Friday, July 12, 2019

Gospel Gold from John Newton on "The Advantages of Indwelling Sin"

Why does God allow such deep and prolonged struggle with sin throughout our lives? What are the advantages to allowing so much sin to remain in his children?

John Newton, the former slave trader, who was converted and became a pastor (and author of the famous hymn, "Amazing Grace"), thought long and hard on these questions. He penned a letter on the advantages (!) of indwelling sin. It's full of the savor of God's wisdom and the sweetness of his grace. Here's an extended excerpt (emphasis mine). This is gold, brothers and sisters. Gospel gold.
If the evils we feel were not capable of being over-ruled for good, he would not permit them to remain in us. ...
The gracious purposes to which the Lord makes the sense and feeling of our depravity subservient, are manifold. Hereby his own power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love, are more signally displayed: his power, in maintaining his own work in the midst of so much opposition, like a spark burning in the water...; his wisdom, in defeating and controlling all the devices which Satan...
... The unchangeableness of the Lord's love, and the riches of his mercy, are likewise more illustrated by the multiplied pardons he bestows upon his people, than if they needed no forgiveness at all.
Hereby the Lord Jesus is more endeared to the soul; all boasting is effectually excluded, and the glory of a full free salvation is ascribed to him alone. If a mariner is surprised by a storm, and after one night spent in jeopardy, is presently brought safe into port; though he may rejoice in his deliverance, it will not affect him so sensibly, as if, after being tempest-tossed for a long season, and experiencing a great number and variety of hair-breadth escapes, he at last gains the desired haven. ...
But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, wilfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them. They dare not, they will not ascribe anything to themselves, but are glad to acknowledge, that they must have perished (if possible) a thousand times over, if Jesus had not been their Saviour, their shepherd, and their shield.
... In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence, have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of [Him], if they had not known so much of themselves.
Further, a spirit of humiliation, which is both…the strength and beauty of our profession, is greatly promoted by our feeling, as well as reading, that when we would do good, evil is present with us. A broken and contrite spirit is pleasing to the Lord who has promised to dwell with those who have it; and experience shows, that the exercise of all our graces is in proportion to the humbling sense we have of the depravity of our nature.
But that we are so totally depraved, is a truth which no one ever truly learned by being only told it. ...experience is the Lord's school, and they who are taught by him usually learn, that they have no wisdom by the mistakes they make, and that they have no strength by the slips and falls they meet with.
... Thus by degrees they are weaned from leaning to any supposed wisdom, power, or goodness in themselves; they feel the truth of our Lord's words, "Without me [you] can do nothing;"...
Whoever is truly humbled will not be easily angry, ...will be compassionate and tender to the infirmities of his fellow-sinners, knowing, that if there be a difference, it is grace that has made it, and that he has the seeds of every evil in his own heart; and, under all trials and afflictions, he will look to the hand of the Lord, and lay his mouth in the dust, acknowledging that he suffers much less than his iniquities have deserved. 
These are some of the advantages and good fruits which the Lord enables us to obtain from that bitter root, indwelling sin.

You can go and read the full letter HERE.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Waking Up to Male Privilege

I went on a walk last night to pray. It was around midnight. It was in a pretty "safe" neighborhood. I was preparing to preach on Genesis 34 the next morning. It's the heartrending story of the rape of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob.

At some point in that walk, it struck me that I wasn't worried (even though there are a few killer dogs I prefer to avoid). That lack of fear is a luxury I usually take for granted.

That's not a luxury most women enjoy. My wife was recently on a walk at night in that same neighborhood. At one point she noticed a vehicle that seemed to be following her (parking, then moving). She "tested" that theory, and got a little more concerned. She wasn't far from home, so she crossed the street and ducked behind our van in our driveway. I saw her through the window, so I came out to find out what was going on. After hearing what had happened, she described the vehicle and we realized it was right across the street, parked near the public mailbox.

My adrenaline was pumping and I started walking toward the vehicle, wondering what to do and/or say. I yelled across the street at the guy (his window was down), and after he gave me a lame answer to my questions, he drove away.

I take the safety of solitary late-night walks (or runs) for granted. Women don't.

Genesis 34 starts out like this:
1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
It's likely that "going out to see the women of the land" carries negative connotations. It wasn't wise for Dinah to do this alone. Canaan was a dangerous place for young women. And she was most likely only 15 or 16 years old. But the text says nothing about her to chide or blame. She is a victim of Shechem's unbridled lust. This is rape. This is sexual assault. He saw her. He seized her. He forced himself on her, humiliating and degrading her.

If you wonder what the Bible, what God, thinks of this, we get the clear judgment in verse 7:
The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done.
In Hebrew narrative, editorial explanations are rare. When they are given, they are the ancient near eastern equivalent of bold and underline emphasis. What Shechem did was an outrageous thing. Outrage is the righteous response. The brothers were right to be indignant and very angry. Such a thing must not be done!

If you believe the Bible, sexual assault is NOT the fault of the victim. NO ONE should lay any blame at her feet, and I don't care "how she was dressed."