Reviving the Complacent Church

Among the suffocating tsunami of lukewarm, sugar-coated, self-help lectures, talks, and messages that ooze like festering leperous sores from countless vapid pulpits (which exist solely to entertain the goats and tickle their itching ears), every now and then a voice pierces that arrogant, self-aggrandizing world of Churchianity to deliver a hard, sobering sermon that the starving sheep are desperate to hear and be nourished on.

This is one of those sermons.

The Almost Christian DIscovered

The Almost Christian Discovered

By Matthew Mead, 1661 

A review by Stuart Brogden

This is a review of the 20th century reprint of Mead’s book, with a foreword by John MacArthur. The second sentence in his forward tells us that this book “reveals the force and fervor of Puritan spirituality as vividly as any work” he knew. Ask the early settlers of New England about the “force and fervor of Puritan spirituality” and you may want to ask what was Mac thinking.

Mead’s goal in writing this book, which Mac and I agree with, is that it is far too easy for people to think they are Christians when they know nothing of Christ and exhibit no fruit of His Spirit within. As I heard a fella remark recently, when Jesus saves a person, He changes a person. Mead says he intends no anxiety for the saint; his intention is to cause the “almost Christian” to examine himself. He asks the Christian if the state of the world is grievous to you (page 20) and tells the hypocrite to “read and tremble; for thou are the man here pointed at.” (page 21)

Our author introduces Agrippa (page 27) as an almost Christian, as well as the foolish virgins (page 35) and the rich young ruler (page 33) and he tells us (page 29), the “saint may almost perish but certainly be saved; the hypocrite may almost be saved yet perish.” And he goes on to tell us (page 40) “there can be no grace without knowledge, yet there may be much knowledge without grace.” This contrast between two categories of people is found throughout Scripture and it is good for people in both categories to understand them.

Throughout the book, Mead sets up contrasts to show these things more clearly. We are reminded again and again that attitudes and behavior can be evidences of saving faith, but they are not proofs thereof. This is the central theme of the book. The almost Christian may: be trembling at the Word (page 74), delighting in the Word (page 75), belonging to a church (page 77), confessing sin (page 59), have hope in heaven (page 78), and engage in behavior modification (page 82) and not be a Christian! Would you not agree? Any concerned pagan can do these things and not be in Christ.

And yet this same author, in this same book, says (page 43) that people who preach, pray, and serve people in the church have spiritual gifts and not be a Christian; that a man can have the Holy Spirit within (page 100) and not be a Christian. Mead develops this idea, conflating the spirit coming upon or speaking to a person (such as Balaam) with the Spirit indwelling a person. He claims Judas was indwelt by the Spirit because he cast out demons and says a man may have the Spirit “transiently, not absolutely.” The Spirit may be in a man yet not dwell in the man. “The common work of the Spirit” doesn’t save (page 126). Is it proper to say that the spirit that moves a man to do religious things but does not save is the Holy Spirit? I think such false actions are the work of the spirit of the age!

There is also a theme of perfectionism weaved through this book. In pointing out the dangers of what I would call false confessions, Mead (pages 62 & 63) seems to be saying that sinlessness is the mark a saint yet says (page 70) that Christians have regenerate and unregenerate parts in them. We are told (pages 131 & 132) that the one who loves God with his whole heart, soul, and strength is a Christian. Is it just me that has problems with truly being totally devoted to Christ? Mead would have me think so! He follows this thread, telling us (page 159) man must give all to God or not be saved. Pressuring people to confess these things makes them lie about their condition and makes them disciples of John Wesley rather than of Christ. Our ever present lack of perfection is meant to remind us of our ever present need of Christ – His mercy and grace that He freely gives the children of God. Isaiah was a godly man, but when he got a good glimpse of God, he was reminded how sinful he yet was. This is our condition – redeemed but not yet glorified.

Mead says (page 161) that none are excluded from the kingdom of God unless they exclude themselves. Does this mean people are in the Lamb’s Book unless they rub their own names out? He goes on to develop a works-based justification. This was noted early on as he said (page 43), “to know, to practice what we know – that is gospel-duty. This makes a man a complete Christian.” He tells us (page 207) that we must first show man his sin, then his Savior; calling this the “constant method of God.” I used to believe this, but a study of the effective call in Scripture shows some people are confronted with their sin (sometimes using the law to do so), but not all are. It’s simply incorrect to call it the “constant method of God.”

Our author gives us good counsel on what a Christian looks like, telling us (page 136) “the Christian disclaims self and Christ is most advanced.” Amen! Do we promote self or the Lord Jesus? And he leaves us (page 205-6) with another contrast that should settle down into our souls: “The saint’s peace is a peace with God, but not with sin; the sinner’s peace is a peace with sin, but not with God.” Let’s end with that – it’s so much better than some of the stuff this Puritan has written. It is needful for each of us to examine himself and see – with Whom or what do I have peace?

May the God of peace rule your life!

Battle Plans

Battle Plan Battle Plan

A review by Stuart Brogden

David W. Saxton’s God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is a tightly-packed synthesis of Puritan thoughts on biblical meditation from more than 3 dozen books. In twelve chapters, he covers several important topics, such as defining the difference between biblical mediation and unbiblical meditation. But first, he wants to show us the joy of developing the habit of meditating on the Word of God and throughout the book he shows the pitfalls of being negligent and the nourishment to our souls we gain by persisting in getting the most of our relationship with our Lord and Savior.

What does it mean to meditate? It means to think personally, practically, seriously, and earnestly on how the truth of God’s Word should look like in life.” (page 2) That is helpful in our world in which so many endorse and practice pagan meditation. Saxton reminds us that God has designed us and ordained His Word to be compatible – we find comfort and relief when we are close to Him; we find our Who He is and how we draw close in His Word. “God has chosen primarily to help us deal with discouragements and sin by applying divines truth to our minds. … Biblical meditation on Scripture acts as a believer’s medicine because God’s Spirit always uses the balm of His truth to provide lasting comfort and help.” (page 3) If believers do not spend time and effort in the Word of God, contemplating its truth and application to him, he will be drawn aside to lesser things and be weakened rather than strengthened.

On page 8, our author quotes Philippians 4:8-9 as an example of how God shows proper biblical meditation. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (ESV) He then tells us (page 9), “This passage pronounces a blessing not on those who merely know God’s will, but rather on those who have put His will into everyday practice by dwelling on God’s truth.”

One aspect of this book that grew somewhat tedious for me is the sheer quantity and concentration of quotes from the Puritans. Many pages have 6 to 8 quotes, with sentences and paragraphs peppered with footnotes; often taking more space than Saxton uses. While it is good to read the thoughts of these long-gone saints, it is a bit distracting for so many quotes to be used in short space. But let’s get on with the book!

In advocating biblical mediation, Saxton (pages 28 & 29) tells us that the Bible is full of admonitions for God’s people to remember – as a form of mediation. “Revelation 2:5 demonstrates that this kind of meditation is actually the first step towards evangelical repentance: “Remember therefore from when thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove they candlestick out of his place – unless thou repent.” “Remember” is the word mnamoneuo, which means “to recall information from memory.” The word does not suggest that a person has actually forgotten. Rather, it commands the believer to recall or to think about again.” I would add that this word also conveys the notion of being told to not forget something, to bear in mind – as when your mother would you to remember to bring your coat home from school. Still on page 29, we are given Thomas Hooker’s definition of biblical meditation, one I think worth meditating on: “Meditation is a serious intention of the mind whereby we come to search out the truth, and settle it upon the heart.” While I think this is an excellent definition, I am weary of present day duality of heart and mind – as if one’s heart (pointing to the chest) is what the Bible means by this term, rather than “heart” being a Hebrew metaphor for the seat of one’s being – the soul, which includes our mind.

In chapters 4 and 5, Saxton explores “occasional meditation” and “deliberate meditation”, showing from the Puritans and the Word of God how unplanned, near-spontaneous contemplation of some attribute of God is as valuable as planned study and prayer and pondering the Word. Occasional meditation ought to fill our minds during the day, rather than our routine absorption of cultural media and the attending thoughts it stimulates. We are cautioned to be on guard against the mystical practice of Rome and others with regards to occasional meditation, but also to persist in training ourselves to think on and ponder the Word of God and how it applies to our daily lives throughout our days. We are urged to memorize Scripture as a safe guard for our thought-life. That’s good advice – I dare most of us are not taking it! Deliberate meditation is pressed on us as necessary for spiritual life – if we do not make plans to read, study, pray over, and ponder God’s Word, our sinful minds will fill us with fleshly desires. I am an advocate of making time early in the day, the calibrate my thinking with the Scriptures before I engage the world. Many of the Puritans agree with me, but they also recognize the danger of dictating specifics to others – some may function better later in the day. So each man must be convinced in his own mind.

William Bridge taught that meditation on the Word should be divided into four parts. The believer must consider the exactness of the commandment, the faithfulness of the promise, the terror of the threatening, and the weightiness of the examples.” (page 62) This I see as excellent counsel. Far too many Christians have a casual attitude towards the Word of God, actually caring not for various passages that do not conform to their presuppositions. Encouraging Christians to ever trust God, Saxton sums up a Puritan view: “In His wise and perfect dealings, the Lord sometimes causes His people to experience unusual times of joy, sorrow, decision, or change. These are all His divine gifts to turn the believer’s heart to seriously consider God’s dealings to gain His perspective from His Word.” If we grasp the truth of the sovereignty of God, we will embrace this idea – nothing we encounter is “happenstance”; all is God’s providential care, an expression of His kindness towards us. There is excellent teaching on choosing subjects to meditate upon – from sin and death to eternity to hell, and God’s rescue of His people. Our author quotes Thomas Watson (page 93): “Meditation on hell would rejoicing in a child of God … Christ Himself has felt the pain of hell for you. The Lamb of God being roasted in the fire of God’s wrath, by this burnt-offering the Lord is now appeased toward His people. Oh how may the godly rejoice!” Do we see the Lord in this light? Do we begin to comprehend how blessed we are by NOT having to face God’s wrath?

As with all things, Saxton and the Puritans see the main focus of meditation being to bring glory to God. How much of our prayer life is fleshly? Physical healing is always needed – but how often at church prayer meetings do we hear moans and weeping over spiritual matters? Is the eternal destiny of our family and friends as important as losing 10 pounds or getting a higher paying job? Do we recognize how desperately we need God’s grace this day? He quotes Henry Scudder (page 100) – “when you arise and dress yourself, lose not that precious time (when your mind is freshest) with impertinent and fruitless thoughts…. This is a fit time to think about why you have need of apparel.” The Fall affects everything in this age. I heard a pastor remark that every time a dog barks, he is reminding us that our race caused him and all creation to be cursed. We messed it up – not the dogs that God was kind enough to give us as companions. Do we admit to being Adam’s offspring, in need of the last Adam’s righteousness and thankful for His submission to the Father in all things? That is a good thing to meditate upon!

In chapter 10 we are given the benefits of meditation: it deepens repentance; increase resolve to fight sin; inflames heart affection for the Lord; increase growth in grace; provides comfort and assurance to the soul; creates a life of joy, thankfulness, and contentment; deepens and matures a Christian’s experience; and improves the knowledge and retention of God’s Word. That’s quite a list! Any one of these benefits is more than enough to show any child of God that he should spend more time and mental energy consuming and pondering the Word of God and how, now, he should live. None of us has “arrived” nor will any of us do so in this age. Brothers and sisters – we need these benefits and others who have gone before us bid us drink deeply from the fount of God’s Word to gain them. If you and I are honest, we admit we have no excuse for our negligence in pursuing godliness. Saxton calls upon the Puritans to speak to this in chapter 11 – Enemies of Meditation.

But there are a couple things in chapter 10 that must be highlighted, showing us that neither Saxton nor his beloved Puritans had it all together, either. First up, a short quote from Thomas Watson, a very credible witness for the Lord – but not perfect. Saxton quotes Watson from Heaven Taken by Storm (pages 106 – 107): “If only people meditated on the damnableness of sin … they would break off … sinning and become new creatures.” This is cobbled together from a short paragraph from Watson’s pen:

Meditation produceth reformation, Psalm cxix. 59. ‘I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.’ Did but people meditated on the damnableness of sin; did but they meddled with it, there is a rope at the end of it, which will hang them eternally in hell, they would break off a course of sinning, and become new creatures. Let all this persuade us to holy meditation. I dare be bold to say that if men would spend but one quarter of an hour every day in contemplating heavenly objects, it would leave a mighty impression upon them, and, through the blessing of God might prove the beginning of a happy conversion.

First, let’s all agree that spending time humbly before God as revealed in Scripture will cause reformation within the Christian. But can pondering sin and stopping any one or several of them actually cause a child of wrath to be born again and adopted by God? Mr. Watson had this backwards! God is the One who works transformation by raising a spiritually dead person to new life, becoming a new creature in Christ – not by any works on the part of the creature, for then we would have cause to boast in our flesh! God works reformation in the lives of His people, as we all are on a journey of becoming more conformed to Christ and need His Spirit working within us to make it so. These two things are not the same. From other things written by Watson, I think he knew this – but his writing and thinking (like mine) is not perfect. And he errs in this instance.

Secondly, after quoting Jonathan Edwards (page 110), Saxton says, “Meditation causes believers to grow in grace because it allows the word of His grace to minister a genuine building up of the soul.” (emphasis mine) We must always be on guard with how we characterize the Creator. He does not need our permission or cooperation to work His grace in our lives. He does instruct and equip us to cooperate with Him in this endeavor, but we do not allow Him to work His grace in our lives. Our brother would serve us better by saying that meditation promotes the Word of His grace to build up our soul.

Sanctification (which all of what this book discusses fit within) is a curious process. Unlike justification, sanctification is not monolithic. And while we are encouraged to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our ongoing sanctification, there are times in each believer’s life that He sanctifies us without our cooperation. Praise the Lord that He does not grow weary or negligent in His work, though we may be from time-to-time! But note this – apart from the Spirit working in us, we cannot sanctify ourselves. Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Game, point, match.

Last gripe – in the last chapter, careless language once again inserts an unbiblical image that has been promoted and abused by many, though I do not think this is Saxton’s intention. On page 130, Saxton tells us: “Our deceitful hearts seek to convince us that we have the innate ability to live the Christian life in our own power. Only humble prayer can drive out that evil spirit.” Two things are evident in this short quote: He contradicts himself, telling us rightly we cannot live the Christian life in our power, then telling us how to do so! Then he tells us that sin in us is an evil spirit. Accepting this image without realizing God’s truth leaves us open to being misled. Bob Larson has made untold sums of money playing on the fears of those who do not know the Lord or who are ignorant of the fact that if the Spirit of the living God indwells us, no evil spirit can therein abide. Though our flesh is affected and afflicted by indwelling sin, our soul is perfectly righteous and “possessed” by the Spirit of God. Only lost persons can have an evil spirit within them. That should make us thankful yet again to be found in Christ!

To conclude (lest I go on too long, as is my wont), this is a most excellent book, much needed in every church and by every child of God – for who does not need more grace and closeness with our Lord? Saxton tells us (page 131), “normal Christian growth can be a messy, painful, and imperfect struggle. Yet, just the same, it is a struggle worth fighting.” In his conclusion, he tells us, “The believer’s ultimate purpose is to glorify God through becoming more life Jesus Christ (Rom 8:28-30; 2 Cor 3:18). … This process of progressive sanctification is all of the Lord’s grace, yet it is a duty in which God’s people are responsible to participate.” “Find your greatest delight in life in the presence of Christ though His Word.” (page 137)

The lady in the rose garden.

Lady in the Rose Garden

A lesson for all of us to consider from the puritan Joseph Meade:

I once walked into a garden with a lady to gather some flowers. There was one large bush whose branches were bending under the weight of the most beautiful roses. We both gazed upon it with admiration. There was one flower on it which seemed to outshine all the rest in beauty. This lady pressed forward into the thick bush, and reached far over to pluck it. As she did this, a black snake, which was hid in the bush, wrapped itself round her arm. She was alarmed beyond all description; she ran from the garden, screaming, and almost in convulsions. During all that day she suffered very much with fear. Her whole body trembled, and it was a long time before she could be calmed. That lady is still alive. Such is her hatred now of the whole serpent race, that she has never since been able to look at a snake, even a dead one. No one could ever persuade her to venture again into a cluster of bushes, even to pluck a beautiful rose.

Now this is the way the sinner acts who truly repents of his sins. He thinks of sin as the serpent that once coiled itself around him. He hates it. He dreads it. He flees from it. He fears the places where it inhabits. He does not willingly go into the haunts. He will no more play with sin than this lady would afterwards have fondled snakes.

Quotes (891)

Holiness has a mighty influence upon others. When this appears with power in the lives of Christians, it works mightily upon the spirits of men; it stops the mouths of the ungodly . . . . I am sure we have found, by woeful experience, that in these debauched times, when religion is so bespattered with frequent scandals, yes, a general looseness of professors, it is hard to get any to come into the net of the Gospel. . . . If they were but holy and exemplary, they would be as a repetition of the preacher’s sermon to the families and neighbors among whom they converse, and would keep the sound of his doctrine continually ringing in their ears.

– William Gurnall

1617 – 1679

Quotes (881)

When we consider the very being of God, we find ourselves so far from the true knowledge of it that we cannot come up with the right words and expressions. As we seek to meditate in our minds and frame thoughts about God as we do about other objects of thinking, we fall so far short that we make an idol in our mind and worship a god of our own making, and not the true God that has made us. We may as well hew Him out of wood or stone as form Him as a being in our minds, suited to our imaginations. The best thoughts of the being of God are ones in which we realize that we cannot truly comprehend Him as He is.

– John Owen

1616 – 1683

Quotes (880)

Samuel Annesley We naturally love our ease, and would have nothing befall us that is grievous to flesh and blood; and gracious persons pray and strive to prevent and remove afflictions. But yet the experience of all, good and bad, in all ages of the world, proclaims this upon the housetops, that more have got good by afflictions than by being without them. . . . There is more danger in freedom from affliction than we are willing to suspect; and it is more difficult to love and fear and trust God when we have the world, than when we want it. . . . Why, then, is an afflicted condition to be preferred? Some that have had experience of both say that they have been afraid to be without their afflictions.

– Samuel Annesley

1620 – 1696

Jonathan Edwards taught “Salvation by Works”!!!

All the “Easy-Believers®” who want to toss men like John MacArthur and Paul Washer under the bus for teaching that the life of a true Christian will be radically different from a Non-Christian because the believer’s life will be marked by repentance from sin, obedience to Christ, and “fruits worthy of repentance”–these “Easy-Believers®” will also have to consign the great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards to the same fate.

***SARCASM ALERT!!!***

Quotes (802)

Stephen Charnock Study God in the creatures as well as in the Scriptures. The primary use of the creatures, is to acknowledge God in them; they were made to be witnesses of Himself and His goodness, and to be heralds of His glory, whose glory of God as Creator “shall endure forever” (Psalm 104:31). . . .  Nature is not contrary to Scripture, nor Scripture to nature; unless we should think God contrary to Himself who is the Author of both.

– Stephen Charnock

1628 – 1680