Doctrine Considered Important by Our Forefathers

It is the time of year when Baptist associations and state conventions are meeting to discuss the matters of the group.  I am preparing to attend the Kentucky Baptist Convention in about a week from now. Lots of reports will be read, mostly consisting of numbers and dollars. There will be a few sermons, or at least one, during the meetings.  But one thing will most probably be missing — serious theological discussion.  Theology has become almost an antiquated idea in far too many Baptist meetings.  It shows in the Biblical/theological illiteracy that is vast in our denomination, both among laypeople and pastors.

Several years ago I was doing research in Baptist associations in Georgia and Alabama. One of the things that struck me was the annual “Circular Letter.”  I have many of these “Circular Letters” in my files that reflect the commitment to theology that our forefathers held to be so important.  Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of these letters here.

The following letter was found in the minutes of the Stone Mountain Baptist Association, in Stone Mountain, GA, in 1852.

I.  That our churches ought to feel a deeper interest in, and higher observance of, the fundamental doctrines of the Bible.

1.   We argue the necessity of impressing these doctrines upon the mind from the fact that they promote good religion.

“Make the tree good, and his fruit will be good.” To obtain the purest water, we must repair the fountain. To attain an eminent degree of piety, ”drink of the fountain of the water of life freely.” “In that day, there shall be a fountain opened in the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin, and for uncleanness.” The atonement of Christ, with special regard to the redemption of His people, is first, last, and midst, in the great and glorious economy of Grace. Like the circle of the sun, it comprehends all the attributes of God’s gifts to His children. The death of Jesus Christ, for us His enemies, embraces the most unmistakable proof of God’s electing love; His preordination of obedient, true believers, to “eternal life.” “As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.” The assurance of an “eternal weight of glory,” to all that love God and keep His commandments, is uttered and continued by the Lord Jesus, when He, in His unspeakable agony and awful death, exclaims, “It is finished.” “The ceremonial law is finished; the rigorous, fearful, civil polity of the Jews is finished; the requisition of the moral code is finished; my suffering life is finished; my shameful, agonizing death is accomplished; Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us. If while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

2.  As the atonement of Christ is identified with the entire system of salvation, and as it corresponds with all those primary doctrines which it is our interest and duty to believe and practice, it is therefore necessary that these doctrines be preached and advocated, both in the pulpit and elsewhere, without fear of contradiction, and with unwavering confidence that God will sanctify them to His chosen people. Is the covenant of redemption true to the redemption of all that believe? Is election God’s choice from eternity of all that obey Him? Is predestination to holiness of heart and life a Bible doctrine? Is salvation by grace through the blood of Christ the heritage of God’s elect? Shall they persevere in pious living through the faithfulness of God? Do “all things work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to His purpose?” Cannot Baptists answer these questions affirmatively? Surely. Then why neglect their propagation? Does the proclamation of truth injure the people of God ? Certainly not. When a man speaks a deliberate falsehood or is angry at the declaration of truth, or when he conceals a truth by using misleading language in any matter whatever, avoid him. Arminianism and Campbellism are subtly intending our dismemberment. Let us arise in the energy of the Holy Ghost, and “declare all the counsel of God, and contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints.”

3.   The sovereignty of God is perpetuated and confessed in “the churches of the saints.” “God sitteth on the throne of His holiness. The Lord Omnipotent, reigneth. He shall reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet; the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” His sovereign, immutable decree produces all that is good for His church; and His permissive will tolerates moral evil. He “worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” In supreme power, and “dreadful majesty” He punishes the wicked. Executing the penalty of death upon the finally impenitent; He makes subservient to our benefit all the ills of life. Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain? The penitent thief He brings to Paradise, but the dying persecuted robber He commits to eternal wrath. “Righteousness, Justice, and Judgment are the habitation of His throne.” It belongs to His absolute will, it is the prerogative of the Great Supreme to welcome the saints to glory, and consign the wicked to unquenchable fire. “Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; Depart, ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” His law of benevolence prepared Heaven for the righteous before they were born, from the foundation of the world. His penal law prepared Hell for the devil and his angels. “In my Father’s house are many mansions. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am. Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.” Thus, we give glory to God in the highest, thus God extends peace on earth, good will toward men. Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! Let the earth rejoice. Let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.

4.  In penetrating the mysteries of Divine Providence and Grace, we must recollect that to learn these doctrines, faith, prayer, and patience are indispensably necessary. Faith must receive the word of God as it is; prayer will unfold the oracles of truth to the humble inquirer;–and patience will tarry in the temple until the interpretation is audibly spoken by the Holy Spirit: “Ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye may inherit the promise. He shall take the things which are mine, and shall shew them unto you.”

Christians are not to learn the doctrines of grace in a day, or a year, “As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” What an immense blessing is it thus to have all the gifts of the immortal mind in exercise! It is stated that “an ancient mathematician, who had been working a problem for many weeks, when he had found the solution, ran out of his study, and through the streets of Athens crying–“I have found it–I have found it!” And the disciples of the Lord Jesus, who is ever working out the vast problem of man’s redemption, will find an answer to his devout inquiries, “with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Therefore, “exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” Beloved brethren, descend “into the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Be exercised in exploring the infinite mind of God. Make new discoveries of the Divine perfections. “But we all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord.”

II.  These doctrines are the safeguard of the Body of Christ. “He is made all things to the Church that in all things He might have the preeminence. No other foundation can any man lay, than that is laid: which is Christ Jesus. Salvation will God appoint, for walls and bulwarks. If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her. Yea, and all the promises of God, in Him are yea, and in Him amen, unto the glory of God by us.”

To preserve the church of Christ from wicked encroachment, the citadel must be well defended and secured: “His place of defense shall be the munition of rocks.” Inherent strength is comprised and promoted within these enclosures. “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people, from henceforth, even forever.” The sun in his orbit, burns and shines without hazard from any of his attendant planets. So be the Church of the adorable Redeemer. Let her “be as a city set on a hill which cannot be hid.” Let her be “the light of the world.” Illuminated by the Son of Righteousness, she is in her celestial training and towering majesty, the peerless queen of her Lord and King; subservient to no earthly pollution, or defilement from without, but guarded and honored by the power and intelligence of her Almighty and All-Wise Redeemer, she stands replete in the love of God, and beauty of salvation. “Upon His right hand did stand the Queen, in gold of Ophir.”

III.  The visibility of the Church of Christ, by the inculcation and exhibition of these doctrines is better understood. “Ye are not of the world.” If the Church can be distinguished apart from the world in her principles taken from the Bible, and impressed by the spirit of God, she will evince, first, by her vitality, and secondly, in her sober, sincere and godly intercourse, that she alone is “the heavenly Jerusalem,” that in her alone are the dawn and light and glory of the precious Saviour’s image on earth. Grace “without money and without price” is free grace; it is unmerited, therefore it must be and will be illustrated in Christian character, and exemplified in Christian conduct.

IV. To do these things, the power is given us. “All power in heaven and earth is mine, and to whomsoever I will, I give it,” says our Immanuel, “which name, being interpreted, is God with us.”

1.   In the government of the Church, the distinctiveness of these doctrines must be quietly and affectionately advocated and enforced. We require a good moral character of every applicant for church membership. But we need no reference to a man’s previous life. If God has converted, has shed abroad His love in his heart, this contains all the elements of moral character. Ananias might not object to the baptism of Saul. His previous persecutions of God’s children were no barrier to his immersion, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Caution, however, in the reception of applicants for immersion should be persistently and intelligently observed. And in the admission by letter of Baptists from a distance, there should be the most scrupulous adherence of moral character. A church letter, written sometimes in full fellowship, is but a transcript of hypocrisy and base imposition. Never admit to church membership any person on the merit expressed in his letter, unless his commendation is borne out in Christian conduct. Object to him and reject at once his letter of recommendation, if he is not in action what his letter signifies.

Reclaim, as speedily as possible, backsliding Christians. Excommunicate incorrigible members. Never mind their great age. The hoary-headed sinner is the most ingenious contriver of mischief. Have no lenience for the opulent hypocrite. “Wealth maketh many (mischievous) friends.” “Holiness becometh God’s house.”

2.   In the good character of Jesus Christ’s preacher, and deacons, these truths must be sanctioned and sanctified.

Aaron and the Levites (deputy priests) were irreproachable. Paul exercised himself “daily, to have a good conscience void of offense toward God and toward men.” He addressed the deacons of Philippi with profound regard and unwavering confidence; and placed them second in the scale of pious distinction and manifest utility, in the Philippian church. From the deaconship of Stephen, he rose to the ministration of the Gospel, and was crowned with the earliest honors of the martyrdom of the New Testament. “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.”

3.   The ordinances of God’s house will be diligently and devoutly attended to. “Faith without works is dead.” Where there are no Christian works, there is no Christian faith. Christian faith is lively, animating, productive. “I will show thee my faith by my works.” Strong faith has strong and powerful evidence in the love of God. “God is love. We love Him, because He first loved us.” Here is the motive power of heavenly ordinances. This is the great interpreter of Christian action and patient suffering. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” In the ordinances of preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, exhortation and praise, “the King is held in the galleries.”

4.   In the secular support of Gospel Ministers, the fundamental teachings of the Scriptures are patronized and appreciated. Nor is it sufficient that brethren endorse these truths with their lips, whilst their hearts are far from them. Brethren in the Lord, do not censure us for our candor. Suffer this truth. Never, never were the people of God more in opposition to their own welfare; never, never did they reproach the Gospel of Christ, the doctrines of the Cross, more bitterly and cruelly than in withholding the support that is due to the Ministers of the Lord Jesus. “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.” The love of Christ is intercepted by the cheerless withholder of the Minister’s dues. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The Minister and his widowed wife, and orphanized children are blessed in receiving the laborer’s hire. But the church is more abundantly blessed in imparting cheerfully what the minister is entitled to.

‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts; if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

-David Cook, Moderator
Stone Mountain Baptist Association
Stone Mountain, Georgia

Honoring a Great Man of God

Yesterday, on July 27 one of the most influential men in my preaching and Christian life went to be with the Lord.  I only got to meet John Stott one time in person. That took place at Beeson Divinity School in the late 1980s, but through his writing I have been touched and shaped over and over again.  Yesterday when news came, ironically by twitter, that John R. W. Stott had died, I felt as if I had lost a dear friend.

When I was a very young Christian someone gave me a copy of his book Basic Christianity.  I cannot count the number of times that I have given that book away, recommended it, or taught it in various settings.  It impacted me and gave me a foundation like no other book at that time.  I still keep copies on hand to give to people because in my opinion it is yet to be bettered by anyone as a basic introduction to basic Christian doctrine.

Two other books of his had a profound effect on me.  His Men Mad New, an exposition of Romans chapters 5-8,  not only instructed me on the power of the gospel, but also taught me what really good expository preaching was like! The other one that had great influence on me was The Cross of Christ, perhaps the finest teaching on the work of Christ and atonement that can be found.

I did not agree with Stott on everything (for example his view of annihilationism for the  lost), but that does not diminish the ministry that this man had in my life.  I was so very happy that my wife and oldest daughter had the opportunity to sit under his teaching in one of his last lecture series before total retirement.

I grieve that John Stott’s pulpit and pen ministry has come to an end . . . but I rejoice that yesterday, about about 10:15am Eastern time, John heard from his Lord, “enter in to your rest, my good and faithful servant!”  Soli Deo Gloria!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Important Question

I love the Puritans, plain and simple.  I first started reading the Puritans around 1980 when someone gave me Thomas Watson’s All Things For Good, a little paperback on Romans 8:28.  I was hooked!!  There was a time in my life, in the 80s, that I didn’t read much else besides the Puritans.  I was even told by more than one person, “Bill, you were born about 400 years too late.”  I took that as a compliment, though in all instances I’m not sure it was meant to be.  But I still love the Puritans.  In 2009 the Banner of Truth Trust published a devotional book with excerpts from various Puritans broken up into “bite-size” daily readings.  I highly recommend it as a good introduction to the Puritans.

You’ve heard me quote Charles Spurgeon, when he said, I have been charged with being a mere echo of the Puritans, but I had rather be the echo of truth, than the voice of falsehood.”

The January 28th reading fits right in with the series I am currently preaching in the book of Hebrews.  Enjoy it, but more importantly, think about it:

Now faith is “the essence of things hoped for.” It helps us to be content before we received our distant and future comforts. A Christian has tasted how sweet God is in Christ, therefore he groans after the full enjoyment of him. Faith is, in every way, as sure as actual fulfillment, though not as sweet. In faith, a believer waits as long as God has anything for him to do in this world, upon the security of faith. It is true he is in a strait, and his desire presses him, yet he will wait. Plus Paul said: “I am hard pressed . . . to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23 — 24). Many men say that they believe this, but alas, how does that belief influenced him? Does it affect him like things that are present and enjoyable to do? Alas, in general, things temporal work more upon us than things eternal, and the things visible than things invisible. A small matter will prove to be a temptation, and a little pleasure or profit will greatly motivate us. We do not have half the seriousness in spiritual things as an earthly. Surely men do not cherish heaven, since they labor and care for it so little. Alas! They live as if they have never heard of such a thing, or do not believe what they hear, since every toy and trifle is preferred before it. If a proud man understood that some great inheritance was bequeathed to him, would he not often think of it, rejoice in it, and long to take possession of it? The promise of eternal life is left with us in the gospel, but who puts in for a share? Who longs for it? Who takes hold of it? Who gives all diligence to make sure? Who desires to go and see it? Oh, that I might be dissolved, and be with Christ! If these hopes have so little influence on us, it is a sign we do not cherish them more in our hearts. (Thomas Manton, By Faith, Sermons on Hebrews 11, pp. 16 — 17)

Therapeutic Moralistic Deism is NOT The Gospel

One of the best biographies of Charles Spurgeon is by G. Holden Pike and was written in 1894. I want to share one paragraph from this book but first I want to set up the reason I am using it.  I have been troubled over the past couple of weeks as I have listened to sermons on radio, TV, and from local pulpits that completely are devoid of the gospel.  They contain a lot of what has been dubbed as “Therapeutic moralistic deism.”  Lots of exhortations to “be good”, “live better” and “do you best for God.”  Of course, with some God-language pitched in. But no mention of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No cross, no blood, no substitution, etc.  It is all about making man “better” — whatever that means.

We live in a day of gimmicks and entertainment that try to pass as the gospel, but it is as Paul said, “a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all.”  The church in America wants to be “hip” considered “cool” and to do this they water down the truth of God’s word to draw a crowd.

This is a quote from one of Spurgeon’s biographies, written by G. Holden Pike in 1894:

He told some of us, on one of the occasions of our fellowship, that the highest compliment that had been paid him can from the lips of an open enemy, who had said, “Here is a man (Spurgeon) who has not moved an inch forward in all his ministry, and at the close of the nineteenth century is teaching the theology of the first century, and in Newington Butts is proclaiming the doctrines of Nazareth and Jerusalem current eighteen hundred years ago.”  To which Spurgeon replied “Those words did please me!” and verily no teacher had ransacked literature and history and human life as he had done to supply illustration and proof of the fundamental facts of Divine revelation, and to persuade men to be reconciled to God. (vol 2, pg 109)

What a man of God Charles Spurgeon was!!  He had no interest in innovation, or “updating” the Gospel.  He simply wanted to preach it, proclaim it, and teach it at every opportunity.

I remember one of the charges made against me several years ago, was “For two and a half years we have heard that we are sinners, and can only be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.”  I must confess with Spurgeon, those words did please me.  Why, because that is the heart of the gospel; the heart of God’s word.  That is all I have to preach to my dying day.

This is our commitment at Grace Baptist Church.  Even in the midst of “churches” that water it down and play games.  Our only “draw” is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s all we have; that’s all we need.

In the Face of the Future

If you know me at all you know of my love for Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist pastor from the 1800s in London, England.  I wanted to share with you a comment that he made on Isaiah 46:9-10

Here is what Spurgeon had to say:

“World events are not tangled, confused, or perplexing to God. “For I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isa 46:9-10)

Yahweh’s power is apparent, from the least to the greatest, for God is in all and rules all.  He guides the grain of dust in the March wind and the planets in their immeasurable pathways.  He steers each drop of spray beaten back from the face of the rock. He leads the north star (Jer. 31:35).  God is the dictator of destinies.  He appoints both the ideas and the end.  He is the King of kings (Rev. 19:16), ruling rulers and guiding counselors.

He is the same in the crash of battle or in the hush of peace.  He is the same in famine or in the joy of abundant harvest.  He is Lord.  He does according to His will, no only in heaven but among the inhabitants of this lower world.

The storm may rage, but all is well, for our Captain is the governor of storms.  He who trod the waves of the Galilean lake is at the helm, and at his command winds and waves are quiet (Matt 14:27).

Courage, dear friend.  The Lord, the ever-merciful, has appointed every moment of sorrow and pang of suffering.  If He ordains the number ten, it can never rise to eleven, nor should  you desire that it shrink to nine.

The Lord’s time is best.  The span of your life is measured to a hair’s width.  Restless soul, God ordains all, so let the Lord have His way.”

These are words of great comfort from the “prince of preachers” over a hundred years ago.  Isn’t it amazing that truth never changes.  Fads come and go, but God’s truth is eternal.  It is in our best interest to know His ways and adjust our lives to that.  When we sing the song, “Our God Reigns”, it is not just words . . . It is the expression of one of Scriptures greatest themes.

And if He reigns we have nothing to fear, as his adopted children.  May we learn to more fully trust Him and walk with Him in obedience.

Dear Friend, Faithful Believer to the End

UPDATE: The memorial service for Michael will be Saturday, April 10, at 2:30pm in the chapel of Oneida Baptist Institute, Oneida, KY.  Visitation will begin at 12:30 and continue until the time of the service.

Michael Spencer (1956-2010)

Last night at about 7:00 a dear friend and fellow laborer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ was ushered into the presence of our Lord.  Most people who know Michael know him as the Internet Monk, where he has written for the past 10 years.  He was always provocative and deeply insightful.  Michael and I became friends some years back and from the first meeting it was as though we had been lifelong friends.  Many who read his blog would think Michael to be a very opinionated man . . . and to some extent they would be right.  But to know him was to know a man who deeply loved Jesus and desired to see His church be faithful to the call of Christ.  Because of that love for Jesus he had a Biblical humility when you were in his presence.  I loved the way he described himself in his BIO on his blog:

Michael is much more opinionated on paper than in person. He describes himself as a New Covenant, Reformation-loving, post-evangelical Christian in search of a Jesus shaped spirituality. He has great appreciation for the ancient church, missions, Christian community and theological underdogs.

Some of my best memories since moving to Kentucky involve sitting across from Michael, eating Mexican food, and talking theology.  Those times will be missed greatly!!

I was with Michael and Denise a few weeks back when the doctor informed them that the chemo was not working, the cancer was too advanced and too aggressive.  I wept that there was really no treatment nor would there be any remission, short of a miracle.  My prayer, and I admit it was a selfish one, was that without the chemo attacking his body that he  might regain some strength for a season and we could have some of those Mexican dinners and theological discussions again, at least for awhile.

But as we are all painfully aware, God’s ways are not our ways, and we rest in the knowledge that His ways are perfect.  Michael is perfectly healed today. No cancer, no pain, no struggles, just glorious worship in the presence of His Lord.  The iMonk may have left the earth, but he is alive . . . for one reason, Jesus is alive.

Prayer for his family, wife Denise, children Noel and Clay, as well as their spouses.  The funeral/memorial service is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, April 10, in the chapel of Oneida Baptist Institute in Oneida, KY.

Crucifixion & Resurrection — A Puritan Prayer

More for  your preparation for this coming Sunday’s worship.  I shared this prayer (slightly modified) as the pastoral prayer this past Sunday at Grace Baptist.  It speaks the truth about what we should be seeking as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s atonement and resurrection:

Oh LORD,

We marvel that You should become incarnate,
be crucified, dead and buried.
The sepulcher calls forth our adoring wonder,
for it is empty and You are risen;
the Gospel attests it,
the living witnesses prove it,
our hearts’ experience know it.
Give us the grace to die with You that we may rise to new life,
for we wish to be as dead and buried
to sin, to selfishness, to the world;
that we might not hear the voice of the deceiver
and might be delivered from his lusts.
O LORD, there is much sin about us – crucify it,
much flesh within us – mortify it.
Purge us from selfishness, the fear of man, the love of man’s approval,
the shame of being thought old-fashioned,
the desire to be cultured or modern.
Let us reckon our old life dead because of crucifixion,
and never feed it as a living thing.
Grant us to stand with our dying Savior,
to be content to be rejected,
to be willing to take up unpopular truths,
and to hold fast despised teachings until death.
Help us to be resolute and Christ-contained,
Never let us wander from the path of obedience to Your will.
Strengthen us for the battles ahead.
Give us courage for all the trials, and grace for all the joys.
Help us to be a holy, happy people,
free from every wrong desire,
from everything contrary to Your mind.
Grant us more and more of the resurrection life:
may it rule us,
may we walk in its power, and be strengthened through its influence.