it will be individuals living in submission and obedience to the law-Word of God in all areas of life that will effect change in our culture. it will be families putting the well-being of their children above economic and career gains which will change this culture of death. it will be christians stepping out of their comfort zones and opening their homes and hearts to some of the thousands of children in the foster care system that will help heal some of the broken lives in our communities. it will take courageous christians adopting some of the unadoptable (non-white, medically complex or fragile, etc.)to show the world that we do not just talk but are willing to extend ourselves to those in crisis and need. let it not be said of us that we are pro-life only while the child is in the womb.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
but i ran across this today and thought it worth sharing:
"The dream of a risk-free life is an evil dream, because it is in essence a denial of causality; it is an insistence that cause and effect do not exist, and it is a denial that the 'wages of sin is death' (Rom. 6:23)." (R.J. Rushdoony). No doubt about it. We will reap what we sow....for good (both physical and spiritual) or for evil ( again, both physical and spiritual). There is no middle or neutral ground. Believers, you have the privilege to have your ideas and actions, brought captive to the obedience of Christ and His Law/Word, bring godly consequences in this life as well as the next. Go for it!
I should begin by pointing out that the Presuppositional Apologetic does not discount the use of evidences in apologetic reasoning. It does not use evidences in the traditional manner, however. By the traditional manner, I mean using evidences as an appeal to the authority of the unbeliever's autonomous reasoning. The problem is, of course, that the unbeliever cannot reason autonomously. Without God, there would be no possibility of reason. And so the reality of the matter is that every time the unbeliever attempts to reason, he is borrowing from the Christian worldview. That is, he is being inconsistent with his stated presuppositions. And that is the crucial point. Ultimately the intellectual conflict between believers and unbelievers is a matter of antithetical worldviews. The essence of the Presuppositional Apologetic is the attempt to show that the unbeliever's worldview drives him to subjectivity, irrationalism, and moral anarchy. And so the Presuppositional Apologetic calls for the Christian and non-Christian to set side by side their two worldviews and do an internal examination of them both in order to determine whether or not they are consistent even within their own framework. Since God does exist, and since Christianity is true, then any worldview which denies these truths are false and can be demonstrated to be so.
And so, on a practical basis, the first thing to do in a Presuppositional Apologetic is just that which an evidential apologist would not spend a great amount of time on. We listen. We let the unbeliever talk and we let him describe his worldview (i.e., the nature of reality, how the world operates, where it came from, man's place in the world, man's nature, the absence or existence of moral absolutes and the foundation of such, how do we know things and can we know things with certainty, etc.).
The more the unbeliever talks, the more we have to work with. Since his worldview is objectively false, it of necessity contains contradictions (i.e., morality is relative, but he does not live his life on that basis). Morality is absolute, but he cannot account for absolutes without God. We can have knowledge through empirical observation, but he cannot empirically observe that he can have knowledge through empirical observation, etc.
We also demonstrate that whatever objections he may have against Christianity are either a misunderstanding of true Christianity, or that they are not legitimate objections within the Christian worldview. And so we examine the cogency of each side's theory within the respective worldviews. The Christian, within the Christian worldview, can account for rationality, logic, science, morality, etc., because we are thinking God's thoughts after Him, and thus conforming to reality. The unbeliever, since his worldview does not conform to reality (i.e., denies God) cannot account for any of these things.
And so, in a nut shell, the apologist engages in an internal critique of the opposing worldview in order to demonstrate that it is arbitrary (moral relativism, for instance), inconsistent with itself (he knows through observation, but cannot observe that observation is the way to know), and lacks the preconditions for knowing anything at all (he has no basis for the existence of universal abstract entities like logic and morality).
We can then take anything which seems to be important to the unbeliever and demonstrate to him that if his own worldview were true, his belief would be incoherent and/or meaningless.
As Bahnsen says, "In short, the transcendental critique of unbelieving worldviews aims to show that, given their presuppositions, there could be no knowledge in any field whatsoever -- that it would be impossible to find meaning or intelligibility in anything at all."
Note that this is not to say that unbelievers do not reason or communicate or engage in science. It does say that when they do so, they are borrowing from the Christian worldview, which only makes sense, regardless of what they might say, the Bible says that they actually do know God. And it is that triune God of the Bible that is behind all of man's experiences and intellectual efforts. And so the Presuppositional Apologetic recognizes that the critic of Christianity has been secretly presupposing the truth of the faith even as he argues against it. As Bahnsen has said, it is like a person arguing that air does not exist, all the while breathing air as a precondition for his ability to argue.
In conclusion, the only "proof" of Christianity is the impossibility of the contrary. Unless the Christian position is presupposed, at a conscious or unconscious level, there is no possibility for proving anything.
When it is all said and done, the unbeliever will have two options:
Acknowledge the truth, or
Many will choose to do just that, although they will deny that is what they are doing. After all, proving is not the same as persuading. But in any case, the apologetic purpose will have been fulfilled. The hope within us will have been defended within the biblical framework.
"Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15)
Let’s admit it: Protestants aren’t the most knowledgeable about the Eucharist and are actually somewhat uncomfortable with my use of the word because of its association with Roman Catholicism. Don’t be afraid. It comes from the Greek verb eucharisteo and simply means “to give thanks”. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thankfulness,” “gratitude,” “thanksgiving,” and the adjective eucharistos means “thankful.”
The verb is used in 1 Corinthians 11:24 in connection with the words of institution: “and when he [Jesus] had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” Perhaps I’ve grown to appreciate it more than others because I spent the last four years as an active member of an Anglican congregation in Wheaton, Illinois, where the Eucharist was celebrated every Sunday. If you prefer “Lord’s Supper” or “communion” (1 Cor. 10:16) or even the “Lord’s Table” (1 Cor. 10:21), that’s fine. But let’s move beyond the label to the meaning of it all.
Paul’s account of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11 is important for at least two reasons.
First, many believe that 1 Corinthians was written before the synoptic gospels and is therefore the earliest canonical record we have of this sacrament. I. Howard Marshall comments:
“If Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth had not survived, and if that church had not needed to be admonished about the behavior of some of its members at the meal, we should know next to nothing about how the meal was celebrated in the early church. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is the one biblical account of any length which discusses the actual conduct of the Lord’s Supper in the church” (Last Supper and Lord’s Supper [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], 16).
Second, we read in v. 23 – “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you . . .” There are two ways of taking this reference to the divine origin of the Supper. Paul may simply be saying that Jesus originally instituted the sacrament and was thus the first link in a chain reaching from him to Paul. “Eyewitnesses reported to others what the Lord had said and done, these repeated it to others again, and so in due course the tradition reached Paul, who thus had it ‘from the Lord’ not immediately but by unbroken transmission” (C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians [New York: Harper & Row, 1968], 265).
On the other hand, Paul may mean that he received his information concerning the Supper directly from Jesus (note the emphatic “I”, possibly his way of saying that his knowledge came to him unmediated by others). Recall Galatians 1:11-12 where Paul says he received the gospel, not from men, but “through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Perhaps he gained his knowledge of the Eucharist in the same manner.
A possible compromise solution, writes Barrett, “is that Paul received the factual tradition by human means, but received the interpretation of it directly from the Lord” (265). The point of interest, however, is that the sacrament is, in a sense, a “trust” that Paul first “received” from Jesus Christ and then solemnly “delivered” to us. It is a sacred institution entrusted to us by him for perpetual observance and reverential protection.
The Meaning of the Eucharist
A careful reading of the passage reveals that the sacrament is designed to accomplish one primary goal: to elicit remembrance of the person and work of Christ. [This is not meant to deny that the Eucharist is also a sacrament and serves to mediate the sanctifying (not saving) grace of Christ. On this, see my two articles on the Sacraments in Miscellaneous Topics of the Theological Studies section at www.SamStorms.com.]. Some have said the Eucharist has two ends, (1) to remember, and (2) to proclaim his death. Although there is no great error in this, it isn’t textually accurate. There is only one command, literally, “this be doing unto my remembrance.” The proclamation of Christ’s death till he comes is not a second command but a consequence of fulfilling the first. As we are partaking, and by partaking remembering, we will be proclaiming his death. The proclaiming is wrapped up in the remembering as an inevitable corollary. This is substantiated by the word “for” with which v. 26 begins. That is, what we find in v. 26 is a consequence or product of our rightly observing the command to “remember” in vv. 24-25. We should also note that “you proclaim” in v. 26 is a statement of fact (present tense indicative), not a command.
Before proceeding I want to mention an alternative, but unlikely, interpretation that comes from Joachim Jeremias (The Eucharistic Words of Jesus [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966). He argues that it is not we, but God, who does the “remembering.” He explains:
“’In remembrance of me’ can . . . scarcely mean ‘that you may remember me’, but most probably ‘that God may remember me’. This means that the command to repeat the rite is not a summons to the disciples to preserve the memory of Jesus and be vigilant (‘repeat the breaking of bread so that you may not forget me’), but it is an eschatologically oriented instruction: ‘Keep joining yourselves together as the redeemed community by the table rite, that in this way God may be daily implored to bring about the consummation in the parousia.’ By coming together daily for table fellowship in the short period of time before the parousia and by confessing in this way Jesus as their Lord, the disciples represent the initiated salvation work before God and they pray for its consummation” (255; for the full argument see 237-55).
That aside, let’s consider what “remembering” Christ entails.
First, it is a remembrance that is commanded. “When we . . . gather, we gather not on our own impulse, nor at our own inclination, but because it is ordained that we should do so. Woe to the Christian who neglects the Lord’s Table. Unless there are right reasons for being absent, woe to us if we just walk out when the Lord’s Table is set” (Ernest F. Kevan, The Lord’s Supper [London: Evangelical Press, 1973], 14).
This command also reveals the weakness of the flesh even in those who have been born again, for it is remarkable that we who have been redeemed by Christ should need to be urged to remember him.
Second, it is a remembrance which takes a tangible, visible form. The elements are designed to prick our spiritual sense by physical means. It’s not sufficient simply to say, “Remember.” We must go on to present to the eye and to the touch this tangible representation of the truth about which we are speaking. And again, it is surely an act of merciful condescension to our weakness as sinners that the Lord has established the sacrament in this way.
Third, it is a strengthening remembrance. The Eucharist serves to intensify and increase our understanding of and love for Christ’s death. Again, for more on this dimension of the sacrament, see the two articles I noted earlier.
Fourth, it is a personal remembrance. We are not told to remember the night on which the sacrament was instituted. Neither the betrayal nor the trial nor even the crucifixion itself is the focus of our attention. Rather it is a remembrance of Jesus himself betrayed, tried, and crucified. Remember “ME”, we are commanded. “Recall and be strengthened and encouraged by all that I have been, am, and forever will be to you. My person, my work, all that is yours by grace,” says Jesus, “let it take root in your souls and feed on Me.”
Fifth, S. Lewis Johnson makes this observation:
“He says, ‘This is MY body.’ What is most remarkable about the words is the fact that He was telling these young Jewish men that they should no longer celebrate the God-appointed festival of the Passover and substitute in its place remembrance of Him! Do not think of Moses; think of Me! It must have been a staggering thing to them, if they thought upon the transformation of the ceremony, from Passover to Lord’s Supper. And, the fact that He made this significant demand of them, and the fact that they accepted this startling change of ceremony tell us much of the authority and dignity of the King. It was a plain statement to the effect that He was the true Passover lamb, that His death is the real atoning sacrifice, and that His blood is the genuine spiritual safety of the believer. Marvelous indeed!” (“The First Lord’s Supper,” Believers Bible Bulletin [October 11, 1981], 4).
Sixth, in this activity of remembering there is more than simply commemoration: there is also confession. Whoever comes to the Lord’s Table not only commemorates the death of Christ for sinners but also confesses, “Christ died for me.” Note v. 24 – “This is my body which is for you.” What happened to Christ’s body was for me, and in my participating in the sacrament I thereby make confession to that effect.
Seventh, the inevitable corollary to remembrance is proclamation. John Murray put it this way:
“In the Lord’s Supper we are commemorating the death of Christ. This is remarkable. Do we commemorate the death of loved ones? Scarcely! We remember the death and the date. But we do not commemorate. However, it is not merely a commemoration. It is a celebration. ‘As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come’ (1 Cor. 11:26). We are proclaiming the Lord’s death and therefore go on proclaiming. We do not go on proclaiming the death of any other person. A death is announced, and if we went on perpetually announcing, not to speak of proclaiming, we would be properly regarded as insane. But Jesus’ death we proclaim” (Collected Writings [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1982], III:284).
Some argue that “proclaiming” the Lord’s death by partaking of the elements is to be viewed as “an acted sermon, an acted proclamation of the death which it commemorates” (A. Robertson and A. Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1971], 249). However, the word translated “proclaim” means to announce by word of mouth, and in the NT is often used of proclaiming the gospel. Although the nature of Christ’s death is silently portrayed by the action of partaking of the elements, it is also appropriate that a verbal explanation be given. Every observance of the Eucharist ought in some sense to be a lesson on the atonement. “To eat and drink at the Supper is to proclaim the death of the Lord. The Supper is a memorial of Jesus in that each time it takes place it transforms the participants into preachers” (Marshall, 113).
In conclusion, we should also note that the Eucharist is prospective in nature as well as retrospective. It is a service of hope, for it constantly reminds us that one day he who is now only represented in the bread and wine will be with us in person, and the fellowship which is now incomplete will at that time be consummated in perfection. “We celebrate the death, but not the death of a dead Savior. He is going to come again and therefore he is alive. ‘Fear not: I am the first and the last, and the living one, and I became dead and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of hell’ (Rev. 1:17,18). If he were not alive we would not be celebrating, because then the death would be bereft of its virtue and power” (Murray, III:284-85).
In summary, we both look back to his death and remember, and forward to his coming and hope. The Eucharist is “charged with perpetual anticipation” (Murray, III:285). I pray that each time you receive the elements with thanksgiving you will both commemorate and celebrate. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
What Happens in the Eucharist?
Reflections on 1 Corinthians 11:23-34
Recently a friend of mine asked my opinion of the meaning of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11, specifically, what the apostle had in mind when he spoke of receiving the elements of the Eucharist in an “unworthy manner” (11:27; ESV). The question drove me back to the study I did on this passage several years ago. I hope you find helpful what I discovered in my analysis of Paul’s words:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27). Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup (v. 28). For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (v. 29). That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (v. 30). But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged (v. 31). But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world (v. 32). So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another – (v. 33) – if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home – so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come (v. 34).”
Let’s note several things about this passage.
First, note the word “therefore” with which v. 27 begins (it could be translated “it follows that,” expressing result). The point is that because of the sacred nature of the sacrament one must be reverent in the use of it. Because the Lord is exalted, remembered, and proclaimed in the sacrament, flippancy and indifference are grave offences.
Second, the word translated, in an “unworthy manner” or “unworthily” (NASB), must be explained. Let’s begin by noting what it does not mean. Ernest Kevan writes:
“So many true-hearted believers have been disturbed by a misunderstanding of this. It is said that if you feel ashamed, and crestfallen and depressed because of your failure and sin that therefore you must not come [to the Lord’s Table]. Oh no! That is the right way to come. To take the Lord’s Supper unworthily is to take it without regard to its true worth [not yours; emphasis mine]. To do it unworthily is to come complacently, to come light-heartedly, to come without a care about your own sin and your shame. But to be burdened with your sin, even to be weighed down with a sense of your guilt and utter unworthiness – that is to take the Lord’s Supper worthily. Only in this spirit do you truly reckon it at its worth” (The Lord’s Supper [London: Evangelical Press, 1973], 23).
I. H. Marshall concurs:
“In some Christian circles today the fear of partaking unworthily in the Supper leads to believers of otherwise excellent character refraining from coming to the table of the Lord. When this happens, Paul’s warning is being misunderstood. The Lord’s Supper is the place where the forgiveness of sin is proclaimed and offered to all who would receive it. Paul’s warning was not to those who were leading unworthy lives and longed for forgiveness but to those who were making a mockery of that which should have been most sacred and solemn by their behaviour at the meal” (Last Supper and Lord’s Supper [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], 116).
What, then, is the significance and application of Paul’s warning? The first answer is found in the context preceding Paul’s instruction. The Eucharist in the early church was evidently held in conjunction with a general meal. The problem arose due to the social and economic differences among the many members. The church was composed of both wealthy and poor, slaves and ex-slaves. Typically people would eat and drink what they brought to the gathering, rather than sharing it with others in the way that we do in a “pot luck dinner.” The wealthy, notes Marshall, “brought so much food and drink that they could indulge in gluttony and even in drunkenness. The poor, however, had little or nothing to bring with the result that some of them went hungry and could not enjoy a decent meal. Paul further says that some people, presumably those who had more to eat, began eating before the others” (50).
Paul was clearly disturbed by this abuse of the Lord’s Table and the way in which it violated the unity and love in the body of Christ which the supper itself was designed to display (cf. 1 Cor. 10:17). This lack of concern and disregard for their poorer brethren, coupled with their riotous behavior, constituted their sin. Selfishness and lack of love were the essence of their transgression, a fact that must be kept in mind as we seek to make contemporary application of Paul’s words.
The truth of 1 Cor. 10:22 might well shed some light on this matter (“Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”). Marshall explains:
“Despite their superstitious reverence for the sacraments as guarantees against the danger of falling into sin and under judgment, the Corinthians needed to be warned against attempting to combine the worship of idols with participating in the Lord’s Supper; they may have thought of the Supper as not being essentially different from a pagan religious meal and thus failed to give the Lord his due honour. This may have been one aspect of their unworthy participating in the meal” (116).
We must also pay close attention to how closely the conclusion of v. 27 is related to the premise established in vv. 23-26. These latter verses state that the sacrament is designed to cultivate in us loving remembrance of all Christ accomplished on our behalf. At the table we reflect on the nature and sufficiency of his death and thereby proclaim it to the world until he comes. “Therefore . . .” (v. 27). That is, to partake in an unworthy manner is to do so without giving full consideration to the nature of the supper as it is explained in vv. 23-26. It is to partake with motives incompatible with the intent of Christ when he instituted the sacrament. It is to come to the table with thoughts other than of his person and work. It is to come thinking of tomorrow’s worries rather than Christ’s return. It is to come remembering yesterday’s disappointments rather than Christ’s death. To partake in an unworthy manner is to partake either in ignorance of or conscious disregard for the instruction found in vv. 23-26.
The point of emphasis, then, is not on unworthy partakers, but on unworthy partaking; not on the character of the actor, but the act.
Is “confession of known sin” essential when we partake? If known sin is a hindrance to proper regard for what the Supper is designed to accomplish, Yes. If confession of sin is necessary to enable one to adequately approach the table in that frame of mind and with those motives proper to its observance, then by all means confess! But we must remember that confession of sin is not primarily (nor even secondarily) what Paul had in mind when he warned against partaking in an unworthy manner.
The third major point to be noted (the first two were the contextual link between vv. 23-26 and v. 27 and the meaning of “in an unworthy manner”) is Paul’s statement concerning the consequences of unworthy participation (“guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord”). By this he means that guilt is incurred when one profanes what is sacred by treating it as something that is common. To despise the symbol is to despise that to which it points. By abusing the Eucharist we are acting with the calloused indifference and even malicious enmity of those who crucified him. Proper regard for the Lord’s Supper is no small matter!
Fourth, how do we avoid partaking in an unworthy manner? In v. 28 Paul says we should “examine” ourselves. The word “examine” (dokimadzo) most often assumes the success of the test. It refers to the act of proving or testing something with a view to its emerging approved. The implication is that the self-examination will have a positive outcome. Either the individual will discover that he/she is already in a proper spiritual condition to receive the elements or, if not, will take the required steps to become so. Thus the point of self-examination is not to hinder participation but to make it possible and meaningful.
Also, to “examine” oneself entails analyzing one’s understanding of the true meaning of the Eucharist as set forth in vv. 23-26. Why are we partaking? What do we hope to gain? Are we doing so in accordance with the purpose and spirit in which our Lord instituted the supper? Is our partaking reverent? Is it a reflection of that unity in the body of Christ which Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:17? To examine oneself is to ask these questions in preparation for approaching the table in a spiritually appropriate frame of mind.
Finally, vv. 29-34 deal with the consequences of partaking unworthily. To eat and drink judgment to oneself (v. 29) is to incur the discipline of the Lord (v. 32). The Christian who partakes unworthily does not incur eternal condemnation. To the contrary, he incurs temporal chastisement in order that such condemnation may be avoided. This discipline is identified in v. 30 – “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (literally, some “sleep”). Paul regards the bodily weakness and sickness of these believers
“as evidence of the Lord’s judgment. A connection of this kind between sin and disease or [physical] death was certainly made in the first century (John 9:2; Jas. 5:15) and Paul probably shared this view. We may observe that in Paul’s view the judgment was intended for the good of those who were thus disciplined. The Lord’s purpose in it was that those who suffered his judgment now might be spared from the judgment on the sinful world at the End, and thus the judgment had a deterrent and reformatory purpose. It was better still, of course, if the Corinthians were to ‘judge’ themselves, so that they might be spared this temporal judgment of the Lord on their sin” (Marshall, 115).
According to v. 29, the believer is to be careful about “discerning the body” or should “judge the body rightly.” The word “body” may be a reference to the church, the “body” of believers. Indeed, in vv. 17-22 the problem in Corinth was a failure to show consideration to other members of the church. However, inasmuch as v. 29 is strikingly parallel to v. 27, I take “body” to be a shorthand form of the “body and blood” of the Lord himself. Therefore, not to “discern” or “judge” the “body” rightly means not to perceive and reverence the Lord’s Supper as a unique and sacred meal, thereby underestimating and de-valuing its true character.
I pray these observations are helpful and will awaken in all of us a proper reverence for the sanctity of the Eucharist and Him to whom it so gloriously points.
A Study of 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
The dangers confronting Christian people are not uniform and always the same. There are different types of personality and different emphases in the life of the Christian church and in the gospel. We who gather here are very well aware of the particular dangers that confront the actvist—that type of person who is so common amongst us in evangelical circles—the man who lives on his energy and on what he does, who is always busy, organizing meetings and attending them etc. and who says that you must always be doing something. We have realized very clearly the terrible danger that is inherent in that kind of activism, and we are never tired of protesting against it and of showing the danger of an almost exclusive emphasis on life, living and activity at the expense of doctrine, understanding and growth in knowledge. But while we see that so clearly, there is a real possibility of our being unaware of the entirely different type of danger that confronts us, and which is something that applies to a different kind of individual. The first thing we always have to do is to know ourselves, to note the particular group to which we belong, and to realize that there are dangers inherent in every type and in every group. To come immediately to the point, there can be no question at all, it seems to me, that the peculiar danger that threatens those of us who meet anually in this Conference, is the danger of pride of intellect and pride of knowledge...
I propose, therefore, to consider this whole subject with you, and I do so in terms of what we find in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:
‘Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he kn wet anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God the same is known of him.’
I want to consider this with you, in order that we may apply it to ourselves. We need take no time in dealing with the particular context and the state of affairs in the church at Corinth. The Apostle is dealing here with the question of the meats offered to idols because it was a cause of division in the church. There were the more enlightened, the stronger brethren, and there were the weak brethren. They did not see alike on this matter. The strong brother said that there was no such thing as another God, that there was but one God. Everybody should know that, any man who knows anything at all knows that; therefore the idea that you should not eat meat offered to idol s was just nonsense, and was virtually going back to idolatry. A Christian was free to eat any meat he liked. Some them went so far as to say that, if asked, they could even go to the heathen festivals. ‘Why not,’ they asked, ‘as “these gods” are really non–existent?’ So they went. And thus they were becoming a stumbling–block to the weaker brethren, whom they despised, of their weakness of intellect and grasp and understanding. There was grievous trouble in the church of Corinth because of this conflict between the enlightened men of knowledge, and those who were weaker and lacking in knowledge.
The exact context is most interesting. But we are concerned with the way, the most interesting way, in which the apostle deals with it. As is his custom he does not deal with the thing just in and of itself and directly; he lifts it up; he finds a great principle. And the principle he finds is this whole question of knowledge. The real trouble in Corinth, in a sense, was not at all the question of meats offered to idols, but simply men’s view of their own knowledge. So he discusses the matter primarily in terms of their attitude towards knowledge. Our theme therefore, and the principle which we extract from our text, is the danger of a false view of knowledge.
To be accurate in our exegesis let me indicate that the ‘knowledge’ Paul speaks of here is not the same as that referred to in 1 Timothy 6:20, where he talks about some who have gone astray and made shipwreck of the faith because of—as it is translated there—‘science falsely so-called’. ‘Science’ there means knowledge, ‘Knowledge falsely so-called’. But that is not the same ‘knowledge’ as we have here in 1 Corinthians 8. There, the problem has reference to a kind of mystical knowledge, and to people claiming that they were receiving some direct knowledge by inspiration; it was the danger of a false mysticism. But here, it is ‘knowledge’ in the sense in which we normally use the term and in which, certainly, it applies to us who are members of this Conference.
There is no need, of course to emphasize the fact that knowledge is all important. We can never know too much. Knowledge is essential, doctrine is vital. The Bible is full of doctrine, and the New Testament particularly so. The epistles are mighty, glorious expositions of doctrine and of truth. The Apostles not only preached the truth but they emphasized the all–importance of a knowledge of the truth. Ultimately most of the troubles in the church, according to the teaching of the epistles, stem somewhere or another from a lack of knowledge and of understanding. Knowledge, therefore, is in and of itself absolutely essential; indeed we must give it priority and see to it that it always comes first. We were reminded of that in the paper which gave an exposition of Dr. John Owen’s teaching on the question of apostasy. Truth came first, you remember, then godliness, and then worship. We are all agreed about that. It is no problem to us. But and this is where our theme comes in—it is possible for us to develop a false notion of knowledge. It is possible for this gift of knowIedge and understanding, which is in many ways God’s most precious gift to us next to the gift of his Son and our salvation, to become a snare to us and a very real danger in our spiritual life. Such was the position in Corinth. It is good for us therefore at the end of this Conference, in which we have been spending so many hours in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding—it is good for us that we should face this possible danger which may be confronting us. I suggest the following treatment of the subject.
The Causes of a False View of Knowledge
First, we must consider the causes of this false view of knowledge. We cannot go into these in detail, but we may divide them into general and particular. Obviously at the back of everything is the adversary. The devil having failed to keep us out of the faith and in a state of ignorance and darkness of the mind, and having seen that we have discovered the danger of a busy activism that may be nothing but a man revolving round himself, suddenly completely changes his tactics. Transforming himself into an angel of light, he drives us to such an extreme in this matter of knowledge as eventually to ensnare us quite as successfully as he ensnares the activist. In other words we are back to a phenomenon with which we are all so familiar—the danger of going violently from one extreme to the other, the danger of over–correction. It seems to be the besetting sin of mankind and one of the most terrible results of the Fall, that there is no thing so difficult as to maintain a balance. In correcting one thing we go to such an extreme as to find ourselves in an equally dangerous position. We are always confronted by the devil, who is ever ready to take the best things and turn them into his own instruments of unrighteousness and to produce the shipwreck of our souls.
A second general cause is, as a well–known proverb reminds us, ‘a little learning’. ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing’. That does not mean, of course, that there is no danger in much knowledge. There is. But I am not sure that in this respect there is not a greater danger in a little, because it always means that the element of the tyro or novice who imagines that his litt1e knowledge is all knowledge comes in. Is it not notorious that first–year students always know much more than final–year students? I leave it at that—the danger that arises from a little learning. But we must give more attention to the third cause which may be a little more controversial. To me, there is a very special danger at this point and in this matter which we are discussing, in reading as against preaching. Perhaps in the age in which we live this is one of the greatest dangers of all. I am asserting that reading is much more dangerous than listening to preaching, and I suggest that a very real danger arises in this connection if a man just spends his time reading and does not come under the power of preaching. What do I mean? I mean something like this. While a man is reading a book there is a sense in which he is in entire control. It depends partly on the book, I know, and if it is beginning to make him feel uncomfortable he can shut it up and go for a walk and—he can do many things. But you cannot do all that when listening to preaching. Of course, you may be rude enough to get up and go out, and some people do so, but on the whole that is not the custom.
Preaching in a sense, therefore, safeguards us from these peculiar dangers that arise from reading only, provided of course that it is true preaching. For when a man is listening to true preaching he comes under the ‘power’ of the truth in a way that he does not when he is only reading. You may or may not like Phillips Brooks’ definition of preaching as ‘truth mediated through personality’, but there is a great deal to be said for it; and the Scriptures give us many illustrations of that. God does use the human personality. Not only that, a preacher not only expounds but also applies the Scriptures, and thereby makes sure that application takes place. When a man reads a book, however, he may never come to application. He can decide to shut the book and stop whenever he likes; there is no insistence on the application. I fear that in this present age, when people are tending to listen less and less to preaching, and preaching becomes shorter and shorter, and our reliance upon reading becomes correspondingly greater, we are therefore more exposed to the danger than our forefathers were. I am not of course denouncing reading, and saying that there should be a ban on all publications! Of course not! I am simply trying to show the dangerous tendency that arises, and asserting the priority and primacy, and the superiority of preaching. We need to be brought under the power of the truth. We do not like that, but it is the business of the preacher to do that, and if he fails to do so, he is a very poor preacher. We always try to evade these conclusions and applications, but the preacher brings them home. He holds us, and makes us face them, and therefore he safeguards us against certain dangers. An age which attaches greater importance to reading than to the preaching of the Word is already in a dangerous position.
But let us pass to particular causes. One is, to take a purely theoretical and academic interest in truth and knowledge, to make knowledge an end in and of itself—the purely theoretical and accademic approach. This is an obvious and well–known danger. I therefore take the general principle for granted, and mention only certain particular illustrations of it here.
I have always felt that it is wrong to hold examinations on Scriptural knowledge, for the reason that it tends to develop this theoretical interest in it. It makes a subject of it, something which you have to learn in order to pass your examination or to get a certain number of marks. It may not happen, I grant, but I am suggesting that the moment you have an examination you have already started this tendency to regard biblical knowledge as a subject in and of itself, like any other subject. I remember lecturing at a certain conference in America in 1932. The conference had been started by a saintly bishop in 1874 for religious people, but it had degenerated, not so much in numbers but in its theology and approach to truth. I found there that the great claim for this conference (and this is how it was advertised) was that it taught any subject in which anybody could be conceivably interested. I also found that item number sixteen on the list of advertised subjects was ‘Religion’. There is an example of this purely academic and theoretical interest in truth you take it up as a subject: chemistry, history, art, religion, theology—knowledge about these matters. And if you have an examination in addition, the whole thing is greatly aggravated.
It is also, and I say this with very real regret, one of the dangers inherent in a study of religious history. I have known three men who have been expert historians on the history of Christianity, the history of the church, and the history of its great men and movements. They have given their whole lives to this, and all three were particularly interested in the 18th century. But what has always amazed me is that though they spent their lives in reading about those glorious revivals of religion and those mighty men of God, it had not touched them at all. To them it was just a subject, a matter of academic and historical interest. They knew all the details, but as for the spirit of the thing, it was as if they had never read about it at all. That, I suggest, is a danger that is always inherent in the historical approach, and is an illustration of this purely theoretical approach.
The same thing can apply also even in the process of studying theology. It can become just a subject set for an examination, or a subject essential to obtaining a certain degree or diploma. And the very fact that this is the system may result in a man viewing the knowledge of God entirely in this way. But even without examinations this is still a possibility. A man can take a purely academic and theoretical interest in theology. I have known many such men. They happen to have had that as their hobby, whereas others turned to crossword puzzles. It was essentially the same approach—there was no question about that at all. It was purely theoretical, and thus it had become this false type of ‘knowledge’. Are we entirely free from this danger?
The second particular cause is that we approach truth purely in terms of intellect—intellect only. There is nothing so dangerous as to isolate the intellect. We are all agreed about the priority of intellect. But there is all the difference in the world between our asserting its priority and talking only about intellect and regarding man as if he were nothing but an intellect. There is nothing that is so calculated to lead a man directly to this ‘false knowledge’, about which the Apostle is speaking, as a purely intellectual interest in truth, in which the heart is never engaged at all and the power of the truth is not felt, indeed in which feeling does not enter at all. The man is merely concerned to absorb knowledge with his mind. And it is precisely the same when the will is not engaged. If the interest does not lead to any action, or move the ill, it is equally bad. We need not stay with this. The text for all this is, of course, Romans 6:17: ‘But God be thanked’, says the Apostle, ‘that ye have obeyed’—will!—‘from the heart’—heart!—‘the form of (sound) doctrine delivered to you’— to the mind. There you have them together. If you isolate the intellect and leave out the heart and the will, it is certain that you will end in this position of having a false view of knowledge, and indeed as I want to show, with false ‘knowledge’ also. To vary the expression, this danger is one of knowing ‘about’ a subject rather than knowing it! What a vital distinction this is. What a difference there is between preaching about the gospel and preaching the gospel! It is possible to preach round the gospel and say things about it without ever presenting it. That is quite useless—indeed it can be very dangerous. It may be true of us that we know ‘about’ these things, but do not really know them. And this, of course, becomes all–important when we realize that the whole end and object of theology is to know God! A Person! Not a collection of abstract truths, nor a number of philosophical propositions, but God! A Person! To knowHim!—‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent!’ There we have what I would regard as the main causes of this trouble...
The Signs and Indications of the Condition of False Knowledge
We come now to the second general heading, the signs and indicaions of this condition. There are certain general signs of this possession of a false knowledge and a false view of knowledge. For instance in such cases, there is always a lack of balance. it is the bit of knowledge that the man happens to have that he is always interested in, and he knows nothing else. So there is lack of balance at once. He has been suddenly attracted by a type or aspect of knowledge, and goes after it. He acquaints himself with this; but he knows nothing else and is lop–sided and lacking in balance. That in turn expresses itself in the use of slogans, cliches, tabloid expressions and phrases which always characterizes this condition. These phrases keep tripping off the tongue; the same catch phrases and slogans always. That is unfailingly indicative of a little knowledge, a lack of true knowledge, and above all of this lack of balance of knowledge.
The Apostle uses the term ‘puffed up’—’Knowledge puffeth up’. What an expression! What does he mean? he is describing a proud man, is he not? Here is a man who thinks he really ‘knows it all’; he is not like those other people, he knows; he is a man of knowledge and understanding. He knows it all! He is not like those others who never read; he is a great reader. And, of course, as a result of this he has arrived, and he is proud of it. ‘Puffed up!’ How do we know that he is proud of his knowledge? Well, he is always parading it. The heavy, important, Puritan gate! The way of speaking and so on! That is a part of the parading that is inevitably one of the manifestations of being ‘puffed up’. How difficult it is to stand erect with all this great weight of knowledge!
It manifests itself also in an impatience of any restraint and any correction; and still more in an impatience with any opposing view. It is intolerant of anything else. It ‘knows’, and nothing else must even be suggested. No opposing view has a right to exist, and must not even be considered. In other words it is a part of this bein g ‘puffed up’. It means ‘arrogance’. The Apostle James knew certain people of th is type, and so he says says, ‘Be not many masters, my brethren’ (James 3: 1). What a terrible thing it must be to have a church with nothing but masters in it. All are authorities, all know everything and ‘all about it’. ‘Be not many masters, my brethren’. But there is always this tendency to feel that you do know, and understand, and, of course, to let it be known. So men arrogate unto themselves positions—and thereby betray themselves.
But still more serious is the way in which this-manifests itself in its attitude to others. That was the trouble in the church at Corinth where these men who were enlightened said, ‘We have knowledge, we know’. The Apostle’s reply was, ‘We know that we all have knowledge’. Now he was there, according to some of the commentators, repeating their own phrase, ‘We have knowledge’. The result was that their attitude to others was one of superiority. They tended to despise others, they were like the Pharisees. They did not boast so much of the good works they did as of their knowledge and their understanding. These others who did not understand, who were not clear about idols—why, they were almost beneath contempt. So they looked down upon them, were inconsiderate towards them and said they were hardly worthy to be considered at all. It may show itself like that. Or it may show itself by just ignoring these others altogether. You ignore them to such an extent that you do not even feel contemptuous toward them, because in a sense they are not there at all! You are so much up in the air and in the clouds yourself that you do not even see them. It is as if they were not there. Then another way in which it manifests itself is in feeling that these other people who are so slow to learn are a hindrance to us. Why should the preacher still be dealing with such simple matters? These men who know so much would like to go on to the great things, but the preacher is always staying there with some preliminaries. There he is, preaching evangelistic sermons every Sunday night, and on Sunday mornings he seems to be thinking that he has many people in his congregation to whom everything has to be explained in great detail. Because of that they are being held back and cannot go on to the great heights. They have long scaled the Alps, why does the preacher not take them to Mount Everest? These other people are just a nuisance and a hindrance with their slowness. Now that was the case in Corinth, and it is the case in many churches today. These men of knowledge want to go on, but they are being held back by these others whom they therefore despise. There it is, displayed in the attitude towards others.
The last sign that I am going to mention, in order that I may pass on to something else, is that in some cases this wrong view of knowledge, and this possession of what is not true knowledge, manifests itself by it’s victim just doing nothing at all; he simply enjoys his ‘knowledge’. He does not seem to be aware of the fact that there is a lost soul anywhere in the world. He spends the whole of his time in reading and if he meets people, in letting them know what he has been reading and in having discussions about Truth. There are sections of the church today, with the world as it is, which never have any contact with the world at all. You never hear of them having a single convert, they do not seem to be aware of the existence of the problems of mankind and the ravages of sin. Why not? Becausethey spend the whole of their time within that circle of theirs, dotting their i’s and crossing the t’s, arguing about their great knowledge, and displaying it to one another. They are thus completely useless and entirely cut off from any kind of activity. We may not know this in it’s extreme form; but I would ask everyone present to examine himself or herself. Have you not found that it is a very easy thing indeed to spend the whole of your time in just reading and adding to your knowledge and building up your understanding, and forgetting all about the sinful world in which you live? It is the peculiar temptation that comes to people of intellect and ability who have realized the importance of knowledge. You can spend the whole of your life in merely adding to your own knowledge or in comparing notes with others who are like yourself.
The Uselessness of False Knowledge
But let us come to the third section which is the uselessness of such supposed knowledge. Look at the way in which the Apostle puts it in the second verse: ‘if any man think that he knoweth anything.’ Well, he says, there is only one thing to say about him—’he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know’; which means pattly, that this man, who is proud of the knowledge that he thinks is his, has not really got any knowledge at all. Is this not obvious? The argument is that if this man has a true knowledge of God he simply could not be like that. So the apostle says, this man who thinks he knows, in fact ‘knows nothing yet as he ought to know’, because if he did know as he ought to know he could not possibly be behaving as he is. This does not need any demonstration; it is a sheer impossibility; he has no true knowledge. He thinks that he has a knowledge of God, but all he has is some kind of knowledge ‘about’ God; it is not a knowledge of God, otherwise he could not possibly be what he is.
Let me put it in the words of the great George Whitefield. He is talking about the Bible:
‘This is my rock, this is my foundation. It is now about thirty–five years since I have begun to read the Bible upon my pillow. I love to read this Book, but the Book is nothing but an account of the promises which it contains, and almost every word from the beginning to the end of it speaks of a spiritual dispensation, and the Holy Ghost that unites our souls to God and helps a believer to say, “My Lord and my God.” If you content you content yourselves with that—[now he means by that, the Bible itself, remember]—if you content yourselves with that, the devil will let you talk of doctrines enough. You shall turn from Arminianism to Calvinism; you shall be orthodox enough, if you will be content to live without Christ living in you (Sermon on Isaiah 60:19, ‘God a Believer’s Glory’).
Note what Whitefield says. If you just go in for that sort of theoretical intellectual knowledge, the devil will let you talk of doctrine enough; you will turn from Arminianism to Calvinism, you shall be orthodox enough, if you will be content to live without Christ living in you. Th e devil does not care at all whether you change from being an Arminian to being a Calvinist if you do not know Christ and if you do not know God. One is as bad as the other. A theoretical Calvinism is of no more value than a theoretical Arminianism—not the slightest. That is what Whitefield is saying. He therefore warns against this because he is concerned about our having the Spirit. And he goes on to say, ‘Now when yo u have got the Spirit, then you may say “God is mine”.’ His point is that any knowledge which falls short of that does not interest the devil at all, because it is not really true knowledge which is going to make a difference to y ou. That is how Whitefield puts it, who was himself a Calvinist and one of the greatest evangelists the world has ever known.
But let me adduce another reason. Why is this such a ridiculous position to be in—this feeling that we really do know and that we have knowledge, this pride in ourselves and this despising of those activities, those busy people who do not know any theology or doctrine, those people of whom we speak in a derogatory manner and whom we more or less dismiss? Why is this so utterly ridiculous? And why is it not areal knowledge at all? The answer is—because of the vastness of the knowledge! What do I mean? The knowledge about which we are speaking is a knowledge of God! All these doctrines are about God! The moment you realize that, you see how impossible it is that a man should be proud of his knowledge. The moment he realizes the endlessness, the vastness of the knowledge, he is bound to realize that he is but a pigmy, a mere beginner, a little child paddling at the edge of the ocean. He thought he was out in the great depths. Great depths! He knows nothing about them, he has been thinking in purely theoretical terms. But when you realize that all this knowledge, everything in the Bible, is meant to bring us to know God, the Everlasting and the Eternal in the Glory and the Majesty of His Being—how can a man be proud of his knowledge when he realizes that that is knowledge about which we are speaking? 0r take the way the Apostle puts it in writing to the Ephesians. He is praying for these Ephesians and he ‘bows his knees unto God the Father.’ What for? Well this, he says: ‘That they, together with all other saints, may come to know the breadth, and the length, and the depth, and the height; and to know the love of God, which passeth knowledge’ (Eph, 3: 18, 19). Think of a little man strutting about because he khows so much, because he has read the Puritans and has read theology and is not like these other people who are ignorant. ‘Puffed up!’ Poor fool, who is not aware of his ignorance—‘heknoweth nothing yet as he ought to know’. If he really had a true knowledge of God he could not be like that. The thing is a sheer impossibility. The endlessness, the vastness of it all!...
In order to emphasize this great truth I felt I could do nothing better than remind you of the experiences of certain men who knew just a little about this knowledge of which I am speaking...Charles Haddon Spurgeon...puts it like this:
All ye that think that you know and have a knowledge of the truth, may the Holy Spirit grant that we may not say a word which is not strictly verified by our experience. But I hope we can say we have had converse with the Divine Father. We have not seen Him at any time, nor have we beheld His shape. It has not been given to us, like Moses, to be put in the cleft of the rock, and to see the back parts, or the train of the invisible Jehovah. But yet we have spoken to Him, we have said to Him, “Abba, Father”. We have saluted Him in that title which came from our very heart, “Our Father, which art in Heaven”. We have had access to Him in such a way that we cannot have been deceived. We have found Him, and through the precious blood of Christ we have come even to His feet. We have ordered our cause before Him, and we have filled our mouth with arguments. Nor has the speaking been all on our side, for He has been pleased to shed abroad by His Spirit His love in our hearts. While we have felt the Spirit of adoption He, on the other hand, has showed us the lovingkindness of a tender Father. We have felt though no sound was ever heard; we have known, though no angelic messenger gave us witness, that His Spirit did bear witness with our spirit that we were born of God. We were embraced of Him—no more at a distance. We were brought nigh by the blood of Christ.” That is real true knowledge of God!....That is what we should understand by knowledge (Sermon on 1 John 1:13, September 15, 1861).
The Tests of True Knowledge
My argument is this, that when we realize that that is the knowledge to which the Bible is meant to bring us and that that is the whole end of theology and the whole purpose of all teaching concerning these matters—when we realize that that is ‘knowledge’, can we possibly feel that we have knowledge and be ‘puffed up’ and boast of ‘our knowledge’ and ‘our learning’ in these matters? The thing is a sheer impossibility.
But let us consider the tests which show whether we have this true knowledge. First and foremost, obviously, is love of God. As the Apostle puts it in verse 3 (1 Cor. 8:3): ‘If any man love God’. That, he says in effect, ‘is knowledge’. In other words, here is the argument. To know God, of necessity, is to love Him. You cannot know God wiithout loving Him’. It is impossible. Why? Because God is love, because of the glory of His Being, because God is who and what He is. If any man really knows God he will be ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’; he will love God. True knowledge always leads to a love of God. If therefore we cannot say that we love God, have we any right to claim any knowledge of God? We can have a great deal of knowledge about Him and concerning Him, we can even apprehend with our minds the full scheme of salvation, but we still may be ignorant of ‘knowledge of God’. ‘This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.’...
Secondly, another way to test knowledge is by the character it produces. ‘Knowledge puffeth up’ says the Apostle,’but charity edifieth’,—builds up? What kind of character does it build up? It is described perfectly in 1 Corinthians 13: ‘Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not, charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.’ That is the character! What are its characteristics? First and foremost, humility. Look at those men in the Bible who have had a glimpse of God. They fall down as ‘dead’. They say with Isaiah, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone!’ Proud of their knowledge and their learning and their superiority? No!—they feel they are unclean and not fit to be there at all, that they are not in a position to criticize anybody because they are so aware of their utter unworthiness. True knowledge invariably leads to humility, and also to holiness and godliness.
What about the attitude to the neighbour? It has been stated perfectly there in 1 Corinthians 13—we will love our neighbour. Our Lord Himself said that it is the second great commandment: ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ And, of course, especially so if he is weak and ignorant. What if he is an Arminian? What if he does not understand doctrines of grace? How are we to treat him? Are we to despise him, are we to dismiss him as a fool, or as a nonentity or as a man who knows nothing—is that to be the attitude? Let me again quote Whfitefield to you: ‘Believers consider Christ’s property in them. He says “My sheep”. Oh, blessed be God for that little, dear, great word ”My!” We are His by eternal election, “the sheep which Thou hast given Me” says Christ. They were given by God theFather, to Christ Jesus in the covenant made between the Father and the Son from all eternity.’ What a noble, wonderful statement of the great doctrine of election, one of the doctrines of grace! But Whitefield goes on: ‘They that are not led to see this, I wish them better heads, though. I believe numbers that are against it have got better hearts. The Lord help us to bear with one another where there is an honest heart!’ There is nothing to be added to that. It is the righ t way to look at it...Oh yes, when a man has this true knowledge he must love his neighbour as himself.’
In other words, to sum it up, what is the result of true knowledge? First: it is that we rejoice in the Lord. My friends, we do not only believe in the Lord “when we know Him, we rejoice in Him. ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice.’ The happiest people in the church ought to be those who know the doctrines of grace. They should not be ‘puffed up’ with their little knowledge, they should be men filled with joy because they know God and something about His love.
Likewise they should have a holy zeal for God’s Name, and resulting from that they should be filled with compassion for the lost. The greatest evangelists the world has ever known have been men who have held the doctrines of grace. Why? Because they have had the greatest knowledge of God. Did you know that this was a fact, that every single person who was involved in the beginning of the great missionary enterprise in the 1790s was what is called a Calvinist? I dislike the use of these labels and extra–biblical terms, but that is a simple fact of history. There is a notion abroad today that a man who holds these doctrines of grace is a man who does nothing, and that he does not believe in evangelism. Why is that notion abroad? Why have people got that notion? Is there something in it? If there is, it means this, that the knowledge we think we have is no knowledge at all. We have got this theoretical, useless knowledge, and it is not a knowledge of God. If a man knows God he will above all others have a zeal for the glory of God and the Name of God. He will want the whole world to come to God, he will be the most active preacher and evangelist of all. He must because his knowledge of God is greater and his compassion for the lost is greater. And, as we know, there was no man in the eighteenth century who was so active, none who laboured so indefatigably as that great George Whitefield from whom I have been quoting.
The man who has true knowledge will be full of compassion for the lost and of zeal for the glory of God. There is no need to prove this, the thing demonstrates itself. lf only we knew Him! That is why the Son came from heaven, to let the world know something about the glory of the Father. He even came into the world and died to do this. And we should know Them—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And as we do so we shall in our little measure produce our Lord’s life and shall be patient as He was patient: ‘A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench.’ God have mercy upon us for the intolerance that often results from our false knowledge, and for the arrogance which is so often displayed. ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ The 1owly Jesus! Let us show that we know God by not only loving God but by loving our neighbour, and especially the lost and those who are weak and feeble and who have fallen by the way, the children in the faith, the beginners, and those who are slow to learn. Let us be patient with them, even as He has been patient with us.
My last word—how are we to get this knowledge? I give you but the bare headings. Bible study! Obviously you start there. But in addition, self–examination. How vital that is! Reading the Bible is not enough. Self examination! How do you examine yourself? If you read your Bible correctly, you will soon discover. Ask yourself questions, apply what you are reading to yourself. Say: ‘This was spoken to a Pharisee, is it true of me?’ and so on. But if you want further help as regards self–examination, read the diaries of men who have truly known God. Jonathan Edwards drew up a list of questions for people to ask themselves. John Fletcher of Madeley did exactly the same thing. You can use them if you like. But however you do it, be sure that you do it. Examine yourself!
Then another thing—and I want to emphasize this—balanced reading! I am concerned about this. I know of nothing that has such a tenndency to produce false knowledge and to make men victims of this false knowledge, as reading which lacks balance. If a man reads nothing but theology, he is exposing himself to this danger. I would therefore advise that we should always balance our reading as we balance our material diet. You should not eat only one kind of food. if you eat nothing but proteins you will soon be ill. You should always have a balanced diet. That principle is equally essential here. ‘What do you mean?’ asks someone. Well, if I may say so with humility, the thing that has been of the greatest help to me has been to balance theological reading with the reading of biographies. That is the best advice I can give. I have always done this: I have always done it on holiday and I have tried to do it day by day. But on holiday in particular I used always to give my mornings to reading some theological work, but I was also careful to read some biography at night. It worked like this. Having read for three or four hours in the morning I felt before lunch that I was quite a considerable man, and that I had a great deal of knowledge which I would be able to display to others. There I was! But I remember very well when I first ‘stumbled’—and I am speaking the truth literally—when I first stumbled across Jonathan Edwards in 1918. 1 had never heard of him before but I began to read him and I soon discovered that you cannot read a page of Jonathan Edwards without feeling very small indeed. It completely corrected what had been happening in the morning. The best antidote to the poison of false knowledge is to read a biography like that of Jonathan Edwards or Whitefield or Fletcher of Madeley...How monstrous, how ridiculous how foolish it is to think that we know these things, that we have a knowledge of God simply because we have garnered a certain amount of intellectual and theoretical and academic information! ‘Grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.’ Can we say with Spurgeon that we know what it is to be ‘embraced’ by Him? Have we ever really been there in His presence in a ‘sensible’ way—using the term ‘sensible’ as the Puritans used it? To ‘know and feel’ that God is near!
What is the value of all the knowledge we may have if we are ignorant of that! ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.’ (I Cor. 13: 2). May God preserve us from this ‘false knowledge’ which is not knowledge but a counterfeit, and which is finally useless!
This article is an excerpt from an article appearing in the book The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors published by Banner of Truth. This volume brings together the addresses given by Dr. Lloyd–Jones at the Puritan Studies and Westminster Conferences held in London, England between 1959 and 1978.
i'm thinking it will do me some good. i don't have the best eating habits and i could stand to lose a few pounds. i'm not getting any younger and if i want to keep getting into the mosh pits i'd probably be well served watching what i eat a little better.
One often hears the accusation that Calvinism is less a product of careful exegesis than of philosophical deduction (see, for example, the comments of Clark Pinnock in his article, "From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology," in The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism [Zondervan, 1989], 21). Arminians, we are told, derive their view from Scripture whereas Calvinists impose theirs upon it. If anything, the opposite is true, as I hope this examination of Philippians 2:12-13 will illustrate.
Arminians typically assume that the antecedence of divine sovereignty empties subsequent human effort of any spiritual significance. If foreknowledge or predestination or foreordination or any other act of God is causally antecedent to human activity, the latter is rendered morally vacuous.
The obvious trouble with this view is that it lacks biblical warrant. No text of which I am aware says any such thing. This philosophical assumption is based on what the Arminian considers "intellectually reasonable." It is brought to the text as a pre-exegetical criterion to be used in deciding what a passage will be allowed to say. When confronted with texts that simultaneously assert the antecedence of divine sovereignty and the significance of human behavior, Arminians recoil, insisting that such is at best theologically contradictory and at worst morally devastating.
Interestingly, neither God nor the authors of Scripture seem bothered by what agitates Arminians. A case in point is the well-known comment by Paul in Philippians 2:12-13. Here Paul writes:
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
This passage is an explicit denial of the aforementioned Arminian assumption. Here Paul asserts the urgency of responsible human behavior based on the antecedence of divine causality. In other words, it is because (note the "for" with which v. 13 begins) God is already at work in our hearts to enable us both to desire and to do his will that we are commanded to "work out" our salvation with fear and trembling.
Not everyone, however, believes this passage may be used in the way I propose. Gerald Hawthorne, for example, in his otherwise excellent commentary on Philippians, argues that "Paul is not here concerned with the eternal welfare of the soul of the individual. . . . Rather the context suggests that this command is to be understood in a corporate sense. The entire church, which had grown spiritually ill (cf. 2:3-4), is charged now with taking whatever steps are necessary to restore itself to health and wholeness" (98). In other words, the focus of Paul's exhortation, says Hawthorne, is more sociological than theological (both Peter O'Brien and Moises Silva in their respective commentaries on Philippians provide an extensive refutation of this view).
Those who endorse this interpretation base it on five points. First, Paul's rebuke of the Philippians for their selfish disregard of others (2:3-4) makes it unlikely that he would reverse himself (in 2:12-13) by urging them to focus on their individual salvation. This is hardly convincing, for it falsely assumes that concern for salvation is tantamount to selfishness. Philippians 2:12-13 does not contradict the call to cultivate those virtues of service and humility urged on the readers in Philippians 2:1-4. An exhortation to be diligent in holiness (vv. 12-13) is hardly a reversal of a prohibition against selfishness (vv. 3-4). Indeed, one can hardly think of a better way of responding to the rebuke of vv. 3-4 than by obeying the exhortation of vv. 12-13.
Moises Silva also insightfully points out that "Gal. 6:1-5 shows how easily Paul can move from the need for spiritual self-concern ('looking to yourselves,' v. 1) to concern for others ('bear one another's burdens,' v. 2) and back again ('let each one examine his own work,' v. 4)" (120).
Hawthorne's second argument is based on his interpretation of the verb translated "work out." Paul, says Hawthorne, "in effect commands the Philippians to keep working and never let up until their 'salvation' is achieved" (98). But this is compatible with the view I'm defending so long as we remember that the effort encouraged in v. 12 is energized by the promise of v. 13. Also, the "salvation" Paul has in view is not restricted to justification. We must remember that although we have already been saved (Eph. 2:5; Titus 3:5) there is a sense in which we are still being saved (Romans 5:9-10; 1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5; 2 Tim. 4:18). As Silva points out, "because salvation in its entire scope necessarily includes the manifestation of righteousness in our lives, it follows that our activity is integral to the process of salvation" (121).
Third, Hawthorne contends that since both the verb ("work out") and the reflexive pronoun ("your own") are plural, Paul has in view a corporate rather than individual responsibility. But a plural verb does not preclude reference to individual obligation. Virtually every command in the New Testament is plural (see Phil. 2:14,16,18 for three examples in this same chapter) because the epistles are addressed to the entire church. And what is the corporate church if not a collection of individuals on each of whom the obligation falls? And what is "corporate responsibility" if not each Christian, in his or her mutual relationship with and dependence on every other Christian, working out his or her salvation with fear and trembling? Therefore, I agree with O'Brien that the plurals "work out" and "your own" indicate that "all the believers in Philippi are to heed this apostolic admonition; it is common action that is in view rather than corporate" (279).
Related somewhat to the preceding point is the argument (the fourth of five) that Paul actually says, in v. 13, that God is at work "among" the Philippians (i.e., "in their midst"), not "in" them, again, as if a corporate rather than individual divine operation is in view. But "one must ask," notes Silva, "how it is that God works in the midst of people if not through personal transformation. To state that the passage refers not to individual salvation but to the church's well-being already assumes a conceptual dichotomy that is both false and lethal" (119). As 1:19 and 1:27 indicate, "personal sanctification takes place precisely in the context of the Christian community" (119). Silva also points out that "in" you is the far more likely rendering, given the parallel in 2 Cor. 4:12 (cf. also Eph. 1:20; Col. 1:29; Rom. 7:5; 1 Cor. 12:6).
Fifth, Hawthorne defines "salvation" as "health" or "wholeness," that is, the spiritual well-being of the church at Philippi in which selfishness and dissension are eliminated. Aside from the fact that the Greek word soteria more readily means spiritual salvation in the traditional Pauline sense (cf. 1:28), what is "health" or "wholeness" if not another way of describing the sanctification of individual believers in their mutual relationships with others in the body of Christ? And is not sanctification one among the many elements in our salvation through faith in the Son of God?
Silva also points out "that out of nearly twenty occurrences of this noun ["salvation" = soteria] in the Pauline corpus, not one instance requires the translation 'well being'; the vast majority require – and all of them admit – the theological sense" (119-20).
I see no reason, then, to doubt that Paul's exhortation is "to common action, urging the Philippians to show forth the graces of Christ in their lives, to make their eternal salvation fruitful in the here and now as they fulfill their responsibilities to one another as well as to non-Christians" (O'Brien, 280).
Of primary concern to us is the basis on which Paul issues his command. "Work out your salvation," says Paul, "for (gar) it is God who works in you" to provide both the incentive and the strength to do that which is eminently pleasing to him. Far from undermining the responsible activity of the believer, God's sovereignty is its inspiration!
Paul unashamedly asserts that antecedent or prior divine causality is the foundation on which Christian men and women actively and responsibly build the superstructure of holiness. He does not believe that the causal priority of divine power enervates the decision making of man. In fact, God's sovereign power sustains it by reassuring us that our efforts, if undertaken in the strength that the Spirit supplies, will not prove vain. The hope for working out our salvation in all its varied dimensions is grounded in the help of God's working in us the will and the wherewithal to pursue his good pleasure.
Again, the causal priority of divine "in-working" in no way precludes the moral significance of human "out-working". The former makes the latter possible. Each impulse and act of the human heart may be traced to the prior operation of divine power without in any way diminishing its moral value. The urgent call for responsible human "doing" follows and flows out of the assurance of a divine "done".
A closer look at Paul's language supports this understanding. The theological foundation and explanation for what we do in the flowering of our salvation is the dynamic activity of God (ho energon = the One who powerfully works) in us. Thus "there is no suggestion of any division of labour between God and the Philippians, and so it is inappropriate to speak of synergism" (O'Brien, 280).
The present infinitive "to will" (thelein, v. 13) denotes a volitional resolve on the part of the Christian. God energizes the mind and heart of the believer to want his will. Paul does not explain how this transformation occurs, but we may reasonably assume that the Holy Spirit creates in us a desire and a love for that which, prior to regeneration, we spurned and hated.
God also energizes the believer to do what he wills. The present infinitive "to do" (energein, v. 13) indicates that God's work in us brings to effectual fruition the behavioral end toward which one's will is inclined. In other words, the continuous and sustained "working out" of the Christian is the gracious product of the continuous and sustained "working in" of God. We not only desire but actually do by virtue of the dynamic, antecedent activity of God in our souls. It is not that God does it for us, in our place, as if to say that because he "wills" and "does" we don't need to. Rather Paul's thought is that God supplies and infuses the motivation and energy so that we, through that divine power, will do what is eminently pleasing to him.
Clearly, there is no room for synergism in Paul's thinking. But neither is there a place for human passivity, for as J. I. Packer reminds us, "the Holy Spirit's ordinary way of working in us is through the working of our own minds and wills. He moves us to act by causing us to see reasons for moving ourselves to act. Thus our conscious, rational selfhood, so far from being annihilated, is strengthened, and in reverent, resolute obedience we work out our salvation, knowing that God is at work in us to make us '. . . both . . . will and . . . work for his good pleasure'" (Keep in Step with the Spirit, 156).
Any suggestion, then, that the priority or antecedence of divine causality nullifies the moral urgency of human behavior is not biblical. Paul certainly did not believe it. Neither should we.
J. R. Irvin: The Holy Mushroom: Evidence of Mushrooms in Judeo-Christianity: A critical re-evaluation of the schism between John M. Allegro and R. Gordon Wasson ... in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross