Notes from Owen on Mortification

owenHere’s some notes I took from vol 6 of John Owen’s magisterial works – might powerful stuff:

Owen, Mortification of Sin, Works 6

Rom 8:13 – if you mortify the deeds of the body you shall live, if you live after the flesh you will die

  • “The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh” (p9)
  • “Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained” (p40)
  • Necessity of renewing grace, not just restraining grace (distinction between common grace and saving grace, or diff between being morally restrained and supernaturally changed) (p47)
  • “What gospel principles do not, legal motives cannot” (p48)
  • “What can i say to dear Lord Jesus? How shall i hold my head with any boldness before him? Do i account communion with him of so little value, that for this vile lust’s sake i have scarce left him any room in my heart? (p58)
  • “Rise mightily against the first actings of thy distemper…suffer it not to get the least ground…If it have allowance for one step, it will take another…It is like water in a channel, – if it once break out it will have its course…Consider what an unclean thought would have; it would have thee roll thyself in folly and filth.” (p62)

Owen, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of it, Works 6

Matt 26:41 – Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation
  •  “That very temptation, which at one time hath little or no power on a man, – he can despise it, scorn the motions of it, easily resist it, – at another, bears him away quite before it.” (p98)
  • “Adam was the “son of God,” Luke iii.38, created in the image of God, full of that integrity, righteousness, and holiness, which might be and was an eminent resemblance of the holiness of God. He had a far greater inherent stock of ability than we, and had nothing in him to entice or seduce him; yet this Adam no sooner enters into temptation but he is gone, lost, and ruined, he and all his posterity with him. What can we expect in the like condition, that have not only in our temptations, as he had, a cunning devil to deal withal, but a cursed world and a corrupt heart also?” (p103)
  • “A temptation will so possess and fill the mind with thoughtfulness of itself and matter of it, that it will take off from that clear consideration of things which otherwise it might and would have[Hos 4:11] (p109)
  • “It [temptation] will lay the reins on the neck of a lust, and put spurs to the sides of it, that it may rush forward like a horse into the battle” (p110)
  • “Now, by this means temptation gets so deep in the heart that no contrary reasonings can reach unto it; nothing by what can kill the lust can conquer the temptation. Like leprosy that hath mingled itself with the wall, the wall itself must be pulled down, or the leprosy will not be cured”(p113)
  • Sin is Satan-glorifying – “Consider the end of any temptation; this is Satan’s end and sin’s end, – that is the dishonour of God and the ruin of our souls.” (p114)
  • “Seeing we have so little power over our hearts when once they meet with suitable provocations, we are to keep them asunder, as a man would do fire and the combustible parts of the house wherein he dwells” (p133)

Christian ‘balance’ requires a bias toward evangelism

imbalanceWe unashamedly bang on about evangelism all the time at Grace. Some of our folk get frustrated sometimes – they feel it’s all we seem to talk about. And they’re probably right. We intentionally bias toward those far from Christ in our talk, prayers, and strategy. Why? Listen to these words from Kathy Keller’s 2013 article ‘How to be Happy at Redeemer’:

we must always remind ourselves that we inside the church are not to put our own likes, dislikes, priorities and personal agendas ahead of the needs of those outside the church. This is difficult to the point of being nearly impossible, as the needs and desires of members (for programs and budget and training and attention from leaders) will always be more visible and voluble than the needs of people who aren’t even there and mostly are unable to articulate their spiritual needs.


Did you get that? It is ‘difficult to the point of being nearly impossible’ to keep the church outward focused. The needs of those already inside clamour noisily. If the leaders don’t shout loud about evangelism few others will. We’re naturally turned in ourselves – our wants, our needs, our desires, which means that, strange as it may sound, balance requires bias. If we intentionally bias toward evangelism, given our natural bent inwards, we might come close to something like balance. That’s hard and uncomfortable as it doesn’t come naturally. Leaders need to hold their nerve and resist the country club mentality. Listen to Kathy’s conclusion:

The corollary, of that, friends, is that we must all be prepared to accept a certain level of dissatisfaction with some aspects of Redeemer, if those are the result of our outward-facing stance. In fact, you will only be happy at Redeemer if your first priority is not your own happiness, but the joy of seeing skeptical people encounter the gospel and be brought to new life in Christ. Compared to that we must consider our complaints about not having things all our way as insignificant.

Ignatius of Antioch: Anglican, Presbyterian, or something else?

IgnatiusIn the course of our guided reading group we’ve reached the sessions on the church – it’s nature and governance. In addition to the usual Grudem reading I’ll be getting our readers to look at two early letters written by Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians and Magnesians. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch in the early 2nd c. and was (so it’s claimed) a student of the apostle John. It was on his way to martyrdom in Rome, he wrote six letters. His chief aim in the letters was to tell his audience to resist heresy. The reason for sustained interest in his letters is Ignatius’ references to the threefold office – the episokopos, the presbytery, and the diaconate. The churches combat heresy by submitting to their bishop, and to their presbytery, and to their diaconate. Here’s a snippet from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians (chapter 6):

I advise you, be ye zealous to do all things in godly concord, the bishop (επισκοπου) presiding after the likeness of God (εις τοπον θεου) and the presbyters (πρεσβυτερων) after the likeness of the council of the Apostles (εις τοπον συνεδριου των αποστολων), with the deacons (διακονων) also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate (διακονιαν) of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the worlds and appeared at the end of time.

So what to make of this? Ignatius’ writings are not Scripture so are not infallible, but this is, nonetheless, a fascinating early example of church governance from someone with links to an apostle. So it could be evidence of how the apostles envisaged church government taking place, or it could be evidence of how quickly things can go wrong. Let’s suppose Ignatius is on the right track – is this evidence for something akin to contemporary Anglicanism or Presbyterianism. Not necessarily. Reading the letters in full gives a sense of what these roles entailed. The bishop seems to have been a local, on the ground, leader/preacher/pastor of a church in a particular location (i.e. Ephesus). That larger church may have been made up of house churches/home groups but the episkopos doesn’t seem to be over more than one local church – he’s a pastor. The presbyters seem to be a plurality of elders who work with, and follow the lead of, the episkopos. The deacons role is more vague, but seems to look like practical service. So I think Ignatius’ model looks like a senior pastor (episkopos) looking after a local church alongside a plurality of elders and deacons, and that local church submits to, and follows, the rule of the office-bearers. So, Ignatius does identify a threefold office, but one that is perhaps closer to contemporary free church models than contemporary episcopal or presbyterian. Thoughts?


The Future of Protestantism and ‘Reformational catholicism’

debate An interesting debate happened a couple of weeks ago across the pond at Biola University in response to a provocative article Peter Leithart had written concerning the future of Protestantism. In essence he argued for the end of Protestantism with all it’s sectarian and tribal mentalities, and for the birth of a ‘Reformational catholic’ church to be born. The debate/discussion involved Leithart himself along with Fred Sanders and Carl Trueman. You can watch it here:

I think the issue addressed is an important one because it touches on that old and thorny problem of how you draw boundaries regarding who is in and out of the one church of Jesus Christ. Here’s my reflections on how the debate went.

  • I thought Peter Leithart made some powerful points regarding the oneness and expressed unity of the one church of Christ. At points in his opening presentation his call felt almost prophetic. He is clearly grieved by the ever increasing fracturing and fighting within the family. He made the point (and Sanders and Trueman agreed) that in the Reformation the Catholic church was still considered a church – albeit a deformed one. If that’s the case Leithart’s question is to what extent we have a responsibility toward brothers, or is it a problem over there that we have no interest in. Do local pastors on the ground engage with their local catholic, orthodox, and liberal leaders to seek to build unity, and to seek to correct and help? If not, why not?
  • Fred Sanders made some good points about how this debate is perceived on the other side of the Catholic and Orthodox fences. It’s all well and good us wanting to pursue semper reformanda but Russia and Rome aren’t going to be waiting with open arms and warm hugs. Practically it’s difficult to see how a ‘Reformational catholic’ church ever gets off the ground. Leithart responded by saying it’s a bottom up, on the ground, local thing, rather than a top down global thing. Which leads to Trueman…
  • Trueman spoke as a pastor and raised some of the pastoral difficulties with Leithart’s vision. Trueman argued that it’s all well and good finding Nicene and Chalcedonian commonality but in the real world we have to talk to people about why going to the Catholic church down the road isn’t a good idea. For Trueman the issues that the Reformation was fought over are just as important as the issues Nicea and Chalcedon fought over. For Leithart, the Reformation is less important that Nicea and Chalcedon. I have to say I found myself in more sympathy with Trueman on this point.

And here’s three (minor) critiques of how the discussion proceeded:

  • There was a failure to clearly distinguish between the church visible and invisible. Of course there is one church of Christ – one body, one Lord, one baptism – it’s the invisible church of Christ made of up the elect. But there is also the visible representation which is a mixed entity. Some people will say ‘Lord, Lord’ to which he will reply ‘I never knew you.’ Baptism into the Roman Catholic church no more guarantees membership of the church of Christ than wearing a Man Utd shirt makes you a Man Utd player.
  • There was a failure to clearly distinguish between the church as organism and organisation. No-one is denying that there are genuinely regenerate Christians in messed up churches of every stripe. Of course you can be genuinely saved by grace through faith and attend a Catholic, Orthodox, or even liberal church. That’s church as organism. But on the church at organisation level surely we have some bigger concerns. The Catholic dogmas set down in Trent, Vatican I & II have some well dodgy stuff in them. The Pope is still infallible, the host is still venerated, Mary still worshiped, and justification is still a combination of grace and works. It seems to me that if someone in those churches is saved it is because they don’t believe in the dogmas of the organisational church. Church as organism is a fraternal body; Some ‘churches’ as organisations are heretical and even anti-Christ.
  • Minor grump: I perceive that some of Leithart’s vision (and Trueman’s to some degree) is about style more than substance. Trueman made an off hand comment about Presbyterian worship being an ‘adult form of worship’ which got some laughs but felt like a dig at charismatics, Pentecostals, or low church folk. Given those churches are growing fastest globally it wasn’t his finest contribution. Leithart similarly, towards the end, mentions that he wants a church where preachers don’t tell anecdotes or reference the news. Well that’s me out then. Again, that’s a style thing and actually a context thing. Surely Leithart’s vision is for a Reformational catholicity is about more than services for the educated middle classes. Rant over. If you can, have a watch and leave your thoughts in the comments section.



The power of example

imitationI’m just re-reading Tom Wright’s Virtue Reborn (and loving it btw) and was struck by his list of passages in which Paul sets forth himself as an example to follow. Now I know Paul says ‘imitate me’ somewhere, but I hadn’t previously clocked how often he does it. Here’s some examples:

  •  “Therefore I urge you to imitate me . . . Timothy will remind you of my way of life” (1 Cor 4:16-17)
  • “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)
  • “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Phil 3:17)
  • “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Phil 4:9)
  • “You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess 1:5-6)
  • “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example . . . We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” (2 Thess 3:7-9)

Repeatedly Paul says to the churches ‘follow my example’. Now is that just because he’s an apostle – he can make these kinds of statements in a way we can’t. Perhaps, to a degree. But note the Phil 3 reference – it says follow my example, and take note of others who follow the pattern. In other words a life of example is not confined to Jesus and the apostles. All Christians (and it seems leaders especially) should be able to point to their own lives as a worthy example to follow. Yikes! I guess, in our culture, we’re so scared of appearing arrogant, and fall so far short in our own personal godliness, we think saying something like this would be inappropriate. We know ourselves only too well. But for Paul, it seems, an ingredient of pastoral leadership was the ability to say ‘follow my example.’ Paul wasn’t perfect; we’re not perfect. But Paul highlights the importance (as if we didn’t already know) of a consistently and consciously striven for virtuous life, and it’s power to lead others.


Kingdom Through Covenant

kingdomI finally managed to wade my way through this thick and impressive tome by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. And having done so I’d recommend it to others. The authors’ aim is to try to steer a path between covenant theology, kingdom theology, and dispensational theology. Their proposed solution is what they term ‘progressive covenantalism.’ In other words, there is one overarching story which is progressively unfolded by a series of covenants climaxing with the New Covenant. Their answer isn’t a middle way as such – they are clearly (to my mind) far more on the covenant theology side of the discussion, and have strong criticisms and disagreement with dispensationalism.

Peter Gentry writes the chapters examining the various biblical covenants in turn (i.e. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, New) and these chapters are thorough and scholarly. Gentry’s footnotes are worth the price of the book alone. Stephen Wellum writes the chapters which are more systematic in character and these likewise are equally thorough and nuanced. Wellum’s chapters were my favourite as they provided a good mix of description (of the various nuances in the different theological systems) and analysis of how to put the covenants together. In the interests of transparency I should say I am a baptist so naturally found their conclusions more persuasive than many of my paedobaptist friends would. Nevertheless, whichever way you go on that particular debate, there is still a mine of useful and thought provoking material in the book.

If I had a couple of quibbles they would be, firstly, the absence of any mention of the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son, and, secondly, a slightly veiled discussion of the place of OT law in the New Covenant. I’m not sure I’d presently agree with the authors on either of these things. But all in all this is a book I’m glad to have on my shelves and I’m sure I’ll return to often given its breadth and depth on the topic it addresses.

Learning styles and preaching

Somebody reminded me the other day of Neil Fleming’s VARK model for categorizing different learning styles people have. VARK stands for:

  • V – visual – learn by watching, observing, seeing – think visual aids, charts, graphs, diagrams etc.
  • A – auditory – learn by listening – lectures, discussions, audio, speaking.
  • R – reading-writing preference – learn through written words (read or written) – books, articles etc.
  • K – kinesthetic – learn by doing – experiments, hands on, experience, touch and taste.

Now of course in reality many people (and teachers) are to some degree multi-modal – they use and enjoy all of the above to differing degrees, but most of us, whether we put ourselves in the position of learner or teacher, bias one or two of the above. For preachers you will probably bias your own learning style in your teaching style. Most preachers I know are A and R and the preaching reflects that.

The challenge is to consider all of the above and see if their are ways you can touch on each of them – not necessarily in every talk, but regularly using the different modalities to help different people. To add one more thing into the mix, a teacher I spoke to said that in modern pedagogy interaction is everything. Retention and application of learning shoots up massively where people are active, not passive, learners. Much of our preaching is a monologue. I’m currently experimenting with ways of hitting these different styles and generating some interaction. Here’s two examples: last week I put up a whiteboard and got some feedback on a question. This week I’m going to hand out some scent sticks (I’m doing something on ‘fragrant offering’) and get people to describe smells and how they make you feel. Hopefully the experience reinforces the learning (hopefully)!

So next time you prep, write down the side of the page V,A,R,K, and see how many you can employ, and if there are ways of having some kind of interaction.