighty God. We might just look at that passage for a moment, Mark 9, Jesus has come down from the Mount of Transfiguration, He reproves, in verse 19, His disciples for not being able to deal with the demon world, they cannot oppose it by faith—their faith is too weak—and then the man comes to Jesus and he says to Jesus in verse 22, “If you can do anything have pity on us and help us.” Then in verse 23 Jesus rebukes him, and Jesus said to him, “If you can!” (that is, “What are you talking about?”), “all things are possible to him who believes.” The question isn’t My power, its availability, but the question is whether you believe, because if you believe My infinite power is available to you.
Now you’re a very superficial person, whether you believe it or not, if you don’t reflect on that—the most amazing thing here—that the person who believes comes into possession of that which is God’s. And, of course, that’s why salvation is ours—through faith we’re united to Jesus Christ and everything He has becomes ours and all that we have becomes His. And that’s why we’re so rich; for you know the grace of the Lord Jesus, brethren, that though He was rich for your sakes He became poor that you, through His poverty, might become rich. And so, we can put it this way, if you owned Montgomery County you’d be pretty wealthy; if you owned Pennsylvania you’d be even richer than the DuPont’s. But if you could say you owned God, the Lord is your portion, you’re the richest of all. So to him that has faith, all things are his because he’s in Christ and Christ is in God.
Therefore, when you turn to the Bible, you find that the most astonishing things happen when people believe. Open your Bible just for an experiment, tomorrow morning, and read—start reading Matthew 8 and just go right through for about four or five chapters—and see how much is said about faith, what it does for people. And then, if your spirits are despondent, if you’re down, pick up the 11th chapter of Hebrews and read it, and then when you get excited about it go through chapter 12 and you’ll see what power there is in faith because it lays hold upon God and His grace.
And so, what it is, in faith you surrender yourself and then a mysterious thing happens, you discover you surrender yourself and you get everything. And if you don’t do this you can struggle forever and ever and ever and you try to get rich with your own little handfuls and it all melts away. So there’s this tremendous power in faith and, as I said, it’s virtually a synonym for the Holy Spirit’s working. It’s simply the man-ward side of that divine working by which God draws sinners to Himself by His sovereign mercy.”
It isn’t altogether startling for me to meditate on the reality that God owns me. Of course He does. He created me and He recreated me. But then to meditate upon “The Lord is my chosen portion” in Psalm 16, that God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, unites me to Jesus Christ in such a way that by faith I own God.
Just typing out and saying these words causes something in me to recoil at the seeming arrogance of it.
Upon further prayerful reflection on Psalm 16, I think a lot of my resistance in claiming “The Lord is my chosen portion” has to do more with my own self-centeredness and desires for self-pleasure whereas Christ is so totally other-centered that He receives great pleasure, gladness, and the fullness of joy in glorifying His Father in Heaven and giving Himself away in love to others.
“The Jack Miller Project,” created in 2015, is committed to sharing research on “The Life, Teaching, and Ministry of C. John ‘Jack’ Miller” with the church and the next generation of church leaders.
My doctoral dissertation at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (completed in May 2019) and the biography Cheer Up! (published in December 2020) are the first-fruits of this ongoing work.
Over the next year, I plan to publish an “Interactive Timeline of The Life, Teaching, and Ministry of Jack Miller.” This project has been in process since 2016, a comprehensive timeline that will allow others to append their own stories about and interactions with Jack Miller and his impact on them personally.
In time I also hope to oversee the building of an interactive iOS and Android App based upon “A New Life” booklet, an application through which Jack Miller’s important teaching and ministry on the subjects of praying together and evangelism—the gospel for Christians and non-Christians—and elenctics (leading in repentance) can be shared as well.
Clair Davis, Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary, referred to Jack Miller as a “Missionary Statesman.” Uniquely, Jack Miller was a theologian, scholar, pastor, missionary, and literary-cultural-critic.
Though Jack’s talk on the important subjects of mental health and violence is thirty-six years old, you will find that much of what Dr. Miller had to say transcends his own time, and remains insightful and practical today.
And if you should take the time to listen to the end, you will hear Jack Miller briefly discuss his views on civil disobedience as well as gun rights and control.
Hope you enjoy!
Blessings, Dr. Michael A. (Mike) Graham,
Director of The Jack Miller Project and Teaching Elder at New Life Vicenza
[00:00:04] When I speak on a topic like “How to keep your mental health in a Violent World,” I guess at the outset I’d like to say that, really I want to be a little more positive than that. Not how just to keep your sanity, but maybe make a positive contribution to solving the problem.
[00:00:28] I think Americans don’t realize the extent to which our society is viewed as violent. I suspect our president doesn’t realize how some of his comments come across in third world countries.
[00:00:44] If you know how many people look at us, I think I can give you an illustration of that. In 1982, we were living in Rubaga, in Kampala, Uganda. And that was a time that there was the first movement of the guerrillas to overthrow the Obote government.
[00:01:06] And it was really a wild time. And you could hear screams at night. Small arms fire, sometimes automatic weapons. And it was enough to make you keep your head down at night, to say the least. And so during this time, I was talking to some of the village chiefs and elders, and I was talking about the criminal elements in our area. And I said, “I really would like to meet some of these people.” And the chief kind of looked at me and said, “Well, he’d be willing to talk to them.”
[00:01:41] So he came back and the answer was pretty negative. So in trying to bring out of him, why were these criminals afraid to meet with me—I feel rather innocuous myself and I don’t think I looked very threatening. But it turned out as best we can discern was that we were Americans and they really were afraid to come into our house.
[00:02:05] And in talking to another Ugandan who knew the neighborhood well, I said “Another thing has interested me. Of all the violence here in the neighborhood, why is no one ever come in and tried to rob us?” And he says, “Oh, you’re Americans.” And I said, “Well, explain that to me.” And he said, “Well, we all know what you’re like. And no, no sane person would come in here after dark.” And I said, “Well, what do you think we might do?” “Well, everybody out there believes you carry guns, and that to come in here would be very dangerous. And even if you didn’t have guns, all it would take is one of you with a panga, and it would be very bad for anybody who came in.”
[00:02:45] So I kind of felt funny for my country. And it dawned on me that their impression of America was through movies. And they had seen all of these shoot-em-up cowboy movies. And they’d seen the detective stuff. And they felt that every American was just, no matter how innocuous he might look, that he carries a revolver somewhere about his person and is prepared to use it on the spot if you cross him.
[00:03:14] So I think sometimes our president speaks into these third world countries. He’s hardly aware. He gets up there and he praises … who’s this Rambo? And people get all kinds of visions about what President Reagan is like and we’re like, and it’s magnified in many, many ways that we’d hardly realize.
[00:03:34] Now, as we come to our topic tonight, I think we don’t want to have misperceptions. I don’t believe that America is as violent as some people think it is, but I do think it is pretty violent.
[00:03:45] So now let’s come to the three things I want to talk about.
[00:03:50] The first is just getting a perception of the facts of the case. You might say, putting it this way, I want to ask first, what’s new in 20th century violence, not only in America, but also throughout the world? Because I really haven’t seen anything in Ugandan violence that I haven’t seen in American violence.
[00:04:13] Now, here, isn’t it odd that we look at the newspapers and we say, Uganda is such a violent country, and you go to Uganda and they say America is such a violent country.
[00:04:24] So what what’s new in the whole world of violence? That’s the first thing I want to talk about.
[00:04:29] And then to go directly to the issues of mental health, personal sanity in a world where violence, we may conclude, is growing.
[00:04:38] And then the third thing, which I hope we get to: Solutions.
[00:04:44] It’s much easier to talk about the problems, its effects, and solutions may be more difficult. But I do believe they’re there, and perhaps not as esoteric and hard to nail down as you may think.
[00:04:59] All I can ask of you on your part, that you try to bring, as much as possible, an open mind to what I say. Naturally, I’m right on everything I say, but you may not perceive that right away. And so if it takes a while to see that, you know, do yourself a favor by listening carefully. And if you think I’m crazy. Well, just bear with me. All right? So you’ll have your chance to have a good shot at me. And my skin is thick. If you think I’m all wrong, you feel free to tell me and we can have good dialog about it.
[00:05:33] So first, what’s new in 20th century violence? What is it that may threaten the mental health and stability of us as individuals and even our families?
[00:05:46] Well, I think one of the things that I, as a person who is older than most of you, would notice is the increasing publicity given to violence in our time. Now, I didn’t grow up with the advantages of TV. We barely had a radio where I grew up. And it was in a place called Oregon. It’s north of California for those of you who don’t know about it.
[00:06:11] And anyway, in that world, we had a certain amount of violence, some real, real violence. But it was not something that was visualized for you all the time. It didn’t come at you from every angle. And so I think what you have then is a widespread reporting.
[00:06:29] Now, newspapers have always given stories of violence, American newspapers especially. But it’s cold print. And when you turn your TV set on and you watch the news at 5:00 o’clock or 6, what you see is it visualized. You see the bodies being carried out on the stretchers after the fire, after the murder and the mayhem, whatever it may be. And you’re kind of right there. And whether you know it or not, emotionally, you’re involved. Isn’t that true?
[00:07:04] Now, it isn’t so that newspaper reporting never involved us emotionally, but there’s something more vivid. And it’s also it’s more widespread in that the reporting of news on the television, there’s just a coverage there that is very, very wide. You have the terrorists on TV. You have the wars and the conflicts around the world being reported on TV. You don’t really watch TV at all if you don’t know a good deal about Beirut. And you don’t watch it very much if you don’t know something about violence in South Africa and so on. And you also know about what happened with the hijacking of the Achille Lauro. We saw saw that close up. We saw a hijacking before. And the terrorists were right there on television, not exactly looking at you eyeball to eyeball because they had hoods on or something, but nonetheless, their presence was felt. And so it’s both intense and widespread, the news reporting.
[00:08:10] Also there is a great deal of discussion of the violence. It’s analyzed for you on television. This is, of course, done in periodicals. It’s done for you in books, and it’s done for you in magazines. But here it has a certain vividness, a certain, almost ubiquitous nature. It’s there, everywhere, through the eye and the ear as you watch television.
[00:08:35] And of course, you can’t minimize the police shows and the detective shows. Now, I’m a great lover of Agatha Christie and all of those people, but somehow it never seemed violent to me. But when you see it on television, Miami Vice is not exactly a quiet world. I mean, in Agatha Christie, the body was always lying there, rather neatly arranged or something. Or if there was a knife, it was something got cleaned up pretty quickly. But Miami Vice or some Hill Street Blues, you see bodies blown all over the place. And the movies the same. You see a great amount of violence in films. Well, it hits you and it hits you.
[00:09:20] And then it’s also true, we get the, what I would call, the constructive films attempting to analyze violence of the 20th century. You have films on the Holocaust, the Nazi Holocaust. You have films on the Holocaust in Uganda. You have films on the Holocaust in Cambodia. And these are brought to us with great vividness. We’re very much aware of how terrible it was in Cambodia, as you see a film like The Killing Fields. And then also there are probably abuses of violence in our time that were there for a good while that have only now become exposed.
[00:10:07] I’m thinking of the family conflicts, the wife beating. And I think that has been growing. And I think child abuse is growing. I think incest has been growing. But I was aware of it at least myself back in 1970. But it’s only come to the fore in a really public way through better reporting of it, better knowledge of it. In the last, what, five or six years? And during that time, there become a heightened interest in it and a better knowledge of it. And it’s another way that the emotions are impressed by a world which looks very, very ugly indeed.
[00:10:51] And then we also have some new trends in the forms that violence is taking, both in the way it’s presented to us, dramatized to us, but also in just the sheer quantity of it.
[00:11:06] For example, it’s come so gradually, but we have a number of cities in America that are really kind of the world murder capitals. It used to be Atlanta. Someone told me it had switched to Detroit, and before that I think it was Newark. And I think New York City has very, very high homicide rates. And I believe Los Angeles does, too. And if you compare this to some countries in Western Europe, say there would be more people killed in a city like Detroit than there would be in a year’s time in Detroit, than there would be in this whole European country for a year’s time … many more. And so what has happened is our cities have become really violent places, and the handguns are not only a little bit available, they’re everywhere in the inner cities. And when people, they buy them to protect themselves against violence from outside, and often what happens, a family quarrel breaks out and somebody runs and gets the handgun from underneath the pillow and settles the argument with one or two shots. And this is certainly an American violence story.
[00:12:29] Now, we also have organized crime becoming more organized. Even a few years ago, a friend of mine who owned a department store in California, he had moved from Manhattan Beach, where he had one department store up to Modesto, California, where he had another. In the meantime, he was a man of some wealth, and he left his home there and he wanted to go back and get some of his furniture. And he sent an aunt in to look over his furniture and see how it was going back in Manhattan Beach. And she came and unlocked the door and went in one evening and she discovered all the furniture and all the household goods were very well organized and classified … by a local gang. They had all this kind of furniture here, silverware here, drapes here, and so on. It was all well worked out. And she called the police and said, “There’s an organized robbery going on at this home.” Now, you’d think they’d have some clout, his being a prominent member of the community? The reply of the police was, “We have so many emergencies going on, don’t fool around with us. We don’t have time for this sort of thing.” And so she quietly locked the door and went out and let the gang come back. And that same evening they removed it all.
[00:13:51] And that’s a bit frightening. It’s maybe not as bad as Clockwork Orange, but it’s certainly heading there where the police themselves have given up in parts of society.
[00:14:02] Now, if you want to say that, “I’m certainly glad that’s in California.” I don’t know whether you saw the CBS special on Ninth and Butler. It’s Ninth and Butler, isn’t it? Ninth and 10th in there, where they reported that on one corner alone in Philadelphia, $11 million worth of cocaine are sold on that corner alone per year.
[00:14:27] I call up a friend who lives in the neighborhood down there, and I said, “Was CBS exaggerating?” And my friend said, “No, I’m sure they underestimated it considerably.”. And the report was that the police arrest people and within 20 minutes some of them were back on the same corner.
[00:14:47] Now, that’s awesome. And that’s Philadelphia. I mean, it’s obviously, it’s organized, it’s pervasive and it’s strong. That’s a new feature in American life. Now, I don’t mean there’s never been gangs. You had the mafias of the twenties and even during the First World War. There was an Irish mafia. There was a Jewish mafia, Italian mafias and so on. And they were pretty bad. But I think we find that they are pervasive today and they are much more able to penetrate legitimate society.
[00:15:17] But then we have another thing in our time and something that’s grown up so gradually, and its taken over almost imperceptibly until it’s become a monster, and we haven’t really recognized its existence. It’s what you might call ideological violence.
[00:15:36] Do you know what I mean by that? Well, you have it … There was a book written called The Mind of the Assassin. I forget the name of the author, but it’s about the assassin who killed Trotsky in Mexico City, what was it 36 or 37.
[00:15:53] Anyway, he killed him for philosophical reasons, because he was a different kind of Marxist. And we have a great deal of that in our century. It’s multiplied and multiplied. Both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, speaking from the platform of the 19th century, as they looked into our century, they said, “Even though now is a time of really remarkable world peace, we predict that the 20th century is going to be filled with wars.”.
[00:16:20] And they were right. And no one believed them. They all thought they were madmen, but they weren’t. Ideological violence.
[00:16:29] And if you have seen the problems with MOVE? It may not be a very clear ideology, but I certainly have a great deal of sympathy for the mayor of Philadelphia, not because I think they handled things well, I don’t think they handled things particularly well at all. But I don’t think the typical American city administration is really prepared for people who, for ideological reasons, are really ready to sacrifice their own lives. I think it’s hard for us to believe even that people like that exist, and perhaps we don’t even take them very seriously. We just say, “Well, you know, there’s some kooks around” and get on with our business. But we have terrorist groups of all kinds in this world. We have right wingers, we have left wing ones. And we recently saw what happened in Rome and Venice and then, of course, on the Achille Lauro. And it’s really tragic.
[00:17:23] And this ideological violence is so much around us. I just came back from Ireland. Well, when I. I just came from Kenya and I landed in the Amsterdam airport, and a friend at the embassy wanted to show me the embassy. And when I got to the embassy, I lost all taste for looking at the embassy. Here it was, all these barricades out there, and then there was a Dutch police van there to prevent somebody driving a big truck with explosives into it. And I suddenly felt looking, I think, I don’t want to look like an American. And I very carefully straightened my English looking hat and said to my friend, “As soon as we can leave here, the better. I’m not the kind of hero that wants to get shot down just because he’s an American.”. There was, of course, a rumor that the embassy was going to be attacked, and that dawned on me that “Here we are right here.” And I just didn’t feel that it was any great patriotic act for me to stay there.
[00:18:24] And then when I went to Dublin and came back a week later, I walked into the airport in Amsterdam, and when I walked in, the whole place was covered with smoke. And, you know, you try to act cool and all that. And when you walk up to the people in charge, you don’t want to act like your a little American scared to death. But I said, “Where did all the smoke cover from?” And they said, “Oh, just some action group letting off a stink bomb.” And so I thought, “Oh, the modern world.”
[00:18:56] And so they are ideological reasons, people with a cause, and they bring violence almost, you might call it, righteous violence of a very murderous sort.
[00:19:08] And you have it also with attacks on abortion clinics. The feeling is that abortion clinics are wrong and therefore they should be destroyed. Or I would even carry it a step further and say, perhaps we ought to consider whether abortion itself isn’t a form of violence which is unique to our century.
[00:19:29] But however you think of that, the issue is really that it’s increasing and there’s more and more of it, the taking of life.
[00:19:37] Then there’s another kind of violence which has always been around but has greatly multiplied in our time. And it’s what I would call thrill violence.
[00:19:48] I’m a reader of detective stories, and I read the first detective story ever outside maybe of Graham Greene recently, in which the author actually depicted murder as done as a thrill. And I think that’s very modern. Very modern. And when you look at rock video—now, I don’t, but I’ve just seen quick flashes of it on TV for teenagers—and you’ll find there’s is kind of mocked and joked about but it’s very violent.
[00:20:19] And then with it you have teenage suicide. That there has been a kind of a wave of popularity of teenage suicide and where you have actually teenagers saying it’s neat. Now that’s something new. And when you have waves of them doing it, it’s just something that has become epidemic. It’s a new world.
[00:20:43] Then you also have people who like Charles Manson, who obviously murder for a kind of a kick out of it. You have the serial killers of women and children that have appeared in our time. It’s enough to get you to be scared to death by all of these changes. And you have also in our own congregation, one of our young men, his father, Paul Kent, was killed a few years ago by a man who I think did it just for a thrill. He had taken his credit cards. He had his car. He had very little money on him. And he simply shot him. And why did he do it? Well, you might have various justifications that he maybe wanted to eliminate the witness and all the rest. But the truth of the matter is, I think the man did it out of that very terrible motive of just living for the kicks of it.
[00:21:39] And then also there is in our time a what you might call revenge violence, uh, violent heroes who are kind of comic book figures, not in the sense they’re funny, but that they, they have comic book backgrounds. And I’m thinking of Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood. Death Wish, Charles Bronson. Clint Eastwood, of course, Dirty Harry and all the rest. Now, I’ve not seen all of these things, by the way. I’m a great reader of books. Well, I’ve seen enough of them. And the the picture you get is simply a very violent people getting even. And of course, you have Rambo and Commando and now Miami Vice. And if you go around the high school today, what do you suppose you see? Now, I have not seen Rambo yet. I couldn’t quite get myself to do that. But what do you see? I saw some of the advertising. How’s he dressed? He’s got this cut off shirt or jacket and his massive arms are hanging out. Right? And he’s all ready for action. You’re in a high school today, you’ll see guys walking around dressed like that. Your going to see more of them, I think. And it’s getting younger and it’s getting younger. It’s a bit scary.
[00:22:55] And now, I think there’s another thing that’s unique in our time, and this kind of brings us to the heart of this, this analysis.
[00:23:05] And it’s the sense of powerlessness that people have when it comes to facing up to violence—that most people, at first, they get indignant, they say, “Somebody ought to do something about that. How much can we take?” And then they sink back and are left with this feeling of impotence.
[00:23:25] Now, I want to show you that this is part of the violence picture, because I do believe that violence can only thrive where it’s tolerated.
[00:23:38] That’s one of the main points I want to make tonight. Violence can only thrive where it’s tolerated, where it’s gradually accepted, if not as normal, at least as average and typical.
[00:23:51] That once you accept that Ninth and Buttler can have, Ninth and Butler can have $11 million worth of coke sold there for a year, then you’ve done yourself in. I really believe that. And I think there’s the crux of the problem.
[00:24:12] If you look at what happened with the MOVE problem, what was wrong with the administration’s handling of it? Well, it didn’t take a commission to point out the obvious thing, that if you let a group like that fortify themselves in a house and turn it into a heavily armored bunker, you’re in for problems. They were simply, the city government was simply intimidated by those people. Isn’t that true? They felt powerless in the face of the ideological motivation of these really pretty threatening people.
[00:24:44] And it seems to me that when we begin to face this … We have the death of a local doctor when I was in Kenya, I received these newspaper reports or mailed to me and a hideous crime. And people are momentarily indignant and they say this shouldn’t be and then nothing is done. It just is allowed to lie (back) people feel there’s not much you can do about it and they just lie back. And then the next one occurs. There’s a momentary indignation, somebody ought to do something about it. Nothing is done, and then it’s repeated.
[00:25:21] Now what it means is simply this. Let me give you an illustration which will show you how we have changed in America and how we’re continuing to change, moving into A Clockwork Orange World and out of the world of our past, our heritage.
[00:25:35] For instance, when Alexis de Tocqueville was here in our country in 1829, he did all his research for his two volume work, Democracy in America. And he has a comment in there that is quite illuminating. He says, “Crime cannot flourish in America because every American is a self-appointed officer of the law. And if somebody commits a crime, the whole community takes out after him and very shortly he’s apprehended.”.
[00:26:09] Would Alexis de Tocqueville write that today? No. But what we do today when a crime is committed, is buy another lock for the door. And we withdraw. And the reason this is now bound to get worse, and what complicates it, is the continuing spread of the use of drugs.
[00:26:37] I believe, if my memory doesn’t fail me, that the drug business in the United States, I mean, the illegal drug business now moves $200 billion a year. Is that right? Is that figure right? I think it’s very close. And there now are 5 million heavy cocaine users in the United States. 1 million of them are in the New York area.
[00:27:02] Now, if that continues, violence must mount, heroin users, etc.. Wherever there’s hard drug usage, there’s bound to be the increase of violence. And what’s happening? These drugs are going down to younger and younger ages. And the longer people use these drugs, the more likely they are to become strongly hooked and become violent. And so I hate to tell you, unless we do something, we’re headed to a state in which violence is going to be found on every hand, and people will be buying double locks on their doors and putting up these metal bars to support the door, even in cities like Jenkintown and Glenside, if it just keeps on going. And my hope is that that will not happen. But I’m afraid if we go on to the present rate, that that could happen.
[00:27:53] Now, the issues of mental health.
[00:27:56] Well, the first one I want to talk about under the issues of mental health is in spite of how bad things are, that what’s happening is the creation in our time of a climate of fear. And that’s the worst way to handle violence.
[00:28:13] Whenever I’ve been with my wife in an area, in a ghetto, or in Uganda, or some other place, one of the things I’ve always tried to teach her is never show fear. I said, “No matter how chicken you are on the inside,” and I said, “Believe me, inside my knees may be just beating together” … “Never show it. Always act like you own the world.”.
[00:28:34] And I’ve had people come towards me. I knew they were intending to rob me and I went over and gave them a good, strong exhortation.
[00:28:45] And so, always act like you own the world and maybe you will end up owning it. But if we let them intimidate us, and what’s happening, you see television and newspapers and all the rest are reporting so much of it. As bad as it is, and I’m not trying to underestimate it. I think it’s very dangerous. It’s very bad. But as bad as it is, it’s not as pervasive as they make it look.
[00:29:13] And the danger to your mental health and mine is that we’ll be so preoccupied with things that are threatening, we will not see the opportunity to do something about it.
[00:29:25] Are you with me on that? Do you see what I’m saying? The line of reasoning. You don’t have to agree with it. Just, you know, that it registered.
[00:29:33] Alright, now that’s the first point on the issue of mental health—that we have to be careful that we don’t develop media-paranoia in which we think violence is so strong and so all powerful, there’s nothing you can do to resist it, or there’s nobody else that wants to resist it. Isn’t that quite important that you’re not falling into that?
[00:29:55] Now, I know of an example of a woman who seems to me revealed this media paranoia. She’d seen all these things on television, movies and so on, and somebody robbed her house. It wasn’t a very bad robbery, but it was a robbery. When it’s your house, it’s a bad robbery, I guess. And what did she do? Well, she bought a lot of extra locks and put in a burglar alarm system, and then she decided, well, that wasn’t enough. So she had a high chain fence built around her house, and then she bought a big dog, and then she put a lock on the chain fence and wondered why her friends never visited anymore.
[00:30:31] And that illustrates the kind of thing I’m talking about. There are problems out there. There are dangers out there, and they’re quite threatening in some ways, but they’re not threatening in that particular way … To get locked in and making our own life a kind of a mental prison. It is simply no constructive way to handle it.
[00:30:52] And then also, I think the one of the problems, especially for children, I think the sheer amount of violence they’re seeing on television, reading about in comic books and in other ways, is giving them a false picture of the world. That these things are leading them to think of the world as more violent than it really is. Or you might even say their perceptions are being distorted severely enough by what they’re seeing, by what they’re hearing, that they begin to view the world in a kinky way as though the world is violent and it can only have violent solutions to its problems.
[00:31:32] And I think that is very serious for the mental welfare of children in our country. And they tend to oversimplify the conflict between good and evil. If you’ve got if you’ve got some evil person out there, then what you need is great strength, or you get a gun, and you simply shoot down all the violent people and you solve the violent people by killing them all off, or the problem of violent people. You you deal with it the way the Queen of Hearts did in Alice in Wonderland. Isn’t it, “Off of their heads?” Well, that is a kind of approach as communicated to our children.
[00:32:10] Then with it is that, I don’t believe you’re a mentally healthy person unless you have some moral absolutes.
[00:32:22] Now, you may really want to challenge that one, but I think you’ve got them, whether you admit it or not. And I think they can be a very powerful thing in society if you’re willing to say that, “I have thought through the issues and I believe some things are right and some things are wrong, and I’m going to stand up for what I believe is right. And I’m going to stand, I believe some things are evil.”.
[00:32:46] And if you hold that, then I think you’re moving in the direction of mental health. But I think what is happening in our culture, the Ten Commandments have been taken out of the public school system, and sometimes I suspect they’ve even been taken out of our churches. And so there’s no sense of here’s the line and cross it and you’re a transgressor. And so what we get is a kind of a fog.
[00:33:13] And if you talk with people about mental, with mental problems, who feel loss of identity or perhaps loss of perception of reality, one of the things that’s lacking is there’s nothing they really can nail down. Everything is vague and confused. It’s as though they were kind of like a ship in a fog that had no compass and no way of guiding itself.
[00:33:37] And if you don’t have any moral absolutes, like thou shalt not kill or thou shall not commit adultery, and if you don’t stand for them, then you just sort of go back and forth. And what it does is it overloads your conscience. I believe man was made in God’s image and as an image of God, He has a consciousness of right and wrong, and it is constantly blunted by things you you refuse to evaluate or to take stands on. Then you’re going to become less of a mature person.
[00:34:10] And now the other thing, which really flows out of that, is that there’s also a loss of indignation.
[00:34:18] Now, I’ve practically said that in talking about the way violence was taking over. But people really don’t know how to get indignant anymore. And I remember when pornography first began to come into the drugstores, and I went into the first drug store where I saw it all up there on display. And I went over to the druggist and said, “Whoa, over here. What’s this?” You know. But today. Would I do that? I’d spend all my time going into the 7-Eleven. Or Pointing people out. Now, maybe I should. But you lose, you see, your sense of things, certain things are wrong, certain things are right. The edges are worn down.
[00:35:05] Now, I remember we started a church over in Logan, and it’s sort of in the Fern Rock, near the Logan area. And while we were there, there were a great number of murders that occurred. They were happening weekly. And so we did some things. We just fronted it in the community. We went around and we made up some pamphlets. And basically, “God denounces murder.” Very plain. We saw that every body and every home in the whole area got one. We talked to people. We did many things with them. Would you believe it stopped, because we were indignant? Nobody tried it before. But it worked.
[00:35:51] And you see, you only have mental health as you see yourself really hating violence. Now, that doesn’t mean that you hate people. There’s a difference, you know?
[00:36:03] Now, the other thing, of course, that comes out of this, seems to me, the way that a person loses touch with reality as he kind of lets the world drift by; he doesn’t take stands; he doesn’t believe anything can be done, or only it’s not safe, I’m threatened by it. If he doesn’t take a stand, he becomes hopeless. And as he looks at the violent person, if he would even try to deal with that violent person, he would be speaking from his fear to that other person’s fear.
[00:36:36] Because I have worked with a lot of violent people. Some of them are murderers. And the thing that struck me is not only are these people loaded down with guilt, but they’re also very fearful. Many times, murderers are not only self-righteous and loaded down with guilt, but they’re fearful people. And you can’t speak from your fear and your hopelessness into that person’s hopelessness. And what I see under the surface of so much American optimism is a sense of despair. There’s really nothing can be done. Even if I lift up a little banner here, it really wouldn’t matter that much. And I think that kind of deep frustration is something that should be wrestled with, faced up to and asked, is this really the way to go?
[00:37:21] Well, now we come to solutions.
[00:37:25] And I’d like to give you some thoughts about children and violence. First of all, there have been some psychological studies done about children and violence. And those studies reveal clearly that if children watch a lot of violence on TV, it will affect them. It’ll affect them in any number of ways, which I don’t have time to go into, but it certainly will affect them.
[00:37:47] But it’s also been found there. There’s some very simple ways to help children that have a fairly good family relationship with their parents out of that problem. And one thing psychologists have done is a very simple thing. They have the child has been watching a lot of TV and the child has become disoriented or violent. They simply have the child sit down and write an essay, maybe about a page on the TV programs they have seen. And then they are asked to say whether they think these programs deal with reality. They just force that question on the child. Are you seeing a real world in all this violence you’re viewing on television?
[00:38:34] And they have found that through those discussions and the child is working on it, thinking it through, that it’s surprising that in about an hour or two a child can be pulled out of most of it. That’s very encouraging to me. But it’s been done again and again. It isn’t just a casual experiment. It was done systematically.
[00:38:53] Well, now, if that’s so, then I think we ought to agree that it would also be wise for more and more parents to help children discuss the programs they see with a view to getting them to say, Is this real? Is this the way the life is or is this the way it should be? Is there something wrong here? And then, of course, it wouldn’t hurt in many cases for you and the child to agree to turn it off. Right. And an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That you ought to find some positive programs for children.
[00:39:29] And I think people could work in their neighborhoods, talk it over with neighbors. What are your children watching on TV? What do you think about the violence in the world today? And you could become a little crusader for getting people to think through issues of maybe controlling the television set so it does not condition our children in the direction of violence.
[00:39:51] Okay. Now, I’d also say this. If you’re a normal person living in this world of violence, you’re going to have some fears. If you are not afraid of anything, you really ought to be institutionalized. You’re certainly not safe. And if you’re not afraid of some of the violent people in our time, you’re really nuts. Because there are some people out there that really warrant your fear. And so fear in itself is not unhealthy if it’s facing reality.
[00:40:25] Now, the thing to do, if you’re afraid of people and some of the violent ones out there, don’t suppress those fears. That is not dealing with what the Bible calls walking in the light. If you’re afraid you’ve got a lot of fears, bring them out and talk them over with a good friend and see which ones are real and which ones are unreal. To what extent are you developing a kind of a paranoia about violence and life?
[00:40:52] Now, this is going to sound very un-American, but bear with it and its probably wrong anyway. But did you notice that life is 100% mortal anyway? Did you ever notice that, that life is 100% mortal? Quoting a friend of mine, you know it’s 100% fatal. We all die sometime. Did you ever think about the possibility that you are going to die?
[00:41:25] Now, for me, I didn’t think this up myself, my daughter did. She’s married to a Baptist pastor in North Philadelphia, not far from Ninth and Butler. And she has her three children there, has foster children, too. And we’ve talked about it. And she said to me, well, you ought to consider the fact, or we have, that when we go into this area, some of us might die or some of us might be hurt or injured in some terrible way. But we accept it. We say it could happen and we look at it and we face it and we forget about it.
[00:42:02] And it’s the same thing with you and your death. Someday you’re going to die. And therefore, if you never look at it, if you never face up to it, then it can become a kind of a paralyzing thing. But if you say, “Yes, I’m going to die sometime,” but like Shakespeare, “I’m not going to be a coward. Cowards die. What? Thousand times? How many? What is it? Right. “The valiant never taste of death but once.” Right. Thank you, Irma. That was a good correction. I almost butchered Shakespeare here. Somebody would have taken back my Ph.D. if I had finished that quote the way I was going through it. Well, so much for imperfection.
[00:42:44] But the thing I want you to see is, if you’re going to die anyway, you might as well live with some courage in the meantime. Right. Does that make any sense to anybody? I know it’s not American. We’re opposed to death. And I think we outlawed it in the Constitution somewhere. Isn’t that right? It is forbidden for Americans to die. We never die. Europeans tell me you don’t die. You just disappear here.
[00:43:14] Well, anyway, whether that is, I’m teasing a bit here. But look, if you only have one life to lead, why don’t you make it count? And why don’t you say, “Yes, I’m going to die anyway, so I’m not going to be afraid of people who are violent or evil. I’m going to stand up to them.” Now. It means you take reasonable precautions. But once you’ve accepted the possibility of your own death, then you really are, kind of like, you have a kind of an immortality. Its going to happen to you anyway.
[00:43:45] I remember one time my wife … it was really funny. We were in Kampala and a guerrilla sympathizer had fled into our yard. My son in law, Bob Heppi, was supposed to put up the gate, but you know how it is. He’s more scholarly than he is carpentry oriented. And he hadn’t put it up. This guy goes into the yard and the soldiers come in pursuing him. They’ve got these heavy weapons. Right in front of our door. They’re booming right there, you know. And we all huddle inside of the house and a little hallway. And while we’re doing that, it even scared Bob, who used to be a violent fellow in his own way. I’ve never seen him scared. He was afraid for Gillian, their daughter, and he and Karen, and we were covering their bodies.
[00:44:32] And so somebody had to go to the door and explain to these soldiers that we were peaceful people. And so when I got to the door, I had all these visions of they’re shooting through that glass door. I tried to think of alternative ways of doing this, but there didn’t seem to be any. And I realized at that moment I’m a coward. I’m brave, except in the face of danger.
[00:44:56] And so I got to the door, and pulled the curtain back, and there was great big a [Ugandan] soldier looking at me eyeball to eyeball. And I laughed and he laughed too. And he says, “Oh, Father, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were in there. We’re looking for bandits.”.
[00:45:12] And so I closed the door and I turned around and here, Karen and Rose Marie Karen’s my daughter. Rose Marie is my wife. They had been crying a minute before, and I guess I thought I was going to get some kind of congratulation. And I had saved us and that sort of stuff. And, Rose Marie looked at me in the eye, those blue eyes, German blue eyes blazing, and there was no tears left. And she said, “Jack, you said in your sermon yesterday in the church we were to invite the soldiers into tea and tell them about Christ, and you didn’t do it.” And Karen looks at me, tears are still pretty well in her eyes, and she says, “Yes, Dad, you didn’t do it.” Our hero melted. And I said, “Well, you didn’t hear the whole sermon. Didn’t you hear that proviso. Providing it is appropriate.” And I didn’t think it was appropriate. And they just stood there and shook their heads. And so I crawled back into the hallway and I said, “Alright, the next group that comes through.”.
[00:46:23] The next group that came through, we plunged out the door and met them. And if you ever come to New Life, you know, I’m a long preacher. You know, I like to preach a good sermon. I believe that sermonettes make Christiantettes. And so I like to see real Christians made. But even be that as it may, I preached the shortest sermon on record. There was gunfire all around the place, and I explained to them the purpose of Christ coming into the world. Call them to repentance. And they were so startled, all these soldiers and police, they thought this guy dropped out of out of this spaceship somewhere. Anyway, without their getting time to think. I gathered them into a circle and we all held hands. Rose Marie and Karen and Bob and I and the soldiers and police. And we had a prayer meeting. And we just got so fed up with the violence that we all, we just plunged out there, and we gave them some good, strong exhortation: “Don’t shoot any innocent people” and all the rest. And they were so shocked that they promised from the bottom of their hearts that we won’t shoot any more innocent people. And they went away so dumbfounded that we came out there. And of course, I gave Rose Marie and Karen the credit for driving me out there.
[00:47:58] But that’s the way we ought to be, really, isn’t it? Like those two lionesses, my wife and my daughter. And I really think women in America could make a great difference in this whole matter. I really think they’re part of the solution. If women would stand up and make us men have a little more backbone … Hah?
[00:48:18] But is there anything else that we can do by way of solution? And I do believe this has happened again and again in America. If you study the history of our country, you’ll find that we’ve had periods of violence. Here in Philadelphia in the 1790s, there was a great deterioration of our country, and there was not only the breaking out of disease, malaria, yellow fever, but there was a great deal of violence, drunkenness. Actually, churches were attacked by mobs. Pulpit bibles were ripped out. It was really bad.
[00:48:49] And, you know, people started doing? They started to pray. Small groups began to form, to pray for our country. And as they prayed for our country, the country began to change.
[00:49:04] But something mysterious happened. And it leads us to a deeper question: Is there something, an evil that’s more than just human? Is it possible that there are kingdoms that are invisible, clashing in all the things that are happening, that organized crime has behind it a higher organization of satanic powers? That our own fears may have behind them, darker inspirations?
[00:49:40] And so when we pray and we pray, we are calling upon the One who has made the universe to change not only the others, but also to change us. Because one of the things we have to face is that not only is there evil out there, but maybe some of it is in me. Did you ever think of that?
[00:50:06] And the reason I’m so afraid of it and the reason I’m intimidated by it, maybe something in me vibrates in it too much. I may not have killed anyone, but I’m reminded the story of the man who had been married 60 years. And a reporter asked him, “Did you ever want to divorce your wife?” And he says, “No, I never thought of divorce, but I certainly thought of murder several times.”.
[00:50:30] Well, you know, every one of us commits his little murders. Isn’t that true? And there’s some deeper things that need to be dealt with. And they can only be dealt with by facing our God.
[00:50:42] And then it seems to me that there needs to be something more done. And I think that’s a very practical thing. And it’s overcoming evil with good.
[00:50:56] How can you do that? Well, in 1971, I go around making flaming speeches like this, and then I go home and I say to myself, “Do I really believe that?” And so in 1971, I was speaking down at a Presbyterian church nearby here. And I got home. I said, “Am I a hypocrite or not? If I really believe what I said?
[00:51:16] I had said that, “Tthe message of Christ can change anyone, no matter how bad.” And the pastor was sitting right there and it really woke him up. And he stood up and he says, “Jack, you can’t mean that?”.
[00:51:30] Really got everybody’s attention. What a discussion we had. People divided up back and forth. I said, “Yes, I believe Christ can change anyone.”.
[00:51:37] And then I went home and I said to myself, “Do you really believe that?” And my wife and I decided that night to commit ourselves to it. And we opened our home then to all kinds of people, including violent ones. And we started taking them into our lives. And we took violent people from state mental institutions. We took, we worked with people who had committed crimes of various kinds. Wasn’t long before we had a murderer visiting with us and so on?
[00:52:09] And it became a very exciting life. And I won’t tell you all about it, but it’s amazing the changes that came into many of these lives. And even those that were not changed in a spiritual way, they were changed in many of their attitudes towards society. But what they found for the first time was that somebody loved them.
[00:52:32] One girl we took in: she had been a chick with the warlock motorcycle gang. By the way, it was a little sticky. We put her on the third floor and we had another girl up there who had been a chick for the pagan motorcycle gang. And all these sparks were coming down. We didn’t know what was going on. We found out soon.
[00:52:54] But anyway, after that girl was there for a while, to show you the demonic side of some of these things, she heard me making a talk like this one night and she came up afterwards and said, “I need to say something to you.” I said, “I’m listening.” She said, “I have been planning to murder you and Mrs. Miller.”.
[00:53:14] Really gets your attention. She had all my attention. A little palpitation, too. And I looked her in the eyes, I prayed, and I said, and “I want you to know this: no matter what happens, I forgive you.”.
[00:53:33] And she was stunned. If I’d taken a two-by-four and hit her across the head, it wouldn’t have hurt her more. And so I said, “Let’s go over here to this bench and sit down.” And she was staggering. And I said, “I want to tell you about a Christ who died for people like you and me. There’s murder in my heart, too. But if you trust your life to Him, and you turn away from this sin, he’ll change you. He’ll make you into a new person.”And having said that to her, we prayed together and Christ changed her. Amazing.
[00:54:11] And so it isn’t just a human battle. It’s really that we ought to take our courage in our hands and recognize there’s a message about this Jesus who died on the cross for good people like us. Maybe I’m not so good, but good people like you, and bad people, in middle people, and he takes away their sins. And through faith in him, they have a new life. And in this way, you don’t need to be afraid of anyone. Because even if they killed you, they just give you a quick door in the heaven.
[00:54:45] And so I want to say, “Join the battle. It’s a lot of fun.” Why sit there like a sitting duck and get shot by the world. Let’s go get em. I believe in fighting. Good old American way.
[00:55:03] But you’ve got to have the tools to fight and you have to have a spiritual foundation. And I have just explained that to you. Thanks much. You’re good listeners.
Audience Question [00:55:28] Women are also affected by what’s to me, they’re constantly being called now more than ever before, “Watch out for strangers. Remember your phone number. Don’t talk to anyone.” They eat their cereal and on the back of the box of the milk carton is the faces of two or three kids who are now missing. What is this doing?
Jack Miller [00:55:56] The question is, what about all the warnings being given to children to watch out for strangers? And you have the warnings in the back of the cereal box and you get these pictures of runaways on television. Descriptions of them. And you’re convinced that these people have all been done in. And as a matter of fact, most of those runaways and televisions or people who disappeared, the children, have been have been kidnaped by a parent. And it’s quite misleading.
[00:56:24] Well, I think children need to be given some proper warnings. I think there’s a place for that. But I think that if you make too much of it, you begin to freeze them up and build a world of fear. And I would have them err a little bit on the side of daring rather than on the side of fear.
[00:56:44] And so, now this may not sound very Christian, and don’t quote me. He’s got it on tape. I would teach children at an early age a little self defense.
[00:57:01] When Karen went to Jenkintown High, a Jenkintown School, this boy followed her home and we received this very obnoxious note from him and we couldn’t figure out why he had sent it. And it turned out she had beaten him up. So militant Christianity. I don’t think we ought to train people into passivity. I don’t want them beating up people. We had to explain to her that we only, we pick people up, at least after we beat them up. So I’m teasing, but you get the picture. We need courage.
[00:57:35] Anyone else? Bill, you’ve got another question.
Audience Question [00:57:43] Dr. Miller, you read Francis Schaffer’s “A Christian manifesto.”
Jack Miller [00:57:47] Sped read it, so I couldn’t really say I read it. Go ahead.
Audience Question [00:57:51] He seems to align himself with a position that is common with Reformers like Zwingli, where, if the government is no longer a godly government, lets say it encourages things like abortion, or at least, the way we have now, is it protects those people who want to kill their babies. Where does a Christian go? Can a Christian take up arms in a situation like that? Or is he always to turn the other cheek?
Jack Miller [00:58:22] What do you do when the state turns outlaw? It’s really what you’re saying.
[00:58:27] Well, the first thing you want to be sure, the state is really turned outlaw and you’re not just turning outlaw.
[00:58:31] And there’s where are you going to draw the line. And I think because of our tendency to be hasty, you know, we get the Charles Bronson, and the Goetz response, Bernard Goetz, and he takes his revolver along and he’s really making himself into the state.
[00:58:48] But I do believe there are situations where the state does turn outlaw, as in Nazi Germany. And I think their position, as a Christian, has a duty to have some kind of resistance to that. And I think he has to take his conscience before God to see what kind. I don’t see the American government yet to that place. There are other avenues.
Audience Question [00:59:10] Dr. Miller, often when I’ve heard you speak, you comment on how Americans are so afraid of pain that we’ve become so pained with such an aversion to pain. Would you see that as another side to the crippling fear of violence that we have? And would you comment on that?
Jack Miller [00:59:28] Well, I interviewed a psychiatrist one time. I spent a couple of days with him, and afterwards I decided he was quite sane. It was a job I had. And he was a psychiatrist who had interviewed a great share of the Korean prisoners of war, of American Korean prisoners of war that had been held either by the North Koreans or the Chinese communist. And his view was that many of these men, those who didn’t come back, many of them died out of fear. He said it was not unusual to have a young American man who, when he hit the the prison camp, go into a catatonic state and within 24 hours be dead. And he says it was simply out of fear of pain.
[01:00:16] And he said many of them thought they were being tortured by them. You know, they sent back all these horror stories about their being tortured. He said, “Well, yes and no. By American standards, they were being tortured. But some of that, he said, was simply they were poorly disciplined soldiers. And Oriental military discipline is so tough that they were just getting standard discipline in Oriental army.” Some of them wouldn’t build latrines and so on, and the Communists were hard on them. Now, he was not a pro-Communist himself. And but he said he thought what had happened, that American young men had been so trained—If you get a headache, you take an aspirin, if you’re going to get a tooth drill, you get novocaine. And that we had so trained ourselves that we take so many prescriptions to avoid pain that when we ran into it of a severe sort, we didn’t know what to do with that.
[01:01:08] And his his point was, which I thought he was such a sane person. I don’t know why I keep saying that about a psychiatrist, but it may reflect some of my views and some of them I’ve met. But anyway, he said, there’s no greater pain than trying to avoid pain. And I think this is one of the things that Americans are so afraid of. We’re afraid of violence because these people are not afraid of pain. And I think we can’t cure the problem if we’re all going to run away. And so you do get hurt. All right. Other people have been hurt. Suppose you get killed. Well, if you do it in the name of God in Christ. So what? You did your part? Does that sound harsh? Doesn’t sound American. But I think it’s right.
[01:01:59] All right. Another question. Yes.
Audience Question [01:02:02] I was thinking about when you spoke about there is sort of the legal violence that’s becoming very acceptable as far as liability and litigation and what people are responsible for, just the tendency of people that are using any kind of professional help or any help or just walking or anything in their life and have done harm, damage. And then they want to get back at that person to get everything they have and to ruin them professionally.
Jack Miller [01:02:32] You really put your finger on something. The question the question is what about the legal obligations? If you reach out to help somebody, for instance, someone has said if the Good Samaritan were alive today, he would be prosecuted for a practicing license without a medicine, medicine without a license.
[01:02:52] And and if you did what even we did fifteen, ten years ago, and taking people into your home, wouldn’t you be in danger today of getting a lawsuit? Well, I feel this way. If you get a great big lawsuit thrown at you, you only have so much money anyway. And if they take that away, in the meantime, you can wrestle with the problem and raise a big protest, what an opportunity. You might even get a little newspaper publicity for standing up for the right. And so I say today, let the Good Samaritan not only take the risk of the robbers and help the wounded man by the side of the road, but also rejoice in the lawsuits, because that might even get you on the Phil Donahue Show. And he really needs help. So. Okay.
Audience Question [01:03:45] Going back to whether or not Christian people should take up arms against the state, the state is going outlaw, the Christian church was formed from the Roman Empire. It wasn’t too much preaching back then and about taking up arms against the Roman Empire. They just. Church groups and forums were in the midst of all the violence, despite, without taking part in it.
Jack Miller [01:04:14] Right. And towards the end, they actually walked right into the arena, the Coliseum, where they were killing the gladiators back and forth, and protested in such a vigorous way that eventually they just killed it. And it was it was really passive.
[01:04:31] And I think the strongest kind of opposition we can give is our moral courage.
[01:04:39] Anyone else. Yes.
Audience Question [01:04:45] We have some friends who are very involved in the National Rifle Association, things like that, the gun lobby. And then there is the constitutional right to bear arms. And yet, the problem with Christians if you analyze our culture, you tend to think that maybe we’ve lost our “Christian basis,” which was the basis for some of those rights. How do you interact as a leader, a public figure to those who say “I have a right to protect my family?” And yet realizing that, you know, we do have the violence and the murders. What’s your response to that?
Jack Miller [01:05:25] I came from a family in Oregon of hunters and trappers. We had a little cattle ranch and we had an arms all over the place. We looked like a military camp, but we were very nonviolent people. The thought of shooting somebody would … But I think that’s an older world, and I think people today there needs to be some pretty strong control, especially of handguns. I think they ought to be licensed. And I think you shouldn’t get a license unless you have been trained in how to use it. And I think very few people ought to get them. And I am strongly opposed to the view that there ought to be indiscriminate availability, especially of handguns. I’m not saying anything about hunters and things like that. But I see no justification whatsoever for saying the constitutional right to bear arms guarantees anybody the right to have a house full of pistols. I just feel very strongly against that, and would be happy to debate anybody who holds that view. I think that it’s terrible the way so many people in our country have pistols. I guess I have some sympathies for the Ugandans who feared that we were very violent.
Audience Question [01:06:53] Dr. Miller, James Dobson, the educator, said about children in particular, has talked a lot about the need for self-worth as being a determining factor in a lot of the violence and also other problems, psychological problems that children have. I know as, in a high school, for example, when I was teaching, kids are very, almost trained to be self-centered in that regard, you are here to get as much as you can. This is your time to just get, get, get. And there’s not much of an emphasis on how to give. I, as a teacher, a kid would throw something on the floor, and sometimes I’d say “Pick it up.” And they’d saw “Well, that’s the janitors job.” You know, things like that. And I wonder how, as parents, how can we give our children a real self-worth and help them avoid some of these problems that often lead to this.
Jack Miller [01:07:51] An excellent question. Could you all hear it? Basically, it was it was a question that goes to the heart of the matter of in a practical way. How do you give children today self-worth?
[01:08:02] And what many people have been telling them, and this is very popular psychology today, that you get self-worth by asserting yourself. Isn’t that true? That you claim what is yours, you get your rights? And I believe this is a lot of the lies behind the ideological violence, and it also lies behind a lot of the thrill violence. That you’re trained to fulfill yourself.
[01:08:31] And what you get when you go down that road is you build a kind of a, you get a kind of a raging kingdom of self, a raging kingdom of self in which people are all out to grab.
[01:08:47] Now, I wouldn’t deny that there’s a place for defending your own dignity, and there are times for insisting on your own rights. But you see, historically that has not been in our tradition. Its been there, but it’s been modified by the believing that God has a more absolute right, that God’s right is greater than man’s right. And so underneath God’s right, we find our rights. But if you make yourself into a kind of a little God, you end up becoming a Rambo, or something else in which you are a destroyer.
[01:09:26] And I think this has a lot to do with the violence and has a lot to do with the drug culture. It means a world of people without brakes. It’s like getting a very high powered car and then removing the brake system. And I think that’s what we have for many people. And it’s one reason I’m deeply disturbed that our schools do not have enough emphasis on the Ten Commandments today. I really believe we need to have the Ten Commandments in every public high school and every private school.
Moderator [01:10:02] We have time for maybe for just one or two. If they are not real lengthy ones. Do we have any takers from people who haven’t had a chance.
Audience Question [01:10:09] I was wondering about Christians bearing arms. Is it wrong like just to call the name Jesus? You know what I mean, instead of having a gun or something, is that being stupid, like not thinking logically. Do you know what I mean?
Jack Miller [01:10:26] Well, the question is, is there an answer to the Christians bearing arms? Suppose you live in a dangerous neighborhood. I think you can do some very practical things if you live in a dangerous neighborhood or one you think is dangerous. Most neighborhoods have patterns to them. If you know what the rules are, you just don’t go out there in North Philadelphia when you see a strange body of teenagers on a corner. You make your route around some other way. But then if you sometimes come to the place where you are confronted by someone who intend you to do harm. Now I know I am a man and it might make a difference, but the thing that I have done is just start talking to them about Jesus. And I think I scared more people than have scared me.
[01:11:20] I used to pick up a lot of hitchhikers. I’ve lost my nerve as I get older, but I used to pick up a lot of hitchhikers and some of them looked very rough. And I always carried a big Bible in my car and I’d always put it over in the seat right where the hitchhiker was going to sit down. So when he got in, he had to pick up the pick up the Bible and move it. And I remember one fellow I picked up that way, and he looked kind of funny. And I said, Well, I introduced myself, he introduced himself, and we started talking. And it was clear that he was so badly frightened that I had really overdone it. And I finally I said to him, “Why wouldn’t you like to come to a Bible study tonight? I’m really quite a nice guy. I don’t bite anyone.” And he says, “Where is it?” And he says, “What is your name again?” He says, “Oh, I’m coming to your Bible study. Somebody’s bringing me.”.
[01:12:13] But anyway, anyway, yeah, I think that sometimes if I think it’s a dangerous situation, I just start praying out loud. Kefa Sempangi, who was an active elder in our congregation across the street. He was an African a Ugandan. He said when Amin’s soldiers came to kill him, they were going to take him away and shoot him. And so he said, “Well, I’m ready to go.” But then he said, “I wonder if you men are ready.” And he says, “I really think I should pray for you before we go.” And he said, “Did I pray!” He says, “I poured my heart out to God for these poor guys.” And he said, “They were so convicted that they both became Christians on the spot and from then on protected him.” And it was through their their work that he got out of the country safely.
[01:13:09] We really need to believe in the power of God to break in. And I do believe that. I’ve even myself gone up to people. This is a little bit off the subject of violence so they can be violent. I knew a military attache a bit in Uganda, a Soviet one. You know, they run arms into Africa a lot like they’re going out of style. And so I met him and I said to him, “How’s your work? Is it exciting?” And he says, “No very routine.” He didn’t like the question too well. And so I said, “Well, my work is really exciting. Come over. We’re getting all these murderers, all these thieves, they’re all turning to God and they’re being changed and they’re finding jobs. And we have real community. Wouldn’t you like to get aboard this?” And he had kind of funny look? And he says, “I’m a communist. I can’t do that.” And so I said, “Oh, well, Jesus saves all kinds of sinners, and he would save you to.” He about died on the spot. Made great conversation, and I’m sure left him with something to think about for the rest of his life. And just to see my love for him, even though I view these people, KGB people, they make my flesh crawl. You know, these are violent people, terrible people. And and yet we got to love them, too, don’t we?
Audience Question [01:14:30] I think that’s a great note to end on.
Jack Miller [01:14:35] So let’s pray for our country, shall we? God our maker. We thank you, though, we’re here tonight from different backgrounds, probably different religions, that we can come before the God who’s made us all. And we can ask him to bless this nation. We can ask him to overcome the evil in it and to change people. We also ask you that you would change us, that you would take fears out of our heart, that we might not be afraid of evil, that indeed, Lord, that you would take evil out of us, that we may ourselves be people of peace and quietness, and that we may win others to the Lord of Peace. We would ask you tonight for our whole nation, that you would revive us, that you turn many who are violent and evil to yourself. We pray, especially, that you would bless families. We think of the coming generations of teenagers and small children. We ask you to be with them, and we pray this in the name of our Redeemer. Amen.
In the sixteenth century justification by faith was a teaching which literally set men on fire. Those who received pardon of sins through this understanding of grace were enflamed with joy at the discovery of God’s unconditional love in Christ. As a result, this doctrine became a burning cry of triumph over against the condemnation of conscience and law. You can feel the cry of sure hope in the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Question and Answer 56.
Question 56: “What do you believe concerning ‘the forgiveness of sin’”?
Answer 56: “I believe that God, because of Christ’s atonement, will never hold against me any of my sins nor my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life. Rather, in his grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment.”
But others in the same century saw this teaching as a threat to Christian moral life and even an invitation to sin. It might be morally safe for a select group of saints to have assurance about the forgiveness of sins, but the danger for the Christian masses seemed obvious. Offer them the certainty that the Last Judgment had already been born for them by Christ, and it wouldn’t take much imagination to see how they would live. The opponents of justification by faith also suspected that this view of man’s relationship to God through faith would destroy the final day of judgment and what need would there be for a visible church? Therefore, these opposers saw to it that tens of thousands of those holding to justification by faith alone were burned at the stake.
The fire and the smoke have not entirely vanished in the twentieth century. For some years now a number of leaders in the Reformed tradition have opposed with almost prophetic zeal what they see as a distortion of justification by faith into an easy-believism which cancels out discipleship as inherent in the Christian life. Others in our tradition have argued that the very language of “justification by faith alone” suggests an empty, life-less faith which is unbiblical in character. Such an understanding of faith, it is said, is based upon a Lutheran dichotomy between gospel and law and between faith and good works. In response to these trends yet other leaders in the same circles have replied: “The concern to keep justification and discipleship together is commendable as a concern. But is it being done in a manner that clarifies and protects the free grace of the gospel message?”
Such a conflict is embarrassing to us in the Reformed tradition. To a believing layman it might seem that we who are theologically trained have great trouble seeing the obvious. But the situation is made even more embarrassing when you discover that modern people generally have little interest in the whole subject of justification by faith and its central message: the free forgiveness of sins through the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. A major cause of this indifference is the influence of science. In our century, scientific studies have become increasingly naturalistic. Within this anti-supernatural framework, there is no room for absolute law and the consciousness of sin which goes with it. Seen from this evolutionary standpoint, man is a “naked ape”—an evolutionary marvel whose bestiality still clings to him. Such bestiality is regrettable, but it cannot be condemned by final standards of right and wrong. Since beast-man has no one with authority to condemn him in the first place, justification by faith alone is a meaningless concept. There are no sins to forgive and no God to accept the forgiven one.
However, scientific naturalism has left a massive hole in the modern life. For modern man just as much as sixteenth century man has a conscience which condemns him. This conscience is inescapable, and its constant message to man is: “You are not O.K.” Attempts to cope with this troubled and restless conscience vary all the way from bottle alcoholism to work alcoholism. In a word, scientific naturalism as an explanation of man and his life has failed. It cannot explain the most obvious fact about man: his innate and ineradicable sense of right and wrong. As a result, it must explain away in a most unsatisfying manner what is crucial to human life: man’s sense of moral rightness and wrongness and his relationship to his inner sense.
Against this background I would like to affirm certain of my own convictions about justification by faith and its place in the modern world.
First, I wish to affirm that it is my conviction that justification by faith has as a foundational presupposition a consciousness of the majesty of God and the absolute demands of His justice.
What it presupposes is not merely the existence of a God but the Lord God of the Bible, the compassionate Yahweh who is the Supreme Lord of all existence and whose Ten Commandments express His exact and unchanging justice.
This God has been excluded from the modern scientific textbooks on man and his world. And for the most part this same majestic Being has been excluded from the theology books as well. It’s true: the big trend in twentieth century theology is anti-monarchical. What the most diverse theologians have agreed on is one thing: Let’s keep God off His throne. Even a quick glance at the field brings to mind “anti-monarchical” theologians like Rudolf Bultmann, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Daniel Day Williams, [Illegible] Altizer, and, yes, the later Karl Barth (The Humanity of God). Obviously, such thinkers are not calling men to fall on their faces before the holy judge whose majesty astonishes the seraphim. What they offer us, rather, is a Senior Partner working cooperatively with us in and through the processes of history.
Like the naturalistic evolutionists, these theologians tend to be more conscious of humanity and its history than of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For this reason, along with scientific naturalists, they have no answer for the man on the street who knows in spite of himself that he is “not O.K.”
But all too often our idea of God on His throne is mostly just that — an idea on paper, an empty metaphor derived from royal governments of the past. Here then is a boilerplate barrier to any effective communication of a teaching like justification to men in the twentieth century. Ours is an age of opportunity. Scientific naturalism has turned much of modern life into a wasteland. The various theological fads have not brought water to this thirsty world. But we are not very helpful ourselves if we are trying to hand on life-giving truth which has not powerfully influenced our own deepest convictions. We are surrounded by paper tigers, but even these shaky enemies are too much for us when we oppose them with mere orthodox words. Such talk has no compelling force when it does not issue from a consciousness of the majesty of the Most High and the justness of His justice.
Secondly, I wish to affirm that the cure of our disease lies in a personal encounter with God’s law and the conviction of sin which arises from that encounter (Romans 7:9–11).
The answer does not lie in making the law into gospel or the gospel into law. The law and the gospel both relate to God’s justice, but they are different, and this difference ought not to be blurred in our thinking, preaching, or living. When this blurring takes place, the law comes across as half-gospel and gospel comes across as half-law. Law therefore must be permitted to speak to us as law in all its fulness as the perfect revelation of a loving and holy Creator.
In nonbiblical religions law is always a collection of isolated and only loosely related commandments. On such an understanding of law, sin also is only partially revealed. Sin is the isolated deed, only superficially related to motivation if at all. By contrast, God’s law as stated in the Scriptures is a single mirror exposing sin and sinfulness in their comprehensive character (James 2:10–11). In this mirror as a created person, I behold the awesome Face of faces (Deu 6:4–6, Psa 27:8). We discover that the Maker of all is astonishingly personal. For at the center of His law is the First Commandment which forbids my having other “gods” before His face (Exo 20:3). It requires me to give this living Person my whole heart in worship and life. Indeed, this commandment means that all of life is His worship. He alone is worthy of my total adoration (Deu 6:4–6). He is not simply first among others, but He is absolute King and King alone (Isa 44:9). Thus, the worship and reverence of God expressed in the First Commandment controls all the other commandments. In observing each of them, the obedience required must flow from a love of the One who reigns supreme.
This law is holy, just, and good (Rom 7:12). Therefore, it is not surprising that it promises life to those who obey it in its comprehensive character (Lev 18:4–5, Deu 6:6, 13; 30:15–16, Rom 2:6–7, 7:10). Thus, we see that the method of justification required by the righteous nature of the law is on this order: obedience—justification—life (Lev 18:4–5, Rom 2:6–7, 7:10). But when broken the order is: disobedience—condemnation—death (Rom 5:12–21, 2:6, 8–9). Since all have broken this law (Rom 3:10–23), there is no possibility for a man to be justified by observing the law and entering into eternal life by that route (Gal 2:16). Instead, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).
The full force of the law is expressed in the book of Deuteronomy. In it, Moses says “do” over fifty times to Israel. But God is not satisfied with any ordinary “doing.” He wants more than mere mechanical “works of the law.” He is the God of the First Commandment, and therefore in all doing He wants the affections of His sons to be given to Him. He will not share their love with idols (Deu 4:9–24). Furthermore, He will not accept cheerless doing. Unless they serve Him “with joy and gladness of heart,” he will expel them from the land of Canaan (Deut 28:47–48).
Such a searching law forces us to confess that we have not kept it but are “undone” by its exposing our guilty lips (Isa 6:5). In Psalm 143:2, David universalizes his own experience of the condemning power of the law. He cries:
Enter not into judgment with thy servant; For no man living is righteous before thee.
No man is able to stand before the Judge of all. In His holy presence the sentence must always be: “Cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deu 27:26).
This biblical teaching on the majesty of God’s law and its comprehensive requirements is offensive to the natural mind. It is readily misinterpreted as cruelty and vindictiveness. In reality it is simply a matter of exact justice being spelled out for us by the Creator of all. If such a Judge does not act justly in keeping with His own holy nature, then He is less than a merely human judge who is fair and equitable in condemning or acquitting men according to their guilt or innocence.
But if we are to recover the consciousness of the Divine majesty and the expression of that majesty in His commandments, we need to take a further step. We must come to understand the Divine wrath. This is not man’s malicious wrath, but the indignation which arises from the moral sensitivity of a God grieving at His heart over man’s evil thoughts and murderous ways (Gen 6:5–13). It is not the blind rage of a white shark devouring innocent swimmers, but the expression of the just displeasure of a heavenly Being “against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). His descending clouds of judgment overshadow those who know better—who really know the truth but pursue evil (Rom 1:20–32). Such wrath is echoed even in ourselves when we pick up a newspaper and read about a man who rapes and cruelly murders a defenseless child. We are morally nauseated. We know that this man knows better. So, it is with God’s wrath. What we are and do calls forth His righteous moral indignation.
Now we begin to see the seriousness of sin as defined by this more comprehensive view of the law in its majesty. The law calls for end-less judgment to fall upon those who persist in refusing to give the All-glorious God thanks and praise and service from a joyous heart. Therefore, anyone who does not repent will “drink of the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and the presence of the Lamb” (Rev 14:10). And for how long? The answer is that “the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Rev 14:11). Such a state of affairs appalls me. I speak as a Christian human being. It must mean either that the Lord is a monster far worse than “jaws” or that our sin is infinitely worse than anything we had imagined.
The second one is the right one. I say this with astonishment. It means that God in His holiness is radically different from what I am. God is God, and He alone has the right to define Himself and His justice for men. Here the shoes go off our feet and our tongues fall silent. We cannot even stammer His name “Yahweh” unless He had first spoken it to us. And this name alone is holy. Sin therefore becomes God-hating rebellion against infinite holiness, against the Face that is thrice-holy, that is lifted above all impurity.
Should we wonder, then, that His holiness takes us so by surprise? Should we not find in it sure evidence of the truth of biblical revelation? For what man would or could imagine the holy God of the covenant? Who would dare invent such a Being, one so utterly unlike man in his perfect righteousness?
But accept the reality of this God, and at one stroke everything begins to fall into place. We now understand why man has a troubled conscience. Originally made in the image of God, the law of the Creator was stamped on his consciousness. Sin has darkened that awareness, but the conscience still speaks loudly enough to tell a man that he has a rendezvous with the Judge.
Such a vision of eternal wrath makes justification by faith alone a most precious gift. It is bitter to discover that the law which promised life to me has issued in eternal death (Rom 7:10). Yet as a condemned sinner, I am delighted to find a new kind of promise, the effect of which is summarized in Romans 4:5: “And to the one who does not work but trusts in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited to him for righteousness.”
Thirdly, I affirm my conviction that the Scriptures clearly teach that before the new birth and saving faith all men are in a state of condemnation.
All men are born sinners, and all men are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3). We are all under the curse of the law and must be ransomed by grace from that curse through Christ’s becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:10–13). The whole intent of John 3:16 and its immediate context is shaped by the teaching that God in love gave His Son to redeem men—who were all under condemnation and the sentence of death. Even the elect as sons of Adam are under condemnation: before their conversion they are under Divine wrath as other sinners. As evidence for this conclusion, we learn in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 that Jesus is the One who “delivers us from the wrath to come.” From the context nothing could be clearer than that Paul is referring to the elect (1 Thes 1:4). Even the chosen of God stand in need of being delivered from the wrath to be revealed at the Final Judgment.
But why underscore the universality of God’s condemnation of men? Wasn’t this point treated rather fully already? Perhaps. But my particular concern here is the tendency in modern Reformed circles virtually to exclude the elect or the children of the covenant from the divine wrath against sin. Whether this exclusion is based upon a careful line of reasoning or is simply an intuitive sense of what is, it can flow from a number of presuppositions. Among these is the notion of an eternal justification. The idea is that the elect being in Christ were justified in the counsel of God from all eternity. Once you have accepted this idea, then it may become pretty hard to take seriously the Scriptural teaching that the elect are in a real sense under God’s condemnation before their regeneration and conversion.
Others have made a case for two justifications for the elect: an active and a passive justification. As I understand the thought of active justification it means that the elect have through their union with Christ a justification which delivers them from a state of condemnation prior to their actually receiving Christ. Later, they receive Christ by faith as the ground of their passive or declarative justification. With respect to children born within the covenant there has been the same tendency to exclude sinners from the Divine condemnation. Early in the century in the Netherlands it was even officially concluded by the Reformed churches that children born within the covenant are presumed to be regenerate until they prove otherwise by their conduct (Decretals of Dordrecht). More recently here in the U.S. it has been held that by virtue of their baptism we are to view covenant children as belonging to Christ not only in a federal or representative sense but also as full participants in the life of the covenant. Apparently, they are thus to be viewed as Christians. Although I have not seen the implications of this view spelled out fully, it appears to me that the implications are that covenant children are not really under condemnation and wrath because of their baptism and covenant standing.
What I am concerned to do here is not to describe the view of any particular person but to speak to a trend or even a mind-set. What I see is a pattern that reminds me in some of its features of the European state church mentality. As I understand this state-church outlook, the thought is that all who have been baptized belong to God, that men are born Christians and not reborn as Christians. When this point of view is carried through consistently, it appears to me that you have practically lost the necessity of conversion. I believe that it was pastoral concern over this problem which led the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism to speak of “true conversion.” I am of the opinion that they added the word “true” to conversion or repentance to underscore the fact that mere membership in the visible church does not guarantee conversion to God and a deliverance from a state of wrath (Questions 20, 21, 60, 88). If men do not see themselves as under wrath and condemnation, then how can they see any necessity for a passage from death to life? In saying this, I am not arguing everyone brought up in a Christian home must know the hour of his first exercise of saving faith and repentance. But I am saying that he must know that he has passed from being under the condemnation of the law to a state of grace by faith in Christ alone.
Fourth, I wish to affirm the fundamental distinction between a legal promise and a gospel promise.
The contrast is developed with fine clarity in Calvin’s treatment of justification in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. XVIII. Following Calvin’s lead, I see Leviticus 18:4–5 as the classic legal promise. Here the law promises life, and I would add that the law must always promise life to those who obey it perfectly (Rom 7:10). So, Leviticus 18:4–5 reads: “You shall do my ordinances and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God.” . . . The matter could hardly be clearer. Flawless “doing” is the condition of living before God. That this understanding of the passage is correct is confirmed by Galatians 3:12 (and Romans 10:5) where the Apostle interprets it the same way.
By contrast, a gospel promise is unconditional and offered to men indiscriminately as a free gift of grace. Examples of gospel promises are Genesis 12:3, Habakkuk 2:4, Joel 2:32, John 1:12, 3:16, and Romans 10:9. Such a promise is based upon what our beloved Mediator has done. He has fully kept the legal promise of Leviticus 18:4–5 by a perfect obedience from the heart and taken the penalty of a broken law upon His own mighty shoulders. Hence, we conclude that the gospel promise flows out of Christ Jesus having kept the legal promise. This gospel promise and the work upon which it is based, however, is not extracted from an unwilling Father by a compassionate Son. Rather, it is the Father Himself who has given the Son as a sacrifice for sin. It is the Father who in infinite mercy brought into history the Last Judgment ahead of time—at the cross. Here the Father-Judge was satisfied; the claims of perfect justice were met in the painful sufferings of His only begotten Son. On the basis of that atonement the Father speaking through His ambassador church invites men to embrace by faith Jesus Christ freely offered to them in the gospel promise.
But to blur the distinction between the gospel promise and the legal promise will inevitably move one in the direction of justification by works. Galatians will begin to sound like Deuteronomy, and the liberty of the Spirit will be replaced by a yoke of bondage (Gal 3:1, 5:1). In saying this, I do not suppose that anyone would teach outright justification by works. It seems to me doubtful that even the Pharisees officially taught that works could earn standing before God apart from the assistance of grace. But if in any way one sees a legal promise as a condition of our being accepted of God, then works are being mixed in with grace. And finally, as a friend of mine has pointed out, you cannot stand long in the ocean with feet planted in two rowboats, with one marked “Christ and grace” and the other marked “Works and law.” The reason is that the second boat is sinking, and you will go down with it. You will find that “the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Rom 7:10).
Fifth, this gospel promise [justification] is received by faith alone.
In the Reformed tradition, this “alone” has been called “the exceptive particle.” This faith alone is synonymous with the expression “without works” or “apart from works.” It means that we are not trusting in a legal promise for our salvation. Such faith abandons the works of the law in order to trust in Christ alone for acceptance with God. This is the sense of Romans 3:28: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith without works of the law.” Now if you read Romans 3:20–28, you will note that the expression “works of the law” is first used in v. 20. Its equivalent is also used in v. 21–22, which reads: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested without the law, although the law and the prophets witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” In using the phrase “without the law” the Apostle is seeking to protect the truth that justification is grounded in a substitute righteousness provided by God through faith in Christ without any admixture of human law-keeping. Through Paul the Spirit intends to say that justification is through Christ and His righteousness alone. Justification is through Christ’s merits freely imputed to us period. There is no plus, no “and” possible after the name of Jesus. Nothing can be added by way of human work or effort to what He has done on behalf of His own. Only Jesus, our propitiation, can placate by His blood God’s just indignation over our ungodly ways (Rom 3:23–24).
Then when we meet the expression “without works of the law” (Rom 3:28) we should understand that Paul is further protecting the Christ alone (Rom 3:20–22). Here the language “without the works of the law” is attached to faith in order that faith will not be construed in some way as a new work blurring the ground of our justification, which can only be Christ. So, what is being said here in Romans 3:28 is that faith alone, or faith without works, is simply the equivalent of Christ alone. Faith in its receiving character is not attempting to fulfill Leviticus 18:4–5; instead, it is abandoning all claim to self-justification and laying hold of that which lies outside of the man, even Christ and His merits.
For this reason, I believe that it is a serious mistake to say that works may have a part in declarative justification. This may be done with all sincerity on the plausible basis that works may have a place in justification provided that they are not understood as meritorious or as the ground of our pardon and acceptance with God. But this appears to miss the whole point of Pauline reasoning. For “the faith without works” of Romans 3:28 underscores Paul’s effort to keep works completely out of the picture when discussing once-and-for-all declarative justification. He wants us to see that it is just faith without works which guarantees it is Christ without works.
Editorial Note: Handwritten Page “Insert on p. 13”
In summary, I wish to say that I can admire the pietist zeal to check the presumption of easy-believism by stressing the necessity for sincere faith in salvation. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century godly pietists did this by placing weight on the right kind of faith. So far so good. But the danger is that this right kind of faith (sincere faith) will mean a heart that you as a sinner are expected to work to prepare before you come to Christ (see Norman Petit, The Heart Prepared). But when you do that, I fear you may have moved in the wrong direction of justification by faith plus works. James Denny put the issue in these challenging words:
“The German pietists, in opposition to a dead orthodoxy, in which faith had come to mean no more than a formal recognition of sound doctrine, spoke with emphasis of penitent faith, living faith, true faith, obedient faith, and so on. It is somewhat against qualifications like these that they are foreign to the New Testament. What they come down to in practice is this: Before the mercy of God in Christ the propitiation can be available for you, O sinful man, you must have a sufficient depth of penitence, a sufficiently earnest desire for reconciliation and holiness, a sufficient moral sincerity; otherwise, grace would only minister to sin. But such qualifications do infringe upon the graciousness of the gospel . . . “(The Death of Christ, pp. 290–91).
End Editorial Note.
For this reason, the Westminster standards do not speak of faith in its justifying function as “sincere faith” “obedient faith” or “working faith.” To be sure, faith which justifies is going to be faith which works and obeys. But in the justification of the ungodly that is not its function. Rather, its unique office in declarative justification is to abandon all human righteousness and to receive and rest on Christ alone as Justifier. The Westminster Confession says: “But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace” (Ch. XIV, II). It also says: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification (Ch. XI, II).
Calvin says it like this: “When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle” (Commentary on Galatians, Ch. 5:6). And the Holy Spirit says: “And to the one who does not work but trusts in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited to him for righteousness” (Rom 4:5).
Additional light on the unique role of faith in justification can be found in a brief consideration of the historic Reformed emphasis on faith as “the alone instrument of justification.” The language of “instrument of justification” sounds rather cold and can easily put off the person not trained in theological vocabulary. It also has been recently questioned among theologians on the ground that it smacks of Aristotelian theory of causation. For my part I believe that attempts to identify this word with Greek thought seems somewhat strained—as were earlier attempts to identify the word “person” in Trinitarian formulations with Greek philosophy. But I see little reason to dispute over a term like “instrument” if a better one can be found. I personally prefer the word “means” or some more popular language like “the eye that looks to Christ” or “the empty hand that receives the gift of Christ.” Yet whatever terminology is used, the main point must be upheld—which is that faith is the sole means by which we enter into union with Christ, the union which gives us our free justification as sinners. On the Divine side, our regeneration brings us into union with Christ. But the human part in establishing this union is faith alone. There is nothing else. It is the sole doorway by which I enter into the house of salvation and receive Christ and all His glorious benefits, including justification.
Therefore, we may not say that faith and non-meritorious works both function as the means or instrument of justification. If we were to maintain this view, we would take away from the unique function that faith performs in our justification. That function is to receive Christ, something works can never do, no matter how you describe them. Given these conclusions, all of us in the Reformed tradition ought to agree that teaching such a concept of faith and works (as instruments of justification) would constitute an offense against biblical doctrine.
As well, faith must always be seen as prior to justification in the order of the application of redemption. Temporally, faith and justification take place at the same time, but since faith functions as the unique means for bringing us into the state of justification, it follows that faith has a priority. It is the priority of means. There have been times when I have doubted the importance of this distinction. But I have seen that such a priority is inherent in the very idea of the open empty hand which takes hold of Christ, and faith is the way one lays hold of Him. Therefore, I am persuaded that this is a matter of importance just because it protects the humble character of justifying faith. Our salvation begins not with our effort, but in our taking a free gift.
This is confirmed by Scripture. In Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3, the prepositions translated “through” in relationship to faith imply that faith comes first as a means of our justification. As well, Genesis 15:6, the classic passage on justification by faith, expresses this same order of faith first, followed by God’s sentence of justification. Note the order: “He [Abraham] believed the Lord, and He [God] reckoned it to him for righteousness.”
We conclude then that God from all eternity decreed to justify His elect, and Christ died for their sins on the cross and rose again for their justification. But it is still true that they are not justified until they first have believed in Jesus Christ and had His righteousness imputed to them. There is no such thing as an eternal justification nor is there any such thing as an “active justification” which precedes this declarative once-for-all justification. Justification does not come to sinners until they have entered into applied union with Christ through faith in Him. I say this strongly by way of a loving challenge. If I am wrong on this point, then I would like to see the Scriptures which shows that there is an “eternal” or an “active” justification prior to justification by faith described in Romans 3 and 4.
Sixth, I wish to affirm the vital power of saving faith.
So far, I have been focusing on [saving faith’s] unique role in God’s act of justifying the ungodly. In such a discussion, I refuse to give any place to talk of love, works or obedience. It does not belong here. In this context the work of faith is that of a hungry mouth. It comes to feed on resources that it does not have. Or it is a surrender-trust reaching out to the winsome and trustworthy Savior. But now it is important that we not overlook the truth that the faith which embraces Christ is neither dead nor empty. Just because faith is that which abandons all human strength, and all human righteousness and lays hold of God in Christ, it has unlimited resources for working by love (Gal 5:6). It finds these resources to be beyond human description. For example, the Lord in the gospels says of faith that which can only be said of Divine omnipotence. “All things,” He states, “are possible to him that believes (Mark 9:23). That is an utterly astonishing thing to say because it is of God alone that it can be said that all things are possible for Him to accomplish. But the same can be said of faith. The reason? It is that faith brings the believer into union with the almightiness of the Triune God. By faith he possesses Him whose power is unlimited.
This possession of unlimited strength in God is not to be understood as an invitation for believers forthwith to set out to walk on water in a vain show of spiritual attainment. For this kind of power is that which was with Jesus in His humiliation—the kind of power which accomplishes the impossible through weakness (2 Cor 13:4, 12:9–10). It is the ability to pray for enemies, to bless those who curse, and to bear the fruit of the Spirit in family relationships. It is the grace to see eternity dawning with holy light while life ebbs away from a cancer-ridden body on a hospital bed. It is also the daring confidence to say: “I believe in the forgiveness of all my sins.”
Or to state the matter more formally as the ethics of justification by faith, it is faith which leads me joyfully to embrace the First Commandment as the supreme goal of life and thereafter to do all good things possible to my neighbor out of love for the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Relieved of the terrible burden of trying to fulfill an unfulfillable law, my faith looks at the cross. I can even live and die for others because I see by faith that Jesus died for me in all my ungodliness. Expressed in terms of the so-called Golden Rule, I can now think myself into the position of others and do for them what I would want for them to do for me because at the cross a bleeding Christ substituted Himself for me. From my faith in a substitutionary atonement, I inevitably pass into the substitutionary ethic required by the Golden Rule. I am able to put myself in another’s place in human relationships just because that is what the Lord did for me in His death.
To my joy I also discover that the law of God no longer is a letter written in stone for my condemnation (2 Cor 3:1–11). Christ has come, and the age of faith has come with Him (Gal 3:23–26). Now working through faith, the Holy Spirit has internalized the law in my innermost being. It is written on the fleshly tables of my heart. Spontaneously and without self-consciousness I begin to love my neighbor as myself (Gal 5:1–14). When asked: “Do we overthrow the law by this faith?” Our answer must be: “By no means; on the contrary we uphold the law” (Rom 3:31). Through the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit we find the law to be our indwelling friend. It is no longer a message of death spoken from Sinai, but a law of love and holiness imparted to us by the Spirit of grace at Mount Zion. Now when the Father says: “Thou shalt,” by the supernatural power of the Spirit I say in faith: “I will.”
Perhaps the case for the power of faith in relationship to the work of the Spirit was never more strongly stated that it is in the book of Galatians. The book is a defense of justification by faith against the attack of legalists who were trying to entangle the new Christians in a yoke of bondage (Gal 5:1). Their strategy was to attack the faith of these believers by telling them that first-class religion required more than Christ and His atonement. According to these legalists, what they also needed was circumcision and all the legal framework that circumcision implied. In arguing against this approach, the Apostle Paul pointed out that there is an unbreakable bond between justification by faith and the vital ministry of the Spirit. Indeed, what he is interested in defending first of all is the ministry of the Spirit with its wonderful freedom and fruitfulness. The reason then that justification must be by faith and not by anything statutory is that this faith is the foundation of the ministry of the Spirit (Gal 3:1–5). His thought is: “Don’t throw out justification by faith because if you do you are losing all that the Spirit has brought into your lives by that same faith.”
To test out the accuracy of this understanding of Galatians, you need merely examine Galatians 3:1–14 and the whole of chapter 5. The climax to this line of reasoning about the power of the Spirit working through faith is found in the great sections on love in this chapter. Here the working of faith is practically synonymous with the power and presence of the Spirit in producing love in Christian relationships (Gal 5:6, 13–14, 22). And all of this dynamic activity stands on the foundation of sonship received as a free gift through justification apart from the works of the law.
From this teaching on the power of faith, we can now draw some conclusions about our covenant young people. They must learn that in themselves they deserve eternal wrath but that in the covenant of grace God offers them a twofold gift: Deliverance from the curse due to their sin and the freedom of believing sons through the possession of the Spirit. The lesson of Galatians for them is that when they believe in Christ for themselves personally, they also receive by faith the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable them to walk in love. Frankly I do not think our covenant youth hear enough about the power of faith which accompanies the glorious promise of the Spirit. My years of experience as a teacher in a Christian high school and as a pastor convince me that our young people fall into a habitual outer conformity to law and duty while in heart, they love the world. Such a double life often is re-enforced by teaching which minimizes the necessity for each sinner to pass from darkness to light and from wrath to grace (Gal 3). Given such teaching the child can slide into the notion that saving faith is mere mental assent to biblical truth and to substitute moral training and its benefits for personal conversion. What we have then is a powerless “covenant easy-believism.”
Such a state of affairs can then lead into enfeebled despair. The young person assumes that he has in his possession the fulness of covenant reality and the power of the Spirit working through faith. He tries hard to obey but is yet left powerless in his unbelieving self-effort with a deepening sense of guilt over the hypocrisy of outer conformity.
In saying this, I do not mean that our task as Christian leaders and parents is to raise all the wrong kind of doubts among children and youth who really know Christ from an early age. Yet it is a sad thing to see a covenant child guilt-ridden and knowing nothing of the dynamic of faith. So, we must remember that the covenant of grace means that God has put our children into our hands so that we may claim the promises of the covenant for them and evangelize them with the liberating and joy-inspiring truths of the gospel. It is our privilege and task to show them that the promise is aimed at them. It comes to them as a twofold gift: the gift of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit for freedom from the law’s oppression. However, they need to know that the promise of the Spirit must be claimed by specific faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In themselves, by nature inherited from Adam, they deserve only eternal judgment. Therefore, we must urge upon them the gospel promise and at the same time warn them that not to be converted is to be a covenant-breaker devoid of the Spirit. Thus, those born within the covenant must be converted in order to stay within it even as those born outside of it must be converted in order to enter it.
Seventh, I affirm that it is my belief that Galatians and related passages in the New Testament draw a sharp distinction between the Mosaic covenant and the New covenant.
But I am of the opinion that in our time we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of “Reformed orthodoxy” which reads biblical history primarily in terms of “covenant continuity.” This approach minimizes the Pauline teaching with its emphasis on the apostle’s dichotomy between law and gospel, wrath and grace, servitude, and sonship. It also knows little or nothing of the freedom of the Spirit. What concerns me most in this line of reasoning is the idea that the governing principle of this “covenant continuity” is covenant obedience. This requirement for obedience and what is promised to this obedience have already been discussed in relationship to Leviticus 18:4–5 and related passages in Deuteronomy. Of course, God does require covenant obedience. He does this without any qualification or modification (Gen 17:1, Exo 34:7). The full requirement of the law in general and the Sinaitic covenant in particular are not filed down for anyone (Matt 5:17–20). But it is just this kind of covenant obedience which we can never supply, and which proves to be such an albatross around our necks. Or to use a distinctive already noted, I want us to recognize that Leviticus 18:4–5 is a legal promise and not a gospel promise. And I vigorously object to a concept of “covenant continuity” which obscures this distinction.
It appears to me that the clearest refutation of this point of view is found in Galatians 3. Even a casual look at the chapter makes it clear that Paul is not finding covenant continuity between the Mosaic covenant and the New covenant. Instead, he finds the continuity in the relationship between the Abrahamic covenant as promise given and the New covenant as promise fulfilled. The dominant note, according to Paul, in the Sinaitic law is obedience—not promise. The conclusion is summarized for us in v. 12 in the citation of Leviticus 18:5. Paul also argues that this way of obedience leads to the curse, since it is obvious none of us is able to meet this condition of obedience (v. 10).
Then read verses [in Galatians 3] 6–9, 14–19, and 29, and you cannot miss seeing the Pauline emphasis that the promise of the Abrahamic covenant and faith of Abraham stand in contrast to this law-keeping principle. It is this covenant of grace initiated by God with Abraham that the law of Moses cannot “annul” (v. 17). However, in relationship to this covenant of grace, the law served a most useful purpose. It brought a curse (i.e., death) to transgressors (vv. 10–11); “was added because of transgressions” (i.e., to reveal them (v. 19); locked men up as prisoners (i.e., strapped spirit and conscience) (vv. 23–25); and kept them in servant status (i.e., to live under a yoke of law) (4:1–3). In summary, the apostle is reasoning that the law compelled the people of God to see the need for the Abrahamic covenant of grace to be fulfilled by Jesus’s work and our claiming the promise by faith in Him. Hence, covenant continuity lies in the Abrahamic promise and its fulfillment in the New covenant established by the death of Christ.
Looking at the whole chapter, we see that it is teaching that there is a dichotomy between the Mosaic covenant and the fulfillment of the promise of the gospel in Christ. Paul’s master thesis is that an inheritance can only come by promise and not by law. In vs. 18 the apostle gives this thought sharp edge and outline: “For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise, but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” The law cannot give an inheritance because the law requires work, but an inheritance flows out of the gospel promise with its free grace. No one earns an inheritance. It is a gift.
Paul also stresses that this passage from law to grace and from wrath to pardon takes place in redemptive history. The entire development of his thought beginning with v. 23 brings this transition into sharp focus. In vs. 23 he speaks of the Mosaic administration as “before faith came.” In v. 25 we learn that faith has now come. The same verse also says that we are “no longer” under an oppressive superintendent, namely, the law. The climax, though, is found in Paul’s grand words which begin in Galatians 4. Here Paul says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son …” What is “this time”? It is the appearing of Christ in history and the coming of the age of faith. It is the epoch of freedom and of the Spirit which replaces servitude and nonage which issued from Sinai (4:1–7, 21–31).
Why do I think that this Pauline emphasis on a historical dichotomy between law and grace is so important? I think the reader will agree that the answer has already been partly stated. But here I want to give bumper-sticker prominence to my concern. What I do not want to see is a turn in biblical theology which leads us to miss the fundamental change in the unfolding of the redemptive history set forth in the Pauline epistles, the book of Hebrews, and the gospel of John. It seems to me that something like the formalism of the European state church could naturally issue from such an omission. If there is little stress on the Pauline teaching on the radical change in redemptive history brought in by the gospel replacing the Mosaic ministry of condemnation and death, then there is likely to be little stress on the personal transition from death to life of the individual sinner. The reason is that in Paul’s argumentation the two go together. His argument from the history of salvation is the foundation for his argument on the nature of personal salvation. But leave this out of your thinking and by implication what counts most for the people of God will not be a passage from wrath to grace but the faithful use of the external signs of the covenant and faithful obedience to its requirements. Faith in coming to Christ will be obscured by faithfulness in following Him. Of course, faithfulness in following Christ is integral to the very heart of our new being as Christians. However, faithfulness must not be understood in a way which will obscure the distinctive features of justification by faith alone. In a word, Genesis 15:6 is talking about faith—not about faithfulness. It is talking about trusting—not about being trustworthy.
Against this reading of Galatians, it is argued that Paul is not always to be taken literally in his use and interpretation of Old Testament history and Scripture. The reasoning varies, but in general it comes down to the judgment that Paul is mounting a negative polemic against the “Judaizers,” who were extreme legalists in their understanding of the Mosaic law. Supposedly, Paul is arguing against their misinterpretation of the law and therefore it is against this background of legalistic distortion that we are to understand the negative role he assigns to the law in Galatians, Romans, and 2 Corinthians 3.
Here this point of view can only be assessed briefly. But let me say in general that it is rather risky to let historical considerations in effect reverse what would seem to be the plain meaning of Paul’s argumentation. As well, there is the difficult question: How do you find out exactly what was the historical situation? But even assuming that such knowledge is obtainable, how can we adopt a method of “historical exegesis” which treats the obvious course of Paul’s reasoning so lightly? I should like to spell this out just a bit. Both in Galatians and Romans the Apostle is dealing with, in good part, the problem of justification as it had been intensified by Jewish legalism. But Paul never treats the matter in that limited way. He takes the Jewish conflict and universalizes it so as to apply to all men everywhere and to all times.
A good example of this Pauline methodology is found in Romans 3:20. It reads: “Because by works of law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” The terminology “the works of law” obviously has a Jewish background. Among other things, it reflects a legalistic effort in the flesh to obey Leviticus 18:4–5 and Deuteronomy 27:26 (See also Galatians 3:2–3). But in paraphrasing Psalm 143:2, Paul universalizes “the works of law.” He includes every human being when he says, “no flesh.” The idea is that what the Jewish law-keepers attempted to do with intense moral rigor had failed. This failure did not come to them because they were Jews but because they were human beings who lacked the ability to keep the law. Therefore, their experience with attempting to do the works of law will inevitably be the experience of every man.
Likewise, in Galatians the Apostle is not simply refuting Jewish legalism on its ritualistic side. Rather he is busy defining and defending the rights and delights of sonship conferred upon those who have been justified by faith. In this letter the very gospel itself is at stake. But he does not reshape his message for apologetic purposes in any fundamental way. In fact, he is zealous to emphasize that he is restating what he had said before (Gal 1:8–10). And what he had to say before relates to a justification that issues from a cross, not from anything statutory. Such a justification, he wishes to maintain, is the foundation for sonship both for the circumcised and the uncircumcised. And this is no mere Jewish issue, for it is a sonship based upon the unchanging nature of law and grace (Gal 3:26–29). (Note: handwritten in parenthesis, “not finished”)
Eight, I affirm my conviction that declarative justification as set forth in Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 is a definitive act of God’s grace on behalf of the ungodly.
Seen in the light of God’s attributes as defined in Exodus 34:6–7, our ungodliness presents the Lord God with a stupendous difficulty. One the one hand, the Lord is full of compassion and delights in showing mercy (34:6); but, on the other, He may by no means clear the guilty (34:7). And we are guilty. How, then, can a just God respond in mercy to those who in Romans 3:10–23 are indicted as “ungodly”?
In Christ’s person and work that problem receives a stupendous solution at the hands of God. Our sin is our doom, but in Christ’s death we have the doom of our sin. In our justification based on that atonement, God pardons all the sins of His people and accepts them as righteous in His sight once-and-for-all. This declaration of justification passed by God on us the ungodly is based entirely on the righteousness supplied by Christ as our substitute (Rom 3:22–25, 4:5). It is credited to our account through faith alone (Rom 3:28, 4:5). This act of forensic justification means that the believer can never fall from this position of acceptance in the Beloved Son (Rom 8:28–39, Eph 1:3–14).
This amazing justification of the unworthy by free grace is designed to give all the glory to God and none to man. Perhaps the best way to spell out this truth more fully is to look at the biblical teaching on the two Adams. The first Adam as representative of the human race disobeys God’s command and is condemned to death (Gen 2:16–17, 3:19). In him all men are constituted sinners through imputation of Adam’s sin and come under the sentence of death (Rom 5:12–21). The second Adam (Christ) as representative of the elect obeys God on their behalf and purchases for them justification and life by His atonement (Rom 5:12–21, 2 Cor 5:21). The Spirit works faith in God’s people and without any works of their own brings them into union with the second Adam (Christ). In this generous outpouring of grace there is not a single thing that men can do to boast in as his accomplishment. All the glory is God’s because all the undoing is by man and all the successful doing is by Christ, the second Adam.
This understanding of justification is confirmed by the use in the New Testament of the expression “the works of law.” In good part this language represents a Pauline counterattack against the Jewish tendency to use the law-covenant made with Moses at Sinai practically to cancel out the on-going covenant of grace made with Abraham (Gal 3:17–18). Therefore, Paul can virtually equate “the works of the law” with the flesh (Gal 3:2–3). Since these works involve the enemy of the flesh, it is probably not going to far to say that they are rooted in unbelief. Fundamentally, they are works in which men would seek to boast (Rom 4:1–5).
I must take issue with anyone who would limit the meaning of this expression to a Jewish context and Jewish self-glorying. As noted previously, Paul in Romans 3:20 universalizes “the works of law” so that they obviously apply to all men. It is not just Jews who try to be saved at Mt. Sinai. All human boasting must be silenced by the law (Rom 3:19). The truth is that every man has “the work of the law” (legal prescription) written on his heart (Rom 2:15). In other words, there is a miniature Sinai in every man’s inward being. And every man wants to glory in his self-righteous keeping of the law. That is why customs, moralities, religious traditions, and duties are constantly multiplied by mankind. They reflect that all men know something of Leviticus 18:5: Do this and live. Men wish to exalt self on the ground of their obedience. And it also explains why all non-Christian religions and ethical systems end up being such a dreadful burden to the conscience of the unbeliever. The reason is that boastful man still knows in his heart that he is “not O.K.”
Moreover, it should be evident from Paul’s two citations or Leviticus 18:5 in the New Testament that “the works of the law” are closely related to the legal requirements of the Sinaitic law as requirements which silence all man’s glorying. In the Galatians 3:12 citation of Leviticus 18:5, the words “do them” is obviously the strict doing required by the Mosaic law. This doing clearly refers to the expression “works of the law” mentioned in v. 10 and the language “justified by the law” in v. 11. Note how this condemnatory passage reveals this connection in Paul’s reasoning:
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, cursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them. Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, the righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, He that does them shall live by them” (Gal 3:10, 12, ARV).
The other Pauline citation of Leviticus 18:5 is found in Romans 10:5. The immediate line of thought which climaxes with the citation of the passage from Leviticus begins with Romans 9:30. Paul poses the question: “What shall we say, then” (RSV)? This question introduces a dichotomy between the righteousness of faith and the works of the law as an explanation of the Israelites being left in an unjustified state, whereas the Gentiles attain this justification by faith (Rom 9:31–32). Doubtless they did fail to understand the limitations of the Sinaitic law as a method of salvation inheritance (Gal 3:18). But as the Pauline explanation unfolds, it is made plain that the Jewish failure does not stem primarily from their rewriting the Sinaitic law in its legal requirements. Paul does say that there is something wrong with the nature of the law in its specifically legal character. This is not Paul’s major problem with his countrymen or anyone else. From his point of view what is wrong is human nature. Human nature cannot live by what the law as law commands (Rom 10:5). Therefore, there is nothing in man to qualify him to glory before God (1 Cor 1:29). Only Christ (the second Adam) can fulfill Leviticus 18:5 and bring the penalty of the law to an end (Rom 10:4).
Our conclusion is that though there are grace elements in the law of Moses taken as a whole, the specific nature of law as legal requirement demands perfect doing of the requirements of the law (Deut 27:26). The fact that these works do not exist in no manner can take away from the duty of doing them. If these deeds could be flawlessly done, it might even appear that a man would have some reason for boasting (Rom 4:2). But since no man has ever produced unstained works, there is not a man who can boast in his deeds (Rom 3:23, 4:2, Eph 2:8–10). Yet we recall that there is one exception: the second Adam. The covenant of works which the first Adam failed to keep has been kept by the second Adam. Here is ground for glorying. He has accomplished the One Great Work, our salvation by substitutionary obedience to the law (John 4:34, 17:4, 19:30). Therefore, all the glory is His (John 1:14). As new man in this new Adam, we boast in Him alone (1 Cor 1:30–31).
In our once-and-for-all justification we stand on new legal ground. But it is also glory ground. Our glorying is not in anything statutory done by us but in the cross of Christ (Gal 6:14). We are a doxological people because we have a grace inheritance in the second Adam.
The inevitable consequence of this Reformation teaching is a firm and healthy assurance in the Christian life. Having given up all our boasting which is rooted in self-righteous human effort, we have a new identify as forgiven, thankful sons of God. As James Denny has pointed out in The Death of Christ, this assurance is the very life and breath of the child of God. As he notes, if you go to Rome, you discover that the official teaching is shaped so as to foster endless question marks as to one’s final acceptance with God. And if you come to our Protestant denominations, you find that assurance is often described as a right and privilege. But in the Scriptures this assurance is described as a glorious fact. It is a living reality inherent in our being in Christ through faith without works. Or to use somewhat different language, we are perfectly secure in our boasting in Christ and His work, but not secure in our own persons and work.
We are now in a much better position to see how we can confront the world of the twentieth century. So long as believers try to work out the gospel from the foot of Mt. Sinai, they are denying the validity and power of the cross. We do not find ourselves boasting in Christ but doing bitter penance over our sins. Pastoral counseling may temporarily relieve us. But we can have no lasting peace of mind because we are forgetting about our overarching peace with God. We feel no courage to witness to the world because we are talking about a message that we have at least half-forgotten ourselves. However, we are yet the sons of God if we have trusted in Jesus. We have a radiance of Christ and a power to be different through the Spirit of grace. Be what you are! Glory in your sure salvation! Daringly boast in full and free forgiveness! When under satanic attack, take your troubled conscience to God through the use of that magnificent Pauline Psalm 32. It will guide you straight to the mercy seat as you honestly confess your sins. Above all, at the throne of grace, confess there the greatest sin of all—which is taking lightly the cleansing, healing power to be found in Christ’s atonement.
Then confidently look about yourself at the desperately needy world of the late 20th century. You will find that men everywhere want to dethrone God and His laws. But when they do that, they inevitably end up enthroning a god of fear and anxiety. You catch this note in John Paul Sartre’s words (his autobiography). He speaks of having “pulled God the Father out of the sky,” but then confesses he could never get the Holy Spirit out of the cellar of his life. By “having the Holy Spirit in the cellar” he means that he has never been able to escape an anxious awareness of God and particularly a high sense of “doughtiness.” And this is a universal problem for contemporary man. He will not have God rule him as the Great King, but he yet finds that he cannot escape the inward law of this sovereign Lord pressing obligation upon his mind. To solve this problem of the conscience which incessantly tells him, “You are not O.K.”, he tries to re-enact the cross in his own life. He has no Christ; so, he will try to placate his conscience by the slow internal torment or anxiety and emotional penance which is a form of internal crucifixion.
Attempts to justify oneself by good works of inward penance prove empty. They only lead into deeper anxiety. This is the frustration of our times. For who knows when one has ever done enough to placate a troubled conscience and the law of Sinai behind it? Positive thinking and possibility thinking are offered as solutions. But there is no ground for positive thinking outside of reconciliation to God through the blood of Christ. Apart from Christ, positive thinking will finally prove to be nothing but presumption. But this is the wonder of the Biblical answer to man’s deepest need—which is to know the reality of full forgiveness and to have a reason for glorying in something other than himself. But be confident! In Christ we have God’s tremendous solution to man’s tremendous problem. Our part is to be daring in lifting up God’s solution in a Kafkaesque world troubled by guilt and anxiety and without a clue to the real answer.
Ninth, I affirm that declarative justification properly understood does not cancel out discipleship but makes it a reality.
To be sure I think it is true that some fundamentalists have unwittingly presented the faith involved in justification as mere mental asset or as a “feeling” about Christ. I also fear that some Reformed pastors have presented justification as something legal but also as something dead and inert and having no relationship to our standing as living disciples of Jesus Christ. This confusion is tragic. “By faith alone” the Reformers meant to exclude penance and all human striving as conditions to be met before coming to Christ. They never meant saving faith to be understood as a mere legal device for accomplishing a powerless legal transaction.
Yet such a tragic misunderstanding of the nature of faith should not lead us to conclude that there is an inherent tension between justification and discipleship or to emphasize continuance in the state of justification in a manner that begins to erode the free grace alone of justification by faith alone.
As observed previously, I think that much of the tension which develops in believers’ minds between justification and discipleship originates in a misunderstanding of the functioning of faith in salvation. Here I wish to put into the foreground the role of faith in relationship to Christ’s atonement for our sins. When I believe in Jesus, His death becomes the death of sin for me. Legally His death is the doom of sin in all its guilt. But it is also the death of sin in all its moral entanglements. That is, believing in Christ also involves me in a death to sin as a power or dominion (Rom 6). Having been baptized into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, I have died to sin and come alive to God. Thus, my sanctification is inseparable from my justification. They are different. Justification is purely forensic and outside of me. Sanctification brings me into a new lordship and involves an inward and ongoing process. But they are also inseparable. They are intimately related in the wholeness of my rich salvation through union with a new Lord. Justification came first in the order of salvation, but sanctification and the discipleship in it inevitably accompanies justification.
Seen from this standpoint, we may rightly affirm the necessity of good works as part of our comprehensive salvation. Under the moral rule of a new dominion, the disciple is able to reckon himself dead to sin. His union with Christ includes a new mind-set (Rom 6:11). Having died to sin and come alive to God, he reckons himself dead to sin and presents himself as a servant of righteousness. As one himself who is alive to God, he lives out his faith by doing good in conformity to God’s law (Rom 6:22). Doing good is inherent to his new nature but not to produce good works in this sense is to receive “the wages of sin”—which is eternal death (Rom 6:23).
Therefore, I conclude that the obediences of Romans 6 are the necessary fruit of our being in Christ. They are the evidence demonstrating that our faith is the real goods. Since saving faith is always that which unites us to the whole Christ, we expect each disciple to have the foundation of justification and the obedience of faith.
But I must insist that it is wrong to say that “the righteousness of faith is the obedience of faith” when the context of the statement indicates that one is identifying “the righteousness of faith” of Romans 4:11 with “the obedience of faith” of Romans 1:5 and 16:26. Such identification confuses imputed righteousness with imparted righteousness. We must, instead, bend every effort to protect free grace for poor sinners by showing that good works follow justification and are of no account as the basis of our acquittal in definitive justification. When I say “follow,” I am not thinking of a time sequence as such, but of the kind of priority implicit in a fruit-bearing tree. The root of the tree functions like the power of the Spirit and faith to unite the child of God to Christ. This root makes for “a good tree.” It plants us in Christ. So, fruit must follow. And it must be good fruit. To have a tree filled with bad fruit would be evidence that the man is an empty talker without saving faith. As such he is certainly not justified through Christ. In this sense, we in the Reformed tradition speak of the necessity of good works. These deeds of the Spirit are of no value for our forensic justification, but they certainly are the evidence that we have come through faith to a death to sin and a new life in Christ.
We now must consider how this necessity of good works relates to the Last Judgment.
So far, I have emphasized that the cross represents the “Last Judgment ahead of time” for the believer. Does this mean that the believer is excused from any final assessment of his faith and life of obedience? John Owen in his Justification by Faith (Ch. V, VI, XI) and G.C. Berkouwer in Faith and Justification (Ch. V) both provide real help in answering this question. They both agree that good works will really be considered on the Day of days by the Supreme Judge. If we accept that view, this leads to a second question: What precisely will be the role of good works at that time?
Negatively, I wish to answer that we must not waver from the Reformation position that one’s own record as a human being cannot function as a basis for acquittal at the Last Judgement or at any other stage of our redemption. That is why throughout his life Paul holds with such a passion to the righteousness of God received through faith alone in Christ (Phil 3:8–9). He self-consciously rejects any inheritance received through obedience to the law (Phil 3:4–8).
Positively, I know with Paul that faith is not only the means by which I enter into justification through union with Christ, but it also is the bond by which the Spirit maintains our union with Christ. This persevering by faith explains why the righteousness of Christ can function as an overarching umbrella throughout the believer’s life, providing a sure basis for the daily confession of sin and daily forgiveness (1 John 1:7–2:2, Psa 32). Through faith as a disciple, I can also stand before God at the Last Judgment because the righteousness imputed to my account is not cold or dead, but it abides forever, living in the person of my righteous Advocate. He intercedes for me both now and on that final day (1 John 2:1–2, Heb 7:25–26, 10:11–13).
For this reason, the believer in Christ is not overwhelmed by the Scriptural teaching that there is a judgment according to works (Rom 2:6, 2 Cor 5:10, Rev 20:13, 22:12). Of course, I tremble at the thought that every “useless word” of mine will be repeated at that time (Matt 12:36–37). But my works have been “sanctified by the Spirit” who gave me “obedience” and cleansed me by the “sprinkling with His blood” (1 Pet 1:1–2). This work of God gives me sure confidence that my works will be fully accepted by the Father and rewarded by Him as well (Matt 25:34–40, Luke 19:11–27). At that hour I will enter fully into His glorious inheritance.
Thus, the final judgment involves at its center the manifestation of Christ’s righteous person and the power of His salvation for the praise of His glorious name. He will be present as the righteous One. Just as His righteousness was my hope and boast the first day I trusted in Him, so it will be my hope and boast on that Day of days (Gal 5:5). In a word, this means that the One who will judge me has already stood trial for me and provided me with a sure verdict and acquittal. Therefore, at the judgment seat it will be his righteousness which will be brought forward as the basis for a final acquittal. This is a forensic or legal hope since it rests entirely on what Christ did for me and apart from me at the cross and the tomb.
At the same time the believer’s works must harmonize with this verdict and vindicate the work of faith in his life. After all, it is a judgment based upon works as its ground. These works demonstrate to all that the believer’s life has been righteous and as such pleasing to God (2 Thes 1:5). So, God judges that his life has been characterized by deeds comformable to the law of God. Cleansed by the blood of the second Adam, these evidences of grace will be revealed as deeds worthy of the kingdom. As such they will be honored of God (Rom 2:7). They become our crown of life received in the way of faithful obedience to Christ (Rev 3:18–21). Yet it is a crown-gift which we will quickly cast before the throne of the lamb lest we intercept any of the glory which is His due alone (Rev 4:10).
This judgment according to works is also a vindication of God and His plan of salvation. He will be vindicated as the Author of a salvation which is perfectly just over against the satanic charge that God plays favorites. Throughout the history of redemption of the people of God, Satan constantly accuses the grace of God on the ground that its foster hypocrisy (Job 1:9–11) and is unjust through extending free forgiveness to the ungodly (Luke 22:31, Rev 12:10). But at the judgment day the devil is cast down forever through the full disclosure of the work of God in our salvation (Rev 12:11). The enemy will be compelled to admit that the blood of Christ provides a fully just basis for our pardon and acceptance by a holy God. He will also be compelled to acknowledge that the salvation of God produces in us a conformity to Christ. He has been conquered “because of the blood of the Lamb” and “because of the word of their testimony.” And what is “the word of their testimony”? It is that they are like Jesus in their sincere character. They do not love “their life even to death.” That is the way of Jesus: sincere perseverance of steadfastness unto death. And God’s salvation is now vindicated as it is made clear to all that steadfastness to death and perseverance in doing good are also the marks of the Christian life (2 Thes 3:5, Rev 13:10, 14:12). The requirement of the law is fulfilled in their obedient faith (Rom 3:31). The law required “perseverance” or “continuance” in doing good (Rom 2:7). This continuance is the hallmark of a good deed and distinguishes the whole Christian life. God’s gospel of grace has produced in every disciple a saving faith which continues to work by deeds of unfeigned love throughout the believer’s life. Therefore, God’s mighty salvation demonstrates itself to be fully glorious. The Day of judgment is God’s day of vindication. He has produced a new race of sons along the lines of the exact justice with the result that the whole universe rings with praise for the marvelous works of God (Rev 5, 15:3–4).
I shall now seek to relate this view of definitive justification and discipleship to James 2:12–26 and Romans 2:1–16. In both passages we have “the language” of justification used—or so it would seem. What is startling is the apparent contradiction between James and Paul. Paul says that justification is by faith without the deeds of the law, and James says three times that justification is by works (James 2:21, 24, 25). Romans 2:13 says: “The doers of the law shall be justified” (ARV).
An examination of both passages reveals that the justification in view is closely related to the day of judgment. James 2:13 announces: “For judgment is without mercy to him that has showed no mercy …”(ARV). And Romans 2:16 speaks of “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ” (ARV). Support for concluding that both passages are closely oriented to the Last Judgment is found in the wider context of James (3:1, 4:12, 5:9) and in the immediate context of Romans 2 (2:1–12). This fact itself supplies us with clear indication that Romans 2 and James 2 are describing something other than the definitive justification of Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3.
Additional light on the nature of this “justification” is provided by v. 18 of James 2. James writes: “I by my faith will show you my faith” (ARV). It should be evident that James means to any that he is concerned with the demonstration of faith by works. In v. 21 the offering up of Isaac is said to be the work which justified Abraham. It would seem rather obvious that “justify” here does not mean to declare righteous as in definitive justification but to demonstrate that Abraham’s faith is alive. The idea is that his faith demonstrates itself as alive by bearing the visible fruit of obedience. Thus, the verb “to justify” as used here—means “shown to be righteous”—not “declared to be righteous.”
But this conclusion may seem to some to leap over the citation of Genesis 15:6 in v. 23. Here we have the classic passage on imputation cited in a context which does not speak of declarative justification.
How do we explain the use of forensic or legal language in this setting? Recently the point has been pressed upon me by a friend who believes that this legal language is the same as elsewhere used of declarative justification. In response, I must say that this observation should not lightly be turned aside. But the problem may have a solution. Consider what we have seen so far. We have noted that James 2 seems to be oriented toward the Last Judgment and the showing or demonstrating faith through deeds of mercy to the poor before that event. Apparently, James is saying that works will have a certain forensic character at the Last Judgment. Or if you reject the idea that the chapter is oriented toward the Last Judgment, then it should seem to follow that the works are related to a present judgment.
But what is this forensic role of works? Certainly, they can never have any part in our definitive justification or function as the legal ground for a final acquittal of God’s people. I believe that they will have a key role in the Last Judgment seen as a final vindication of the faith of God’s people. It appears to me that such a development warrants the language of “reckoning” found in v. 23. Works are necessary as a fulfillment-vindication of our faith (v. 22). J.A. Ziegler quite rightly sees the fundamental uses of the verb “to justify” occurs with two different forces, the demonstrative, where it means something like ‘vindicate,” and the declaratory (The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul, p. 128). Granted that the person is said to be justified and not his faith, we nonetheless must see that it makes excellent sense to think that a person’s righteousness must be demonstrated or shown by what he does. In this passage James is reasoning that if a person has a faith that is alive this faith will be followed by righteous action, and the man in question will be vindicated, demonstrated as righteous (Ibid. p. 129).
C. John Miller, “Justification by Faith in the 20th Century” (Unpublished), The C. John Miller Manuscript Collection, PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO, December 1978.
Sunday, I preached at New Life Vicenza from Mark 14:27–31 (Luke 22:31–34). I will be preaching this week from Mark 14:32–42. NLV has been working through the book of Mark and I am coming alongside them and joining in what they are already doing.
While I greatly enjoyed preaching the gospel Sunday morning, I enjoyed praying together as a church even more. It was a sweet time to listen to people pray openly for one another. Praying together gave me a window into the lives and hearts of people at NLV. I felt humbled and privileged to have access into the hearts of those attending NLV and it gave me a good start on a prayer list as well. There were 35–40 people present this past Sunday.
Speaking of Victoria, Vicki dropped me off at the airport at 5am on Tuesday and headed to Birmingham for the PCA General Assembly. She connected with lots people on our behalf. I came to Vicenza for the summer PCS season even though we still have to raise support. I am grateful for Vicki for helping stateside with this part of our going to Italy. She has even enlisted her mother to help get the word out about our work at NLV in Italy. We would be grateful if you know of others who would be interested in partnering together with us.
Vicki is also “James-erizing” our house in Mount Juliet. Rather than sell our house in Mount Juliet, we have decided to hold onto it. James accepted a job teaching English and Language Arts at Watertown Middle School. After looking at the cost of 1BR and 2BR apartments in Mount Juliet and Lebanon (and finding little availability in Watertown), James is going to live at our house while we are away. Question: How do you think Vicki’s plants will fare in her absence?
Vicki is aiming to arrive in Italy toward the end of July. She has several house projects in Mount Juliet requiring attention before leaving things with James.
Today, I learned how to purchase bus tickets and take the bus from Costabissara to the main train/bus terminal in Vicenza—and I actually made it back to my apartment too. From the Vicenza train station, I can get to most anywhere in Italy and Europe at a reasonable price. If I had learned to use the buses and trains when in Italy in January and February, I wouldn’t have accumulated so many fines for driving in restricted areas.
Within a short walk (appr. 10 minutes) from my AirBnb efficiency apartment in Costabissara, I have access to: a meat shop, fish shop, fruit and vegetable shop, pastry and coffee shop, pizzeria, fresh bread shop, gelataria (Italian ice-cream). This is definitely not like roughing it in India or Sri Lanka.
The church is a twenty minute walk (1 mile). There are also two supermarkets—one a sixteen minute walk and the other a twenty-five minute walk. I’ve been walking about five miles a day since arriving in Italy last week.
There is a bike-shop five minutes away. Speaking of a bike shop, I have purchased an electric bike, which I hope to have delivered this week. Bikes are everywhere in Italy—ridden by young and old alike. Several of you have warned me about the danger of e-bikes, and I am listening to you. I will receive proper training, follow safety protocols, and I have no intent of taking risks. Costabissara (and Northern Italy for that matter) has accessible roads and bike paths everywhere. With buses, trains, and a good bike, I am somewhat confident we can safely find our way around fairly easily and rent a car as needed. Car rentals, gas prices, tolls, and parking makes driving almost cost prohibitive—and cars are far less safe than public transportation and an electric bike.
Please pray for:
Our transition from the US to Italy, and my transition as pastor of NLV. Pray that I would love the people well who are here.
In this next season of ministry, I have really wanted to re-focus on the fundamentals: learning to pray together (individually and as a church) and learning to share our faith clearly and effectively—as Christians with each other and with not-yet-Christians.
Pray for Vicki and me while we are apart, and that she can join me here in Italy at earliest.
“Preach faith until you believe, and then when you believe, preach faith. You cannot do anything without faith. Now if you start looking for faith in yourself you’ll never find it.”
That’s OK. Nothing wrong with a good bit of cold water in the face. It’s a great way to wake up. It’s better to get it now rather than when you meet the Lord at the Last Judgment Day. It really is. You know don’t want to get the Last Judgment Day and, you know, sort of squeak through by the skin of your teeth. Or say, “Oh good night! Look at what I thought were my good works. You know that big mound of fire over there is my good works. That little pile over there, what’s that? You need a magnifying glass to find it.” Well, you see, you don’t want to go through that. Your life is going to be just this once. Make it last for Christ.
And so I think the key issue, though, is going back to that faith that works by love. It’s faith that leads you to say, “OK I’m not going to worry about my past record. I’m not going to worry about all my failures. I’ll confess those that are sins as sins. I’m not going to go beat myself over the failures. I’m going to repent of them and turn away from them. I’ll not live in them. And I’m going to go forward. Because I have the Spirit. I am in Christ. And I no longer condemn by the law. I’m no longer condemned by God.” And now I’m going to see my conscience get stronger by doing things that are wrong. And I’m going to be facing up to things in my life that are not right. And so every day then becomes a kind of an exciting adventure as to what will God enable me to do today that I couldn’t do yesterday in the way of showing love to other people. Don’t you like that? Really, that sounds pretty good. It really does.
Now what is going to happen is that you hear it, and I think the difficulty comes that, at some point you’ve got to see this as something you’ve got to practice before you believe it can happen. That is, if I tell you about something and you’ve never seen it, it’s very difficult for you to understand or believe that that really exists. Or if you tell me about something that I don’t know exists, I’ll have problems, won’t I, getting aboard that? You know I tell you, “God is love,” and you feel God hates you. How are you going to get aboard that? It’s very difficult.
And so it means then, that you’ve got to cultivate a friendship relationship with the Father through Christ. You see, you can’t just hear all of this as kind of the foundational truth. You’ve got to understand it. You can’t take something like the book of Galatians and just sort of put it in your head. It’s got to go there. You can’t grasp it in your mind and the heart unless it goes through the mental processes. But it’s got to become life transforming. And you’ve got to—again and again—simply say, “I believe.”
Now you may not think that we as pastors ever have any faith problems. Well we do. And I remember one period in my life where I think probably my conscience was troubling me. Looking back I think that God was trying to say to me, “I really want you to be more in love with other people, with Christ holy love for them, and less concerned about yourself.” And I wasn’t responding.
And so the result of it was, I was kind of depressed and discouraged. I really wasn’t listening that much to God, and my faith was going lower and lower. Well how do you get out of that? You could start out by saying, “Well I’m just going to love people more. I’m going to grit my teeth and love him or her if it kills me,” you know … Or [kills] them. I’ll love you or I’ll break your neck, you know. This is very strong in us: “I’m just really going to do this.” And it doesn’t work.
And Dan Herron’s mother, we were talking about this, and I didn’t know exactly what was wrong with me. But I sensed some of it vaguely. And she said to me something like is this: “You are a preacher and you preach faith in Christ.” She said, “What I want to encourage you to do is preach Christ and faith in Christ without even worrying about whether you believe it. Just preach Christ, and preach to people to believe in Christ, and let the message itself capture you.”
Preach faith until you believe, and then when you believe, preach faith. You cannot do anything without faith. Now if you start looking for faith in yourself you’ll never find it.
When you heard me say, “This takes faith,” immediately you went into despair, because you say, “My faith is so weak or non-existent,” you know. And you started probing to find more faith. You’ll never find it that way. Where you find it is in Christ. You find it in a strong Christ.
And therefore, the key to it, is knowing Jesus. And if you don’t know Jesus today, today is the day to come to know Him. But take this Christ and take and memorize [these verses]. One of the things that I have done to build my faith is just simply memorize passages like [Galatians 5:13–15]. And then pray that those passages would take hold of a kind of a message in my mind, not a brainwashing, but a real a liberating friendship with Christ through His Word until I was filled with faith.
You must believe. You must believe. And then you see you can be free in yourself, and you can have confidence. You don’t need to hate yourself anymore. You can see your gifts. That is very significant. They are related to Christ. They are in His service. And you don’t have to have all that self-despisal. You don’t have to have that self-worship. And that garbage can begin to go and freedom can come in.
I just want to speak to you in closing as a Christian person, not as a pastor. I know this Jesus really does do these things. I want you to have confidence in him. Trust Jesus. Trust Him all the way. He’s alive, and He is always ready to listen when you want to talk. Let’s pray.
God our Father, we thank you for this time together. We thank you that in some very special way, it is a time that you have given. we thank you that you’re bigger than we are. That Christ’s sacrifice, and the power in that blood, is enough to take away all of our sins. And we believe that He’s done that for us. And we believe that if there is anyone here today who has never really trusted in that Jesus, His person and work, that they can now come through faith in Him. Just a simple trust to rest their life in Him, and take Him into their hearts. And then have this wonderful love in their lives.
And then for the rest of us who’ve known him, perhaps even for years, we plead with you for the gift of faith, and a faith that will produce obedience, love to others, a wholesome respect for ourselves and our own dignity and worth, and of freedom to serve them. We pray that you give us eyes to see, believing eyes, to see every hard situation as an opportunity to show love. We pray that You’d produce some miracles through this particular class in many lives. In Jesus name. Amen.
Excerpt taken from “Class 5,” Studies in Galatians.
[My] encounter [in 1950 with Dr. Alfred Fisk, a liberal philosophy professor known as “The Lion of San Francisco State University”] was a crisis in a positive sense for me, a defining encounter with merely human faith.
The Holy Spirit enabled me to reject it emphatically. Fisk was believing where he should be skeptical. He had his faith entirely in the wrong place. He was trusting reason as his final authority, making his human mind into his bible.
With my thinking clarified by this conflict, I resolved to witness as God’s skeptic in a world where people were increasingly putting their faith in all the wrong things.
This was, of course, pretty heady stuff, and I needed the help of Gracie to put my feet solidly back on the ground. Gracie was an African-American woman who worked in the dishwashing room in the college cafeteria. I now worked in the same place as Gracie, as the student manager of the dining room.
I loved Gracie, and so did everyone else. But there was one thing she would not tolerate from me and that was bad manners in relationship to her, and her standards were high.
On rainy days, the cafeteria was jam-packed with students and tables overflowing with dishes … Gracie taught me that no matter how overwhelmed I was with work I was never to enter the dishwashing room without a warm smile and a clear greeting—no matter how busy I was dealing with dining room chaos. When I fell below her standards, she thundered, “White boy! White boy!” She threw in other choice comments until I stopped and apologized.
Gracie also would not let me go rushing by after the greeting. I had to stop for a little chat, not long, but enough to show her I cared about and respected her.
Sometimes on rainy days I would forget, and she shouted at me. Of course, she forgave me, provided that I reenacted the scene and did it right. Now this was embarrassing. In front of everyone I would walk away and then turn around and make a new entrance with perfect manners—to the delight of Gracie and the thorough enjoyment of any staff seeing this.
I believe in God’s sovereign plan. I believe it holds the world together (both laws and miracles) and gives it a destiny. [M]y encounter with Dr. Alfred Fisk was part of that plan. Who but a naive student would tell this prominent scholar and churchman he needed to become more skeptical about his faith in human reason?—And like a childlike friend ask this famous man to surrender his life to Christ?
And Gracie too was part of my training. Who but beloved Gracie would beat into my thoughtless head the importance of my taking time to show respect for people? In the years that have followed I look back at her as one of my best teachers and mentors.
Inspiration: What [is] the ultimate cause of [people] choosing Christ? [Is] it because [some people are] wiser than [others]? Not at all. The difference [is] the Father in His sovereign grace has chosen to reveal these things not “to the wise and the prudent” but to the “babes” (Matt 11:25–27). Why God chose [someone like me] we do not know; we can only wonder at such undeserving love.
Perspective: Salvation is a matter of sovereign grace. God plans our lives and orchestrates the details in such a way that we hear the gospel from people at just the right time in our lives. It is all part of a glorious program in which God is saving a number of people so vast that no one can count them.
Prayer: Sovereign King, Father of the Lord Jesus, we adore You for the mystery of your immense mercies and your choice of us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Grant us, as partners in Your sovereign working, to press with all urgency the claims of the gospel upon all who cross our paths, knowing that You will bring to Yourself a vast multitude. For Jesus’s glory. Amen.
Jack Miller, A Reasonable Faith for Unreasonable Times (1996, Unpublished), Ch. 5.
A later published version of this excerpt can be found in A Faith Worth Sharing by P & R Publishing.
I’ve worked for the past couple years to develop this material into a semester long course. This was my first attempt at a seminar length presentation.
I would like to keep working on these three areas as an expression of my own desperate and continuing need of each of them.
Also I would like to deepen my understanding of these as I learn, through teaching, to speak more clearly and graciously about what the Lord has placed on my own heart and mind from research into the life and ministry of Jack Miller.
Thoughts and criticism are needed and (mostly) welcome!
As I drove north on the 101 highway I knew I was headed home to the traditional Oregon of 1949, where many of the people I knew would count themselves among the virtuous. I looked forward to being with them. They were my people, and I knew them well. They tried to live by a moral code that was based on such good stuff as belief and honesty, kindness, and keeping your word—and the duty to work hard and pay your bills.
Some of these folks were church members, but more of them were secular, in the sense that they were individuals who did not go to church or have a formal religious commitment. But they had a moral order that originally had derived from the teachings of the Bible.
On the way north I camped after dark beside the Eel River within a redwood grove in a deep valley. After a snack … as I prepared to sleep I looked up at the stars massed overhead. The view was overwhelming. For months I had lived in San Francisco, where the stars hardly seemed to come out at night because of the lights. But here in this valley among the redwoods all was dark—dark and not a hint of light—and the majesty of the night sky was absolutely commanding. Looking at that concentration of glory, I worshiped the God of all creation who made those perfect heavens and the magnificent redwood forest.
At that moment I felt my finitude and His splendid infinity, and was comforted and exalted in praise. I was happy to be His creature and His child. The God who made all this was with me. He had sent His Son to die for me, and His Spirit to change me. He was with me. I was now falling in love with a young woman in San Francisco, but I had already fallen in love with God my Father. This awareness prepared me for the days that were to come. Any pain that I might have to bear in following Him seemed like nothing compared to the pleasure I had in knowing God.
During those first days home I talked with my mother and told her about what happened to me the previous fall. Almost immediately after my conversion I had talked to her about Christianity in a new way. I had baffled her by saying that to know God was joy and peace.
I now renewed the conversation.
I think she understood the words I was saying but she really came from a different world. Here I was once again talking about the “joy” while she looked puzzled because for her being a Christian meant going to church and believing in the Bible. Most of all it meant being moral, kind, and generous.
But joy? Peace with God? Wanting to tell everybody about Jesus? Well, maybe. But somehow it did not seem to connect. And I became painfully aware how hard it is for virtuous people to connect with God in a vital way.
My mother really was a virtuous person. In growing up, I cannot recall her complaining, a really extraordinary thing to say about any human being. Unwilling to gossip, she was kind to her friends and neighbors and prepared to make every sacrifice for her family. She did not push people around and loved animals, especially dogs and horses …
In the words of an English friend, “she played the game,” that is, she functioned with a moral code that made her dependable and easy to get along with, and she had a self-discipline that was pretty awesome …
Through reflecting on these [conversations with the virtuous] … I gradually came to have a better understanding of those folks who are indubitably convinced of their almost perfect innocence.
—First, they are usually private people, self-contained, and lonely on the inside.
—Secondly, their confiding openness with me was actually a compliment. I was being trusted.
—Third, their virtues have hidden vices that they themselves cannot see, at least not with any daylight clarity. The vices include perfectionistic attitudes, impatience, irritability, judging harshly and hastily, and accusing others. All these evil things being rooted in deep pride and unbelief.
—Fourth—and my point of breakthrough—I eventually discovered that I was one of these “perfect people.“
It came about almost twenty years later when I had become a teacher in a theological seminary in Philadelphia, PA, and a pastor of a nearby church. At that time I had an experience that seemed first to be inexpressibly dreadful.
I became totally frustrated with myself, saw myself as a failure in both seminary and church—and blamed other people for my problems. I resigned from both seminary and church, convinced of my own virtue. For two weeks I wept almost without let up. But then in a wonderful way, God showed me that my deepest problem was self-centered pride and fear of what people think.
Convicted by the Holy Spirit, I humbled myself and at the urging of others took back my resignation and entered into a fruitfulness of life and ministry that was unprecedented. More people became Christians under my leadership in the next two years than in the previous twenty. Many of those being changed were perfectionists like me.
After this change in my life I returned to Oregon to talk with my mother, and I now had a heart attitude she could understand. God himself, I believe, had timed the visit. A few months before my coming, she had experienced a terrible conflict with another family member who had severely wronged her at a time she was recovering from a major heart attack.
I took her to lunch and over coffee talked to her about my self-pride and feeling superior to others, and told her how God exposed me to myself. I wanted her to see me as a sinner saved by grace alone.
I then asked her if she had ever considered the possibility that our family had a deep sin of pride, manifesting itself in our feeling superior to other people. In other words, am I the only sinner in the crowd?
I then told her what I had really been like on the inside when Jesus changed me. “I was proud, self-righteous, and judgmental, hateful and hating. And without Christ, I am still going to act this way. Only His atoning death can cleanse me and keep cleansing me. I’m in desperate need daily of His grace.“
She did not answer, but waited for me to continue, looking thoughtful.
So I told her how this sin had expressed itself in my life and had affected my family through me in destructive ways.
Finally she agreed that “we are a proud family.” We talked about what that meant, and she made it clear that she really understood what was being said. I tried to ask with all tenderness, “Do you remember your deep disappointment with the close relative that treated you with such selfishness recently?“
Her sorrow was now seen in her face.
Then for time we were silent, so that she could have time to digest what I was saying.
I said, “Look, Mom, I didn’t exploit you that way, but I have the same kind of heart by nature. We all do. Without Christ’s constant help, I am naturally just like that. We all have evil in ourselves deep down and it reveals itself in selfish behavior and self-righteous attitudes and that’s why we also desperately need the cross of Christ.“
I believe that for the first time I was able to help her see why the cross is necessary for us “good people.” Underneath it all, I was saying, “Our sins may be worse than those of some of the lawless types that we feel superior to.” There was a oneness between us that meant a great deal to me and, I believe, to her.
This conversation did not end here; we continued to talk about it over the years that followed, and brought other family members into the discussion.
Inspiration: Sometimes it is only when we camp in the dark valley that we see the massed stars of God‘s grace. The humbling of my pride opened my eyes to see the splendor of His heavenly grace. This was the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and all the glory goes to the Father.
Perspective: “Virtuous people“ do not need to be attacked by us as though we were more virtuous than they, but to hear about our sins and weaknesses first of all. Then we tell them how God has broken us and is cleansing us from our vices and virtues. In my sane moments God has enabled me to use this grace approach to bring scores of “good people“ to see their sins and need of our Lord and Savior.
Jack Miller, A Reasonable Faith for Unreasonable Times (Unpublished), Ch. 4, 1996.
A later published version of this excerpt on “Witnessing to the Virtuous” can be found in “A Faith Worth Sharing” published by P & R Publishing.
After completing “Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller,” it is time to consider next steps in ministry—something I’ve prayed about for several months.
The ordinary means of candidating is to send a Ministry Data Form (MDF) to the denomination’s Administrative Committee who then matches and sends to churches looking for a new pastor or to post one’s Curriculum Vitae (CV) on a site like the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).
Recently, I was reading an unpublished article by Jack Miller in which he described the danger of pursuing positions and titles and how easily these can turn into idols. What was Jack’s recommendation? Rather than pursuing them, let a position or title come to you.
My immediate (sarcastic) thought was, “Thanks Jack … that’s really helpful!”
Providentially, Rose Marie Miller, came to a timely rescue. Rose Marie encouraged me to continue in pastoral and teaching ministry so that I can share with others what I had learned from eight years of research, study and writing about her husband.
She then gave some good advice: “Ask those who have prayed for you and helped you with Jack’s biography to pray for you and where the Lord would next call you to minister to His people.”
Common sense advice, right?
My wife, Vicki, and I are in agreement. We hope and pray the Lord will use us in ministry with emphases on teaching, preaching, evangelism, discipleship, leadership training, missions, and writing.
I’ve attached my latest MDF, CV, and resume. These documents have brief information about a lot of things.
Would you pray for us specifically about next steps in ministry—inside or outside the US; preaching or teaching in a local church setting, on the mission field, or in a seminary or college context.
Over the last four years, I’ve researched, written, and taught about Jack Miller’s vision for “Evangelism as the Foundations of Discipleship,” and the natural relationship of “A New Life” booklet with the emergence and development of Sonship Leadership Training.
I went thru Evangelism Explosion and the Sonship Course decades ago, and have trained others using these same excellent materials for years. Yet somehow, I had not really caught the simple, practical, and biblical harmony showing how evangelism is foundational to discipleship.
I was captivated when Jack explained his basis and vision for “A New Life” booklet which he referred to as a “small catechism on evangelism” used for “every member ministry,” and how, in time, Sonship would develop from this cohesive vision of renewal and missions.
During my research, I began visualizing an idea to republish “A New Life” booklet (for which I received permission to use) in a way that would foundationally connect evangelism to discipleship and employ benefits derived from being incorporated into an iOS and Android App environment.
I had hoped to hire someone to create an app. However the cost for apps we use everyday on our phones ($80K to $150K to hire a corporate team, $30K to $50K to hire a freelance team in Asia) has proven to be a significant barrier.
Additionally, the actual idea for this iOS app has been in my head as a fruit of the deep dive I had done in the whole of Jack’s life and ministry.
When I’ve tried to explain this idea (since evangelism and discipleship are typically compartmentalized, and most who remember “A New Life” booklet conflate it with outdated tract-based forms of evangelism—thus “out of print”) others have looked at me oddly, a familiar response I experience quite regularly anyway.
Therefore, last week I (an old dog still trying to learn new tricks) began an iOS app development course online for the purpose of creating and building the app myself, since I can see in my head the end product and its application to individuals, small groups, and churches.
My aim is to capture the harmony of Jack Miller’s vision for “Evangelism as the Foundations of Discipleship” where “A New Life” booklet forms the evangelism framework for preaching the gospel to ourselves and others (Christians and nonChristians) with Jack’s teaching on discipleship: gospel, prayer, sonship, and teams (with some basic and helpful iOS tools)—underlying “A New Life” booklet.
(Note: Regarding Jack’s teaching on “teams” ministry, I have experienced great failure in this area over the last two years, I’m thankful to return to the foundations of gospel, prayer, and sonship myself in this project so the Spirit can rebuild my own heart and ministry as I reengage with teams. So, like Jack’s biography, this project is more for me than it is for anyone else).
I’ve developed a paper draft of the first discipleship module on the gospel (release 1.0), and I also have 130 pages of Jack’s material for the second module on prayer and corporate prayer (release 2.0) with other modules to follow.
I’d like to have an iOS mock up draft version to use when I teach this material at our church after the New Year. At that time I can begin showing something to others so they can see and touch it, and then I can obtain additional permissions and partnerships I will need to move forward.
The scheduled release of Jack’s biography is late Spring 2020. It would be great, Lord willing, to have a basic version of “A New Life” iOS App available in the App Store in the run up to the book’s release (I’m not forgetting Android by the way).
I’d love to hear your thoughts (good or bad) and ideas on this next part of “The Jack Miller Project.” (I want to see a book of his sermons published too, but this app idea keeps gnawing at me).
Also, if you are interested in critiquing, brainstorming, shaping, beta testing, downloading, or purchasing such an app please send me your email address so I can keep you posted and send out mock ups as they are created.