A Right View Of Sin, Ryle Style

So on the suggestion of a blog post from Kevin DeYoung, I started to read J.C. Ryle’s book “Holiness”. It’s a relatively short book, but like books of old, each page is pack full. I’m not done with it yet but I thought it would be worth capturing some of the thoughts as I work through it. So here’s some highlights from chapter 2 of the book, from the pen of an old-time Anglican pastor.

First, his general thesis of the book is laid out.

Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption… The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are ‘words and names’ which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart and show him that he is a guilty sinner. (p 11)

I love the balance in which he writes on this topic of sin. He’s straight forward but always with the intent to bring us to Christ.

Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood in agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46). Nothing, I am convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we shall have of sin and the retrospect we shall take of our own countless shortcomings and defects. Never till the hour when Christ comes the second time shall we fully realize the ‘sinfulness of sin’. Well might George Whitefield say, ‘The anthem in heaven will be: What hath God wrought!’ (p 15)

The bulk of this chapter is dedicated to how a right view of sin works out in the believer’s life. Amazing that these words were penned over 125 years ago. How they feel like it was written for today!

a. I say, then, in the first place, that a scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age … It is a Christianity in which there is undeniably ‘something about Christ and something about grace and something about faith and something about repentance and something about holiness’, but it is not the real ‘thing as it is’ in the Bible. (p 18)

b. In the next place, a scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time … Everything, forsooth, is true and nothing is false! Everybody is right and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved and nobody is to be lost! The atonement and substitution of Christ, the personality of the devil, the miraculous element in Scripture, the reality and eternity of future punishment, all these mighty foundation-stones are coolly tossed overboard, like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity … (p 18)

c. In the next place, a right view of sin is the best antidote to that sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity, which has swept over England like a flood in the last twenty-five years, and carried away so many before it. (p 19)

d. In the next place, a right view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the overstrained theories of perfection of which we hear so much in these times. (p 19)

e. In the last place, a scriptural view of sin will prove an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness, which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the church … We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls doing His will. We must then try to realize that it is terribly possible to live a careless, easygoing, half-worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people! Once let us see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us, and sticks more closely to us than we supposed, and we shall be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. (p 20)

Some final words from this chapter:

What need we all have of that entire change of heart called regeneration, new birth or conversion! What a mass of infirmity and imperfection cleaves to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is that ‘without holiness no man shall see the Lord’! (Hebrews 12:14). What cause we have to cry with the publican every night in our lives, when we think of our sins of omission as well as commission, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). (p 16)

I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.  (p 22)

 

 

 

 

The Brilliance of CS Lewis

Lately I’ve been looking for a single author to be my somewhat life study. I’ve considered John Piper, whom has greatly shaped my life. I’ve also considered Abraham Kuyper. From all I’ve read in biographies about Kuyper, I’m intrigued by his blending of Calvinism into public life. As an aside, Kuyper may be, at least for me, one that is best read in biographies rather than in his actual writings, as I’ve tried twice now to give his books a shot, and twice I have put them down.
So who to give my reading attention to?
Well today, I’m giving CS Lewis a try. I’ve dabbed in Lewis for his books on suffering and enjoyed them, and I know Tim Keller (who I deeply love) is greatly shaped by Lewis, so I decided to  try another Lewis work, perhaps one of lesser known works. I picked The Abolition of Man.

After sitting and sharing every page I just read with Julee, because I’m amazed at Lewis’ ability to see the deeper issues, I thought I should record two bits of his brilliance.
(Below, Gaius and Titius are pseudonyms of authors who Lewis is critiquing)

ON UNCONSCIOUS SHAPING

The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all. The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him.

Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (pp. 6-7). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The sum of it: Inconsequential ideas still have consequences, for they tread paths in our way-of-thinking that future (and perhaps much bigger) issues travel down.

ON DEFENDING AGAINST FALSE SENTIMENTS

I think Gaius and Titius [who Lewis is critiquing] may have honestly misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda— they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental— and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (pp. 14-15).

The sum of it:  Protection against false loves is not done best by removing love altogether, but by being filled with right loves.

Truth Matters When It Comes To Planned Parenthood

 

This may be the generation that ends abortion. Partly because people are waking up to the reality of it, partly because of the efforts of the church, partly because God in His providence has placed an apparently pro-life President in office, and partly because of creative investigative videos that have come out.

Facts really matter in this debate.

This is especially true as more and more Christians become sympathetic to organizations like Planned Parenthood. While they fundamentally stand against abortion, they support such organizations because of the good they do for women who otherwise have no option.

But is that true?  Either of those things? Is Planned Parenthood the only option and do they do good for women?

Here are just two data points.

The truth of that was analyzed here by the Washington Post.

Here’s data point number two: Planned Parenthood and prenatal care to help women plan for parenthood:

 

BTW, following this video, some of the Planned Parenthood websites removed “prenatal care” from their websites. At least the truth is now being told.

Full analysis here: http://liveactionnews.org/planned-parenthood-purges-prenatal-from-websites-after-live-action-investigation/)

The Reordering of Our Loves

Long ago, Augustine made this insightful analysis of how our lives work. Namely, that right living always comes from right loving; and that where unholy and unjust actions exists, there exists a heart needing to reorder its “loves.” This ultimately is the gospel that saves: the message that seeks to enthrone Jesus alone as supreme in our loves.

The eminent question in life is not “what will we do,” but “what shall we love?”

“But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine)

Means of Compromises

Reading Dietrich Von Hildebrand’s memoirs about WII reminds me of what Solomon declared – there is nothing new under the sun.

Early in Hitler’s reign in Germany, Von Hildebrand met the Provincial of the German Dominicans in Paris. They had this exchange:

Provincial: “But we have no reason at all to reject Hitler when he stresses the idea of authority and the value of the nation. Above all, he keeps speaking about God.”

Von Hildebrand: “Hitler is so stupid that he does not even know what the word, ‘God,’ means; when he uses the word, in no way does it mean that he is professing the true God.”

Provincial: “We Catholics have to put ourselves in the front ranks of National Socialism and in this way give everything a Catholic turn.”

Von Hildebrand: “National Socialism and Christianity are absolutely incompatible, and besides it is a terrible illusion to think that Catholics would be able to influence this movement by means of compromises.”

(Dietrich Von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich, p. 71)

Von Hildebrand reflected thus in his memoirs:

I was beside myself. These two unfortunate friars showed me the entire tragedy of the situation of Catholics in Germany, the terrible temptation of being drawn into compromises, and I saw more than ever before how right it was that I had left Germany. In the attitude of the two friars, I saw so clearly the danger of compromise by German Catholics.

Von Hildebrand reflected much on “the means of compromises” and those that sought to persuade and control Hilter by supporting him. In all of his reflections (so far), none has been positive.

 

Insulting God

When we think of insulting God, it’s easy to imagine someone like the French philosopher Voltaire, with hands raised in the air, uttering his famous words against Jesus

“Curse the wretch. In 20 years, Christianity will be no more. My single hand will destroy the edifice it took 12 apostles to rear.”

That’s one way to insult God. Attack Him directly. Be clear in your blasphemy. Don’t mince words. Go with the full hatred and rebellion in your heart. No subtly needed. Voltaire was not the first to do this of course (even on the cross we read of mockings casted towards Jesus), nor will he be the last.

There is another way however in which God is insulted. One that is not so in-your-face. Not so evident. Solomon speaks it in the proverbs:

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” (Proverbs 14:31)

That word “oppress” is elsewhere translated as defraud, burden, extort, crush, and abuse. When those things happen to the poor, God is insulted as if Voltaire was playing on repeat. Why is God insulted when the poor are oppressed? Well, the proverbs says God is the maker of the poor. That is, He has created them, and thus they bear His image. Despite their poverty, despite their lack, despite their perceived difference because they do-not-have, they bear the image of their Maker. And because of this, oppressing the poor implies that God’s image means nothing in comparison to riches and material. It implies that God’s worth, endued in a person, is judged wanting against the image of money and possessions.

That’s insulting to God.

How we treat the poor is not just a matter of kindness towards humanity. It’s a matter of reverence towards our Maker. There’s no way around that. Our attitude, our inner secret thoughts of those that are destitute, and perhaps most challenging, our intentionality towards their care – says something about how we truly value our God.

WARNINGS

We get a sense of this when Paul tells the church in Corinth that some of them have been judged and died because they’ve participated in communion in an “unworthy manner.” What was that? Well, the rich were using the Lords table to shame the poor. That’s insulting to God, and apparently the just response to that was sickness and death to the oppressors (1 Corinthians 11).

John Calvin had this to say about the issue:

“If the poor souls that have bestowed their labor and travail and spent their sweat and blood for you be not paid their wages as they ought to be  .  .  . if they ask vengeance against you at God’s hand, who shall be your spokesman or advocate to rid you out of his hands?”

A little later, Abraham Kuyper had this to say:

“when the rich and the poor oppose each other  .  .  . both the Christ, and also just as much His apostles after Him as the prophets before Him, invariably took sides against those who were powerful and living in luxury, and for the suffering and oppressed.”uch His apostles after Him as the prophets before Him, invariably took sides against those who were powerful and living in luxury, and for the suffering and oppressed.”

These are not condemnations against being rich, only warnings against ignoring the poor.

ONGOING OPPORTUNITIES

On last reflection on this topic. Jesus said something that ought to stick out in all of this. He said “the poor you will always have.” (Matt 26:11). Know what that means? That means every day, we have an opportunity to affirm – in our words, our attitudes, our spending, our intentions, our care, yes, even our voting – to affirm and proclaim the worth of our Maker. This, instead of insulting Him.