A Catalogue of Mercies

When I grew up, Catalogues were the Internet. We waited every quarter for 2-3 inch thick tomes in the mail, packed with thousands of color pictures of every possible kind of item. I can still smell the paper as we kids rushed to the toy pages in the Christmas issues. I suppose it was Amazon in paper form – an innumerable number of goods for sale, organized and presented in such a way to ensure as big a spend as possible.

Some younger readers probably have no idea what I’m talking about. But even my fellow-oldies might never have heard of a Catalogue of Mercies. Neither had I, until I read about it in J B Williams biography of Matthew Henry.

Henry wrote this detailed catalogue in 1675, aged 13, a couple of years after his conversion to Christ, to record the progress of religion in his soul together with what he believed were the three evidences of this being a genuine work of God’s grace. These were:

1. Covenant transactions between God and the soul

Henry was confident that there had been such covenanting, but to be sure, said:

“If I never did this before, I do it now; for I take God in Christ to be mine. I give up myself to be his in the bond of an everlasting covenant never-to-be-forgotten….I do this every day.”

What’s interesting here is that although the Puritans have been accused of being overly introspective, the first evidence that Henry focused on was “I have looked to Christ and given myself away to Him.”

2. True repentance for sin, and grief, and shame, and sorrow for it

Again, Henry found evidence of this, “though not in that measure that I could desire.”

“I have been heartily sorry for what is past. I judge myself before the Lord, blushing for shame that I should ever affront him as I have done.”

This evidence of repentance assured him that God had pardoned him, an assurance he based on several Scriptures (e.g. Prov. 28:13; Isa. 1:18; Matt. 5:4, etc.)

3. True love of God

Henry was convinced that he loved God on two grounds – he loved the people of God and he loved the Word of God.

Just like the catalogues of my youth, Henry’s Catalogue of Mercies were skillfully and persuasively organized, all with the great and glorious aim of commending the mercies of God.

Many, O Lord my God, are your wonderful works
Which you have done;
And your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to you in order;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered (Psalm 40:5).

4 Ways Inerrantists Undermine The Bible

Like every lover of God’s Word, I rejoiced to read the reports of the thousands of people who attended last week’s Inerrancy Summit. I salute the stalwarts of the faith who spoke there and earnestly pray that the hoped-for effects of greater respect for and obedience to God’s Word will be wonderfully realized.

I may have missed this, but one note I didn’t hear was one of humble confession, the sound of inerrantists confessing that we too have undermined the Bible. Unlike deniers of inerrancy, we’ve done it unintentionally, but the end result has often been the same – less reverence for and faith in the Word of God.

How so? Let me highlight four areas in which we inerrantists have inadvertently undermined Gods Word.

The Clarity of Scripture

The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is summed up in chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“Those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

When people (especially those outside the church) see the intellectual gymnastics some evangelicals use to get away from the plain reading of Genesis 1 regarding six-day creation or the uniqueness of Adam as the first human being, it’s no surprise that they often conclude this is an impossible book for the learned to understand, never mind the unlearned.

Preachers, teachers, theologians, and all of us have a huge responsibility to ensure that we honor the clarity of Scripture by demonstrating how even the unlearned using ordinary means can come to a sufficient understanding of the Bible.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

When we let the findings and theories of secular science have priority or primacy in our interpretation of Scripture and in our application of it in caring for people, we undermine the Word of God.

But sometimes, in our zeal to uphold the sufficiency of God’s Word for faith and life, inerrantists have often carelessly overstated the sufficiency of Scripture. For example, in the area of counseling, a concern to keep out dangerous worldly theory and practice has sometimes led to the theoretical rejection of anything helpful outside of the Bible.

There are three problems with this. First, there’s the problem of inconsistency. Whatever counselors have said or written about rejecting anything and everything outside of the Bible, they deny it in practice. No biblical teacher or counselor uses only the Bible in shepherding people. Every single one of us integrates knowledge from outside the Bible into our teaching and discipling. The only questions are how we do it and to what degree.

Second, Although this “bible-only” view sincerely intends to defend the sufficiency of Scripture, it ends up undermining it because the Bible is not regarded as sufficient enough to screen and filter the world of knowledge outside of the Bible, and admit into the care of people only what is consistent with God’s Word. The Bible is not thought to be up to the task and therefore we must not even attempt such an endeavor.

Third, when the sufficiency of Scripture is overstated to rule out any place for science in our interpretation or application of Scripture, it looks ridiculous to many, preventing them from giving a fair hearing to the true claims of God’s Word.

The Authority of Scripture

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed that the most important battle in his day was not over the inerrancy of Scripture but over the authority of Scripture. I believe both were and are equally important issues. What’s the point in fighting to the death for the inerrancy of Scripture if we undermine it by rejecting its authority in our lives, especially in our ethics? We end up with a perfect book that has no impact on our lives.

Many different theological systems have been devised that, in effect, displace the role of the ten commandments as an authoritative guide for the Christian’s life. Whatever the scheme, they all end in the same place – freedom from God’s moral law. Especially, freedom from the fourth commandment.

Unsurprisingly, many who want to argue for gay marriage or the legitimacy of gay Christians point out the seeming hypocrisy of our picking and choosing which of God’s moral laws we want to be authoritative in our lives. “Why can’t we do the same?” they ask.

The Practice of Scripture

This flows out of the last point, but a vital part of any Inerrancy Summit should be an Inerrancy Valley, where we all humble ourselves in repentance and contrition and confess how we have all failed to practice the Bible, we have all failed to live up to what we profess to believe about the Bible. This is especially serious because for most people our lives and character are the only Bible they regularly read.

There’s no question that far more people would believe in the inerrancy of Scripture if they could see more practice of Scripture. Errant lives are poor commercials for an inerrant Bible.

A Modern “Act of Uniformity”

The way things are going, many Gospel ministers will soon be forced “out of business” together with various florists, bakers, and photographers, all for refusing to conform to the culture’s demand that we all uniformly celebrate so-called homosexual marriage.

Similar tyrannical abuses have happened in the past, but God has kept His church in the midst of a hostile culture. In his biography of Matthew Henry, J. B. Williams notes that the UK Parliament’s 1662 Act of Uniformity separated 2000 Gospel ministers from their flocks (including Henry’s father), banned them from preaching the Gospel, and “as far as human intent could go, consigned them to oblivion.” This Great Ejection occurred all because they would not conform to Government-defined and Government-mandated “uniformity.”

But 1662 was also the year that Matthew Henry was born, as were a number of other eminent future ministers of the Gospel. Williams comments:

“The constancy of God’s servants was thus rewarded: and provision was made in the ministry, for another generation, for whom, in providential mercy, fairer and more peaceful days were appointed.”

Yes, this modern Act of Uniformity will take its toll on many. Unless we see a miraculous reversal, Gospel ministers are going to experience a Supreme-Court-backed Great Ejection and be consigned to oblivion. We fear for the church and the Gospel; we fear most of all for the souls of our children and of future generations.

But let’s take courage in God’s providential mercy, and believe that even in our days, in labor wards all over the land, God is bringing future Matthew Henrys into the world to minister to the souls of His children, in what we hope will be fairer and more peaceful days.

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Divine Happiness Superior to Disney Happiness

While attending the Ligonier National Conference at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort recently, I couldn’t help asking, “What is happiness?”

Here I was at the world center of happiness and not many people looked that happy. Admittedly the weather was unseasonably cold, but even so, I didn’t see many smiles among the multitudes of mickey-mouse-eared children and their stressed-out parents.

In contrast, when I walked into and through the Ligonier conference venue, I saw a lot more happiness, I sensed a lot more joy, and I heard a lot more laughter. Who would have thought that there would be more happiness in God’s Kingdom than in Magic Kingdom?

Which brings me back to my question: What is happiness? Specifically, what is this superior Christian happiness I experienced last week?

In some ways, Christian happiness is so large, so multilayered, so multidimensional, that it’s virtually impossible to define in one sentence. But let me try:

Christian happiness is a God-centered, God-glorifying, and God-given sense of God’s love that flows from a right relationship to God in Christ and that flows out in loving service to God and others.

Where do I get that from?

Largely from Moses’ deathbed!

As he is dying, Moses rouses himself one last time to enthusiastically pronounce multiple blessings (happinesses) on Israel’s tribes (Deut. 33:1-28). He then takes a big view of the whole nation and joyfully exclaims, “Happy are you, O Israel!  Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord” (Deut. 33:29)

He happily calls them the happiest people in the world!

It was a God-centered happiness. It wasn’t a happiness based on things or achievements (neither Israel nor Moses had any of these). It was a happiness based on truth, truth about God.

Moses had spent the previous three verses declaring multiple facts about God and all He was and did for Israel before climaxing with “Happy are you, O Israel!”

It was also a God-glorifying happiness. Moses doesn’t just narrate facts about God like a dull and boring lecturer. No, he’s exulting in God and exalting God as he speaks. He begins this final chorus of praise by saying, “There is no one like . . . God.” God makes him happy, but worshiping God makes him even happier. God-centered happiness makes him glorify God happily.

Finally it was a God-given happiness. To the onlooker, Moses and Israel were in the saddest and most miserable circumstances. Moses had experienced many disappointments and frustrations over his life, especially during the last forty years in the wilderness, and particularly in being banned from finally entering the promised land because he lost his temper once.

Israel’s forty-year history up to that point was a trail of thousands of carcasses in the same wilderness, and they were still outside the promised land! Yet Moses pronounced God’s people not just happy but the happiest people in the world! Incomparably happy. Happier than the most powerful and prosperous nations.

What can possibly explain it?

It wasn’t something manufactured or manipulated; it was given by God. Given the circumstances, negativity and pessimism would have been much easier. But by grace, God enabled Moses to rise above every discouragement and sadness (without denying them) and to find his happiness in God. Like Paul, who faced similar harrowing circumstances, he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Divine happiness is far superior to Disney happiness.

And if Moses and Israel had such happiness, how much more should the New Testament church and every New Testament Christian? If we claim to know much more about God (and we do) and claim to have experienced so much of His great salvation (and we have), how much happier we should be, and how much more happy should be our service of God and others.

10 Ways To Hate People

A few weeks ago I listed 10 Ways To Hate God. Today, 10 ways to hate people, which Paul says comes very naturally to us (Titus 3:3).

1. Grudge their success.

2. Blacken their name.

3. Desire their failure.

4. Ignore their graces and gifts.

5. Suspect their motives.

6. Rejoice when they fall or fail.

7. Refuse their confession.

8. Highlight only their defects.

9. Despise their callings and roles.

10. Take vengeance upon them.

But God’s love can turn the worst of haters into the best of lovers, as Paul immediately highlights:

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5).