Friday, 23 August 2013

I'm No Second Fiddle!

John Jones Talsarn, the people's preacher of Wales in the eighteenth century, was a burning evangelist who provoked the ire of his more senior ministerial colleagues.  In a letter to a friend, he spoke about his concerns for the Gospel.  One of these was the emphasis on particular redemption, or limited Atonement, that the older men were preaching, and his second main concern, which he thinks is even more important than the first, was the desire in both parties to “love to have the pre-eminence.”[1]  In his opinion, there was a drive to occupy thrones, to be supreme, to be superior.  There is the practice of ministers gathering around them “yes” men who agree with every opinion expressed by the leader and who bow to their every demand.  This ties in well with what Jones wrote about the content of preaching by these older men.  If the preaching and message is sectarian, that is because those who do it are essentially sectarian in their outlook.  And sectarianism pursues its own paths in order to get what it wants, by whatever means and at whatever cost.  They wanted to remove those brethren who were being used by God because they did not dot their every ‘i’ and cross their every ‘t’ theologically.  
Today within the churches this same anti-christian attitude is to be seen, even in evangelical churches.  Ministers love to have the pre-eminence; they love then position and the power that attaches itself to position. Give them a title and they think they are God on earth. They will do whatever is necessary to get to the top, no matter who is trampled on in then process.

John wrote about such a man in his letters in 3 John 1:9. Diotrephes loved to have the pre-eminence and would not receive the apostle John.  This man was much too full of his own self-importance to be of any good tho the Gospel. Such men are a hindrance to the Gospel, but they are the men who are the best servants of the lukewarm 21st century church!

Yes, they are too many throne occupiers, too many kings, too many gigantic egos. How they love to be loved. How they gather around them those who will tell them how great they are. And they imagine, vainly, that by allowing the church to make its own godless decisions and abiding by them, that they are serving the church faithfully  for they are not.

Isn't it amazing just how far the church has plummeted into unfaithfulness and even apostacy!  Where are the men who see what is happening and are courageous enough to do something about it? Where are the Luthers and Calvins and Hus's?  Where are the men in whom the Spirit of God is? Where are the men who have compassion upon the church in her terminal illness? Sadly, they are few and far between, are they not? So long as they get their day out of it, they could not care less about what they are leaving for the next and future generations.

May the Lord have mercy upon us all.

[1]   Cited in Owen Thomas, The Atonement Controversy, Banner of Truth Trust, 1874/2002:352.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Dr D Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Rom.5:15

In March 2012, I had a conversation with Rev. John J. Murray, for sometime an editor with the Banner of Truth Trust in London and in Edinburgh.  The occasion was the thirty-first anniversary conference to mark the death of Rev. Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones at which Rev. Murray delivered two of the papers.  In the course of his address, Mr Murray said that “Dr Lloyd-Jones believed in limited atonement.”  Afterwards, I quizzed him about this assertion and asked for the grounds on which he had made it.  He assured me that he taught this doctrine in his exposition of Rom.5:15.  I was slightly taken aback by this because everything I had read of the Doctor’s did not give me any reason to think that this was his belief and was what he preached.  On the contrary, his position was very much closer to universal atonement than it was to definite atonement as even a cursory reading of his evangelistic sermons on Acts will demonstrate. 

A few days later, I was in the Evangelical Bookshop in Belfast and was discussing this issue with the manager, Mr John Greer.  He said he would ring Rev. Iain H. Murray and ask him about this question.  Mr Murray confirmed that the Doctor believed and preached limited atonement and this can be found in his sermons on Rom.5 and also in his sermons on Eph.5.  These he confirmed proved that the Doctor held limited atonement as the proper understanding of soteriology.

Having read carefully again the relevant sermons from these studies, my findings are as follows.  Despite at least 365 direct quotations from DML-J’s published sermons which teach directly and/or clearly imply universal atonement, this contrary viewpoint came as a surprise to me as one who has been studying the Lloyd-Jones corpus for more than forty years.  So what exactly did he say about Rom.5:15?

DML-J, in this published series, preached two sermons in the Romans series on Rom.5:15 at the Friday evening meeting at or about February/March 1958.  The first of these two sermons dealt with one aspect of the verse while the second found him zooming in on the second part of this text that had attracted some controversy and misunderstanding.  It concerns the meanings of “all” and “the many.”[1]  After affirming that “sheer literalism” makes “all” in this verse mean ‘every individual person in the world,’ he discounts this methodology as wrongheaded and “unintelligent.”[2]  He proceeds to demonstrate that

‘all’ and ‘the world’ and ‘many’ and so on, as used in Scripture, quite frequently do not mean every individual in the world ... they do not mean every single member of the human family.[3] 
Given that his message was leading up to a denial of stark universalism, it is easy to see why he adopted this approach.  He proceeds to give examples of how this is not the case, and refers to the text, “all the world should be taxed.”[4]  Clearly, he argues, this cannot mean that every single individual in the world.

Another example he gives is Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost in which he quotes from the prophet Joel.  God says that in the last days, He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh...[5]  He dismisses as ridiculous the idea that this means everyone, including the ungodly.

DML-J rejects the “foolish literalism” that makes the meaning of “all” in Scripture inclusive of everyone,[6] for Scripture limits the meaning of this and similar terms by placing conditions on them.  In so doing, he is exposing and opposing universalism per se, the kind used by naked universalists.  He believes that only those who believe are justified,[7] in contradistinction to the new perspective on Paul teaching that is current at this time.[8]  DML-J is opposing the erroneous teaching of universal salvation, which he condemns without reservation.  The teaching that because Christ died for all, all will finally be saved is both false and foolish.  The falsehood contained in this teaching has only to be stated to be recognised for what it is, and its foolishness goes against the observable facts, and no time will be wasted in refuting these errors.  

However, it is critically important to indicate that DML-J is not opposing universal atonement.  His criticism is of universalism not hypothetical universalism, not Amyraldianism, or authentic Calvinism.  His condemnation is of those who purport to teach on biblical grounds that “all” will be saved eventually by God’s love. 

It is also important at this juncture to point out that DML-J clearly does not teach one thing in his sermons on Acts and something different in his sermons on Romans.  In fact, limited atonement is not even mentioned in these published sermons on Rom.5:15, nor indeed is it taught as a theory of the atonement that he espoused in any of his sermons now in print.  It is unfortunate that no audio digital recording of his two sermons on Rom.5:15 is available on the MLJ website,[9] despite the fact that his audio sermons on Rom.5:12 is followed immediately by his sermon on Rom.5:16, 17.  As stated earlier, during Dr R. T. Kendall’s Doctoral work at Oxford University, frequent discussions were held between the two men on this subject.  During one such discussion with Kendall, DML-J, referring to the doctrine of limited atonement, confessed, “I never preached it, you know … only once on Rom.5:15 and I was in great difficulty when I did so.” 

No record exists as to when this might have been done, but such a theory does not appear in his published expositions of Rom.5:15. What probably has happened is that while he might have said he believed this doctrine during his preaching on Rom.5:15, when the Romans 5 book, Assurance, was eventually published, this reference was redacted from the printed sermon.  Having checked the audio of this sermon, this can be ruled out as a possible explanation for the alleged omission.  Or, what is also equally likely, he had preached on this verse on another occasion and at a different venue, and experienced the difficulty referred to in his conversation with Kendall.  Further, if DML-J did preach on or refer to limited atonement during his sermons on Rom.5:15, he may well have asked that the recording be destroyed so as not to give the wrong impression of his theology, and I admit that this is pure speculation on my part. 

Whatever the precise explanation for its non-appearance in his published sermons on Rom.5:15, or in the MLJ archive containing his 1,600 recorded sermons, the Doctor admitted that he was quite ill at ease when he tried to preach limited atonement from that or, by extension, from any other verse of Scripture.  Whatever he might have said in private, this emphasis does not appear in his published sermons that were edited by him or by his widow and daughters after his death.

DML-J criticises a wrong understanding of what Paul was writing in this letter.  Asking the following three rhetorical questions about what this actually means,

If it does not mean universal salvation, does it mean that what the Apostle is teaching here is that the opportunity or the possibility of justification is to be offered to all?  Is he saying that in Jesus Christ there is the chance or the opportunity for all to justify themselves if they believe and accept the message?  Is it the possibility for all, if it is not a fact concerning all?[10]
he comes out very clearly on what he thinks Paul means.  He is emphasising the certainty of salvation for believers, not its mere possibility.  However, salvation is possible for unbelievers, on condition they trust in Christ alone.  His emphasis is not on the atonement as such, but on Christian assurance of salvation.  The book of sermons in which these studies are published was given the title Assurance.  In fact, he uses the term “justify themselves” if they believe and accept the Gospel message.  No man can justify himself by the works of the law[11] – Paul’s way of describing how sinners engage in self-salvation by human efforts of whatever kind, however spiritual these efforts might appear.  He is clear, however, that the benefits of the redemption purchased by Christ can only be received by faith in Christ alone; but it is not faith per se that justifies, but God.[12]  So, like Calvin, faith unlocks the soteriology of DML-J.

How, then, does DML-J interpret the terms “all” and “the many”?  His general answer is typical – we must “allow Scripture to speak for itself.”[13]  He is at pains not to introduce philosophy, given the natural tendency among humans to do just that.  His explanation is that Paul is contrasting the “all” who are in Adam with the “all” who are in Christ.  Paul’s interest is not in numerics, but in fundamental principles.[14]  Fallen mankind is by nature connected with Adam, and we all died in Adam; but by grace all believers are in Christ and they live in Him – all of them.  Paul is speaking here about salvation, not universal salvation, so he marshals his arguments to teach that salvation is certain for all who are in Christ, those who know God’s ongoing forgiveness, as Calvin teaches.  Moreover, Calvin’s understanding of this verse very evidently steers away from a literalist interpretation by saying in his commentary on Hebrews:

To bear, or, take away sins, is to free from guilt by his satisfaction those who have sinned. He says the sins of many, that is, of all, as in Romans 5:15. It is yet certain that all receive no benefit from the death of Christ; but this happens, because their unbelief prevents them.[15]
The editor of Calvin’s commentary on Hebrews adds, “It is the character of the Apostle’s style to change his words, while the same idea is often intended,” a case in point being where he avers that “many” means “all.”
In his Romans commentary, Calvin writes
Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.[16]
The editor of Calvin’s commentary on Romans adds, “It appears from this sentence that Calvin held general redemption.” 
A cautionary note is sounded by DML-J to the effect that
we must never proceed to draw deductions beyond what is stated in Scripture. ... All we can do is to read the Scriptures and observe what they teach, and submit ourselves entirely to that.[17] 
He then quotes Deut.29:29 and leaves purely technical considerations with the God of all wisdom.  “That is as far as we can go, and are meant to go,” he concludes.
So the natural meaning of Scripture was his guide in all branches of theology, and this was so visibly demonstrated in his sermon on Rom.5:15.

[1]    Assurance, 1971:240-252.
[2]    Ibid., 241.
[3]    Ibid.
[4]    Lk 2:1.
[5]    Acts 2:18 quoting Joel 2:28. Assurance, 1971:242.
[6]    Ibid., 1971:243.
[7]    Ibid., 1971:244.
[8]    Prof. N. T. Wright claims that Paul teaches that we are justified by belonging (to the church) and
        not by believing the Gospel. 
[9]    The website is at and was accessed on 15th August 2013.
[10]   Romans, 1974:246 (rprt).
[11]   Rom.3:27; Gal.2:16.
[12]    Ibid., 247.
[13]    Ibid.
[14]    Ibid.
[15]    Calvin, Comm. Heb.9:28.  Emphasis his.
[16]    Calvin, Comm. Rom.5:15.
[17]    Ibid., 250.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Preparation and Study

Preparation and study are necessary for the preacher, or as Leonard Ravenhill put it, "sweat, blood and tears." Paige Patterson counselled that five hours per day be spent in preparation for preaching. Draper said that time, a plan of study, a real walk with the Lord, and the sharpening of whatever tools you possess, are essential ingredients in powerful preaching. Dr Drummond said
(1) that there must be vital commitment to the power of the Word of God;
(2) the power of a holy life, and be on a quest for holiness;
(3) be Spirit-filled men, paying the price of a disciplined, dedicated devotional life;
(4) be men of faith and believe that God will use the Word mightily. 

The wise balance of head and heart preparation is set out. Both are essential to avoid "correct deadness" and "living heresy." As much time ought to be spent in preparing the heart as the head! Ravenhill said that in the Scottish church of a by gone age, the preacher was not available on a Thursday since he was preparing his message; and on a Saturday he prepared his heart to deliver that sermon. Detzler referred to this quest for power as being broken before the Lord. Ravenhill said on this, "It is easy to get a man to the cross, but it's difficult to get him on it." It is also hard to keep him there! (Dr John Greever). Brokenness before God is crucial to powerful preaching.