DEAD MEN TALKING – Part 6

8. Dead guys remind us about the power of the gospel and in so doing, lead us to the cross

calvin-john-reformed-theology-common-graceThe heroes of church history can rightly inspire us, motivate us, challenge us, and fuel our resolve for living the Christian life.  But in the final analysis, these godly people remind us about the power of the gospel, and in so doing, lead us to the cross of Christ.  “For in the cross of Christ, as in a splendid theater,” Calvin says, “the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world.  The glory of God shines, indeed, in all creatures high and below, but never more brightly than in the cross.”  Nothing would please the French Reformer more than when followers of Christ stand humbly at the foot of the cross.

Every one of the dead guys we have learned about over the last several days lived a long time ago; a time when everything was different.  Cultures were different.  Dress was different.  Technology was virtually non-existent, at least by our standards.  There was no internet, no television or radio.  No motor cars or airplanes.  Almost everything was different.  But there are two things that have not changed since those days: the sinful hearts of men and the grace of God expressed most vividly in the work of his Son on the cross.

The Bible says that every man will face eternal death apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Scripture says emphatically, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14, ESV).

My prayer is that people will learn to love the dead guys.  May you learn from them, be inspired by them, be challenged by them.  When you run across a new name, dig in and learn something new about one of the great heroes of the Christian faith.  But ultimately, my encouragement is this: Follow the dead guys to the cross.  The cross is where they want us to go!

Dead men are talking.  Numbered among these giants of the Christian faith are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Ruth, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, John, Paul, and Peter.  Gone are Augustine, Polycarp, Hus, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Owen, Spurgeon, Bunyan, Lloyd-Jones, and Schaeffer.   They all worshipped and served the same God.  They all bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.   And each of them have a story to tell that tell of a glorious gospel.  Are you listening?

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DEAD MEN TALKING – Part 5

grave5. The dead guys enrich us with rich theological treasures

There are many theological treasures that should attract our attention.  I mention only a few in this post.  First, consider the great creeds bestowed on us by the dead guys.  The Nicene Creed (A.D. 325), The Constantinople Creed (A.D. 381), the Chalcedonian Creed (A.D. 451), the Athanasian Creed, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), and the Heidelberg Catechism.

Second, we can be thankful for the many books that the dead guys wrote for our edification – works from Augustine, Calvin, Bunyan, Spurgeon, Owen, and Edwards.  The list goes on and on and provides a lifetime of godly counsel for Christian pilgrims.

Third, consider the great hymns of the faith.  The dead guys have written literally thousands of hymns to prompt God-centered worship.  I recently read Douglas Bond’s new book, The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts.  The book describes how Watts penned over 750 hymns, some of them great hymns – like When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Jesus Shall Reign, Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed, and Joy to the World!

The dead guys enrich us with rich theological treasures that inform our Christian lives.  Do you hear them?  Dead men are talking!

6. The dead guys inspire us to live courageous Christian lives

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them (Joshua 1:6, ESV).  Over and over, the Scripture calls for courage and fearlessness in the face of danger and persecution.  The dead guys inspire us to live courageous Christian lives.  Some died of natural causes but faced constant persecution and even the threat of death – men like Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon.

tyndale2.jpg_2Others actually gave their lives because of their Christian convictions – men like Polycarp, William Tyndale, Jan Hus, and John Rogers.  They inspire us to keep moving.  They motivate us to keep fighting the fight.  And they challenge us to keep our eyes fixated on the cross of Christ.

7. The dead guys teach us how to endure the trials of life and the flames of persecution

The apostle Paul admonished Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, ESV).  Men like John Calvin, Isaac Watts, and C.H. Spurgeon endured physical pain most of their adult lives.  Spurgeon endured gout, kidney disease, and battled depression and melancholy.

Calvin endured more persecution than most of us will see in a lifetime combined.  When he returned to pastor in Geneva, the French Huguenots (Protestants from England and Scotland) who sought refuge from “Bloody Mary,” came to Geneva to sit at the feet of the French Reformer.  One of those refugees was John Knox who called Calvin’s church in Geneva, “the most perfect school of Christ that ever wa in the earth since the days of the Apostles” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8, 518).  Many of the pastors and leaders who were trained by Calvin were sent out  to plant church in Europe.  Steven Lawson reports, “Since persecution was certain and martyrdom common for these saints, Calvin’s school of theology became known as ‘Calvin’s School of Death.'”

The dead guys serve as heroes to all of God’s people.  They teach us (via pen and through their example) how to endure the trials of life and the flames of persecution.

DEAD MEN TALKING – Part 4

4. The dead guys encourage vibrant Christian living

The dead guys have wielded a powerful force for change in my life and have encouraged my Christian growth in ways that are beyond the scope of a 500 word blog post.  Four specific things emerge in particular:

  • Waking EarlyIMGP0676 There was a day when I felt like waking up at 8:00 a.m. was a real sacrifice.  The dead guys have taught me otherwise.  For instance, Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”  There is a consistent pattern among the Reformers and Puritans; a pattern of rising early for prayer, time in the Word, and studying theology.  Their pattern has rubbed off on me and has paid rich spiritual dividends.
  • Fighting SinowenThe Word of God is clear when it comes to waging a holy war against sin: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5, ESV).  Or consider Paul’s letter to the church at Rome: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:6-8, ESV).  I can’t think of anyone who has helped me more in the battle against sin than the Puritan divine, John Owen.  Temptation and Sin (Vol. 6) contains an almost endless supply of ammunition to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Owen wisely remarks, “The life, vigour, and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin.”  That is to say, in Owen’s words, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”  He continues, “Let faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us.  Look on him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him in that condition into thy heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to thy corruptions: do this daily.”  And daily we must if we are to successfully wage the war against sin!
  • Growing in Grace – “But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.  Amen”220px-Thomas_Watson_(Puritan) (2 Pet. 3:18, ESV).  The dead guy that has especially helped me grow in grace is the Puritan, Thomas Watson.  Watson is readable, clear, and pithy.  His challenges go straight to the heart and give Christians exactly what they need to press on to gain the heavenly prize.  Watson aptly writes, “The more we grow in grace, the more glory we bring to God.”  Indeed, to grow in grace is never an option for a Christ-follower.  Rather, it is a vital part of biblical Christianity.
  • Being Happy in Christ – Finally, Richard Baxter has encouraged me to enjoy the sweet fruit of the historical Christian faith: “The principal damning sin,” Baxter writes,  “is to make anything besides God our end and happiness.”  Timely words that remind us of the supreme importance of being happy in Christ.

DEAD MEN TALKING – Part 3

2. Dead guys remind us how God can take the most hardened sinner and transform him into a trophy of God’s grace

AugustineIn 354 a baby was born.  His name – Aurelius Augustine.  The young boy who was a sinner by birth (Ps. 51:5).  As he grew older, became increasingly comfortable with his status as a sinner.  As a young adult, Augustine engaged in consistent carnality.  He admitted, “The evil in me was foul, but I loved it.”  This young sinner fell under the spell of Ambrose – a man who faithfully proclaimed the Word of God.  When Augustine heard the voice of a child say, “Take up and read,” he immediately turned to the book of Romans.  He read the words of the apostle Paul: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13-14, ESV).  Augustine notes, “For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was through the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.”  One sinner that was miraculously transformed by God’s grace.  Dead guys remind us how God can take the most hardened sinner and transform him into a trophy of God’s grace.

3. The dead guys remind us that God has the power to change our warped theology

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingJonathan Edwards is the last person most people consider when they think of warped theology.  Yet Jonathan Edwards demonstrated from an early age that his theological framework was in desperate need of help.  You see, Jonathan Edwards battled with God and especially resisted his sovereign control over all things.  When he came across a passage like Psalm 115:3, he winced; he reacted negatively.  To confess with the psalmist that “God is in the heavens.  He does whatever he pleases” was offensive to Edwards.  Notice how the battle ensues and how God triumphs, however, in his affections: “From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty … It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.  But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God … And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty … The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet …”  And then in a moment that captures Edwards at his best, he adds, “Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.”  The dead guys teach remind us that God has the power to change our warped theology.

DEAD MEN TALKING – Part 2

lewisREASONS FOR UNEARTHING THE DEAD GUYS

What is the rationale for unearthing the dead guys?  In his introduction to Athanasius’s masterpiece, On the Incarnation (a book written over 1,600 years ago), C.S. Lewis discusses the propensity of many people to gravitate to the new when all the while neglecting the old: “This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.”  He goes on to describe the reason he advises people to select the old over the new.  The reason is this: “… He is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet.  A new book is still on trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it.  It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to the light.”  So Lewis essentially argues that most people simply do not have sufficient resources to sift through the sludge of contemporary writing.  Thus, he is vulnerable to worldviews that are spiritually dangerous.

Lewis rightly says that every culture is unique.  Each culture comes with a certain amount of baggage that does not square with Scripture.  So he makes an appeal to old books, what I call reading the dead guys: “We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.  And that means the old books.”  His advice is pretty clear and carries a lot of weight: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”

So with Lewis’s admonition close at hand, notice the first of eight reasons for unearthing the dead guys.

bunyan

1. The dead guys remind us that normal people can accomplish extraordinary things for God

John Bunyan is a classic example.  They called him an “uneducated tinker.”  His classic autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, recounts his miraculous conversion.  Bunyan admits he came from the “meanest and most despised of all the families in the land.”

“Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart, as water would bubble out of a fountain.”  Bunyan clearly described the hatred he had for God prior to his conversion: “I saw my sin most barbarous, and a filthy crime, and could not but conclude, and that with great shame and astonishment, that I had horribly abused the Son of God …”

“I saw how gently [Jesus] gave himself to be hanged and nailed on it for my sins and wicked things.”

In a stunning turn of events, Bunyan explains the radical change that the Holy Spirit wrought in his sin-stained heart: “I magnify the heavenly Majesty, for that by this door he brought me into the world, to partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the gospel.”

Bunyan was a Bible-man whose preaching, writing, and life screamed the truth of Galatians 6 – “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14, ESV).

Bunyan’s pedigree was among the lowest of the low.  Indeed, he was an everyday “Joe!”  But God rescued him from his sin and used the British tinker as a powerful instrument in God’s hands!  Who would have thought that as he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress from a Bedford jail that it would become the number two best seller in the world?  The great British theologian, John Owen, when asked by King Charles why he, a great scholar went to hear an uneducated tinker like Bunyan preach, said, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.”  Indeed, the dead guys remind us that normal people can accomplish extraordinary things for God!

DEAD MEN TALKING – Part 1

The_Burning_of_Master_John_RogersThe smell of burning flesh hung in the air.  The villagers turned their heads and gasped.  Stray dogs fled.  The man’s wife wept bitterly.  His children watched in disbelief.  The stench was a vivid reminder of who sat on the throne.  Mary Tudor ruled with ironclad authority.  Her subjects were obligated to obey.  Any dissenters would pay the ultimate price.  The world would remember her as “Bloody Mary.”

 The day was February 4, 1555.  The man roped to the pyre was known well in the British village.  A man of humble origins.  A man with bold ambitions and simple obedience to match.  A man who dared to challenge the throne with two simple acts – preaching the Word of God and printing the Matthews-Tyndale Bible.  His name was John Rogers.  Pastor, father, martyr.  He was the first Christ-follower to pay the ultimate price of death during Mary’s bloody reign of terror.  He was the first of hundreds who would die at the hands of this blood-thirsty tyrant.

John Rogers stands in a long line of godly men; men who preached the truth, lived uncompromising lives, and finished strong.  Like Rogers, some were martyred.  Others died of old age or were tormented with disease.  Those who stand in the long line of godly men still have something to say.  Their courage emboldens us.  Their lives inspire us.  Their theology instructs us.

Hebrews 11 recounts the stories of some of the godly men and women of Scripture that were people of faith – people who still have something to say.  The Word of God says, “Now faith means that we have full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see.  It was this faith that won their reputation for the saints of old” (Heb. 11:1-2, Phillips).  God’s Word says, And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV).

The historical figures in Hebrews 11 received their commendation from God – that is to say they were recognized by the God of the universe.  The Bible says they were commended by God for their faith; for displaying remarkable courage under fire, resilience, and soft-hearted obedience.  Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, David, and Rahab were commended through their faith.

Hebrews 12:1 says that these heroes of the faith are a great cloud of witnesses  who surround us – giving us great impetus to “lay aside every weight, and sin which  clings so closely, and run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Here is what’s intriguing.  All of these heroes (with the exception of Enoch) is dead.   In Enoch’s case the Bible tells us that he “was taken up so that he should not see death.”  But even Enoch “was commended as having pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).  The other heroes are dead – each of them is in heaven with Jesus!

One of these heroes is Abel.  Genesis 4 tells the story of this faithful man:

  • A sheep herder (v. 2).
  • Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground (v. 3).
  • Abel brought an offering of his own the firstborn of his flock (v. 4).

Scripture tells us this: “… And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering …(Gen. 4.4).

What was it about Abel’s offering that attracted the heart of God?  What was it that caused God to gaze upon Abel’s offering with joy and receive it as an acceptable offering?  The answer emerges in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous.  God commending him by accepting his gifts.  And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”

“And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”  There is a parade of godly men in Redemptive history who have died, yet they still speak.  Yet … there is a tone in the church, an attitude in the church that discounts church history.  There is a tone and an attitude in the local church that turns a blind eye at the past and a muffled ear to the historical.  Indeed, our feet appear to be reluctant to travel on the old dusty paths.  I have even heard people say that they’re “sick of hearing about the Puritans and the Reformers.”  “I’m sick of hearing about Luther, and Edwards, and Spurgeon,” they say.

Here’s the problem.  Discounting and discarding the past is not only a mistake.  It is dangerous to our spiritual lives.  J.I. Packer refers to the countless number of Christians who hold:

  • the newer is truer
  • only what is recent is decent
  • every shift of ground is step forward
  • and the latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject

This is what C.S. Lewis affectionately labeled as “chronological snobbery,” that is – “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited” (C.S. Lewis, Suprised by Joy, 207-208).

Here’s what I’ve learned.  Dead men are still talking!  If you ever wonder what influence a dead man might have over masses of people, consider two wicked men who continue to rule with an iron fist from the grave.

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)

Darwin is credited with writing Origin of Species (1859) and formulating the theory of evolution, the diabolical notion that matter emerged by chance and relegates God to the intellectual scrap bin of history.  Darwin noted, “I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men.”  Unfortunately, millions of people continue to blindly follow the lead of Charles Darwin.  He informs their worldview and leads them away from God and his revealed truth.

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) 

Another man who rules from the grave is Karl Marx, the man credited with saying, “Religion is the opium of the masses.”  Marx influenced men like Stalin – a mass murderer of his own countrymen.  His famous, Communist Manifesto has and continues to influence countless lives and twists political ideologies into a godless morass of hopelessness.

But my goal is to focus on the men who can and should have a profound affect on our Christian lives.  The dead guys I’m referring to are the ones who believe in the authority of Scripture and embrace the doctrinal foundations that fuel our Christian lives.  One of those dead men is none other than Charles H. Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) who died over 120 years ago.  He remarked, “I shall live and speak long after I am dead.”rogers profile

John Rogers is dead, yet he still speaks.  So what can the dead guys teach us?  And what is the rationale for learning from these dead guys?  The next several posts will address this very important question.