Author Archives: Ben

Yes, Indeed, God Loves “Gays”

“Why doesn’t God love gays?”  That was the question a teenager asked on a recent Wednesday during our youth ministry time.  To be honest, the question was sort of out of the blue since the discussion was on the return of Jesus, but clearly it was on the heart of at least one, if not many, of the teens there that night.  I appreciate this teenager’s boldness to ask!

This question is one this generation has had to wrestle with that previous generations did not.  In fact, the speed with which the topic of homosexuality has come to dominate the social and political conversation is staggering, aided along by what pastor Voddie Baucham calls, “a coordinated, well-funded, well-connected propaganda strategy,” (“Gay Is Not the New Black,” http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/19/gay-is-not-the-new-black, July 19 2012).  The entire movement has become like a snowflake that turns into an avalanche, demolishing any opposition in the public arena, and it’s still growing larger.

Gay Pride HeartWithout a doubt, many of our young people are confused on the subject.  They are hearing in pop culture and maybe even in their schools that homosexuality is a perfectly legitimate lifestyle and should not only be tolerated, but even celebrated and explored.  However, they then hear from faith communities (and not just Christian ones) that homosexuality is sinful.  The mixed messages cause a great deal of confusion in many people’s minds, especially in our young people, leading some to ask, “Why doesn’t God love gays?” with the implied addendum “when so many others do.”  It’s a question we will increasingly have to answer regardless of one’s stance on homosexuality.

The question itself—”Why doesn’t God love gays?”—presupposes that God does not love people who would label themselves “gay.”  Therefore, the initial response must be, “What makes you think that God doesn’t love people who label themselves ‘gay’?”  The truth of the matter is that God does indeed love those who label themselves “gay,” but He loves them in a way that is culturally strange to us at this point.

If we would press the person asking “Why doesn’t God love gays?” to tell us what makes them think He doesn’t, most likely the response would “because He doesn’t think their homosexuality is okay.  If God loved gays, He’d affirm their homosexuality because that makes them happy.”  Indeed, that is the popular definition of love in contemporary culture.  Love is seen as affirming people in whatever makes them happy.  Many have just enough Christian influence to know that the Bible tells us we are to treat others the way we want to be treated, and so they reason, “I would want others to love me by affirming me in what makes me happy.  So, I am going to love others by being in favor of whatever makes them happy.”  That’s fair logic, but is that love?

Is it loving to affirm others in whatever makes them happy?  Let’s see.  Little Rachel wants nothing more than to play in the middle of the interstate.  In fact, she tried it one time for just a few seconds and is convinced that her happiness depends on playing regularly smack dab on the dotted line between the driving lane and the passing lane.  Would it be loving to affirm little Rachel in her desire?  No?  But she really believes it’ll make her happy.

Bobby loves to shoot heroin.  Nothing in the world compares to the high he gets when that needle enters the vein and pushes liquid happiness into his body.  He’s certain that heroin is the key to his happiness and wants more all the time.  Would it be loving to affirm Bobby in his desire?  No?  But he really believes it’ll make him happy.

Sandra loves 12-year-old boys.  That would probably be fine if she was around 12-years-old herself, but she is 42.  Nevertheless, she is convinced that if she doesn’t find a romantic relationship with a 12-year-old boy, she will not be happy.  Would it be loving to affirm Sandra in her desire?  No?  But she really believes it’ll make her happy.

Further examples are abundant, but the ones provided suffice to clearly demonstrate that we have to be careful in affirming whatever makes a person happy because in this fallen world, that which a person believes will make them happy is often hurtful to themselves and others.  Someone may quickly rebut that homosexuality harms nobody, but that is counterfactual.  Medically, homosexuality is harmful, especially to men who practice homosexuality.  Socially, homosexuality is harmful in that it cannot provide what the opposite sex brings to a romantic relationship, including but certainly not limited to the potential of procreation and then the presence of a mother and a father in that child’s life.  However, most harmful is the spiritual harm that homosexuality brings.

The Bible is clear that practicing homosexuality brings great spiritual harm.  In fact, Romans 1:18-27 declares that the increasing presence of homosexuality in a society signals that God is bringing about judgment on that society due to idolatry.  God, as a function of His wrath against sin, simply withdraws His restraining grace from those who rebelliously pursue sin, giving them over to degrading passions such as homosexuality and all sorts of other destructive devices.

However, the spiritual harm in this life pales in comparison to the spiritual harm that homosexuality brings in the age to come for those who practice it in this present age.  The Bible is emphatic that practicing homosexuality will bar a person from heaven.  God tells us so in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”  It’s important to note here that homosexuality is not the only sin listed.  It’s right there with adultery and drunkenness and many others.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  Nevertheless, God is communicating to us that those who continue in sin, including homosexuality, will not inherit the kingdom of God.  In other words, they will be barred from Heaven and will experience Hell forevermore.  There is no worse consequence imaginable.

So, let’s play this truth out in a scenario.  Don is a man in his early 20s who has experienced same-sex attraction for years now and has finally given into the temptation.  He has been for several months seeking out homosexual partners, and it has been absolutely exhilarating to him.  He hopes to one day settle down with the man of his dreams but is just having too much fun right now.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he is convinced that his happiness hinges on living a homosexual lifestyle.  Given the harm practicing homosexuality has been demonstrated to bring, is it loving to affirm Don in his desires?  Absolutely not!  In fact, the opposite is true.  To affirm Don in his homosexuality would be as loving as affirming little Rachel in her playing on the interstate or Bobby in his heroin addiction or Sandra in her pedophilia, which is to say that it wouldn’t be loving at all.  All of these not only harm the individuals with the desires, but others as well, and to affirm them would be unquestionably unloving.

If a person’s definition of love is affirming whatever makes someone happy, then a redefinition is needed because that’s not love.  Love doesn’t just affirm whatever makes a person happy.  It seeks the well-being of its objects.  That’s why God indeed does love “gays” and at the same time doesn’t affirm them in their homosexuality.  Instead of unlovingly affirming them in an eternally harmful lifestyle, God lovingly calls them out through the gospel of Jesus Christ just like He does all sinners.  And yeah, we were born that way (sinners, that is)!  God lovingly says to all sinners, including the homosexual sinner, turn from your sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be forgiven, made righteous, increasingly freed from sin itself, and inherit everlasting life in Heaven.  Now that’s love!

“Why doesn’t God love gays?”  My dear friend, He does love “gays.”  In fact, God loves them so much that He calls them out of homosexuality and into Christ!

Read more ...

The Replacements Are Way Better!

With the NFL football season now thankfully underway (Is there anything worse in the sports world than that stretch between the end of the NBA finals and the kickoff of the NFL season?!  It’s like athletic purgatory.), it’s time to see which team of pros is going to rise to the occasion and bring home that Lombardi Trophy.  Maybe it’ll be the other Harbaugh this time.

Replacement Refs

Whatever happens at the end, one big difference at the start of this season is the fact that we have the real referees out there.  It’s easy to forget, unless you’re a Packers fan, that the 2012 season began with replacement refs.  The real refs were locked out due to a labor dispute.  Let me be nice and simply say that the quality of the replacement refs wasn’t quite up to par with the regular referees.  Nah, forget it… they were awful!  I mean those guys were way in over their heads and didn’t have a clue how to officiate football on that level.  It was a perfect reminder that the replacements are never as good as the real deal in sports.  Replacements are only better in Hollywood football with Keanu Reeves at quarterback.

However, that’s not the case with the Kingdom of God.  The trajectory of the Kingdom is not bad to worse or even good to worse.  It’s bad to most excellent.  No passage of Scripture makes this more readily apparent than the culminating visions in Revelation 21-22, detailing the replacement of this age with the age to come when the Old Heaven and Earth are replaced by the New Heaven and Earth.

We see at least eight replacements here in this section of Scripture, but praise be to God, these replacements are way better than what they replaced!

1)  Dwelling apart from God is replaced by dwelling with God (Revelation 22:1-21)

2)  The temple is replaced by God Himself (Revelation 21:22)

3)  The sun and moon are replaced by God’s glory (Revelation 21:23)

4)  The need for closed gates is replaced with the joy of open gates (Revelation 21:24-26)

5)  A mixture of the righteous and the wicked is replaced with the pure homogeneity of the righteous only (Revelation 21:27)

6)  The curse is replaced by blessing (Revelation 22:1-3)

7)  The mediated presence of God is replaced with the unmediated presence of God (Revelation 22:4)

8)  Death and defeat are replaced with eternal life and reign (Revelation 22:5)

While I’m excited to serve the Lord here on this earth in this age, when I read about what is to come, my heart and spirit scream, “Bring on the replacements!”

Read more ...

Wednesday Is for Worship: Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)

 Wednesday Is for Worship

Hello to you on this Wednesday!  It’s been a while since I’ve put out a Wednesday Is for Worship, but I’m excited about getting back into the groove.  I’m always blessed by the songs featured here, and I pray that you are too.

Today I want to share with you a song that is so encouraging.  We undoubtedly live in times of trouble and face instability all around us locally, nationally, and internationally.  Furthermore, wickedness abounds.  There is plenty to be fearful of, but today’s song reminds us that those who are Jesus Christ’s ultimately have nothing to fear.  I’m talking about “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies).”

Written in 2012 by Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, and Scott Cash and published through Worship Together Music, “Whom Shall I Fear” is the first single released in 2012 from Chris Tomlin’s seventh studio album called “Burning Lights.”  Both the song and the album have hit #1 on the Christian music charts.  It’s so easy to see why!

The first verse reminds us that God never turns a deaf ear to us, His children, even in times of darkness.  His light always breaks through.  The second verse declares the victory and protection that is ours through God.  The final verse rejoices in God being our strength, our savior, our deliverer, and the victorious one.

Each verse ends with the ever-relevant question, “Whom shall I fear?”  which draws from the biblical context of Psalm 27 where David asks that very question.  The intended answer, of course, is nobody but God.  The reason is spelled out in the chorus.  The God of Angel Armies envelopes us before and behind; the God of angel armies in all of His sovereignty is a friend to us, on our side, and always by our side.  That’s an awesome, encouraging reality!

The bridge rehearses the fear-stifling realities of the impossibility of defeat.  No weapon formed against us will stand because God has the whole world in His hands.  He has promised to protect us and is faithful to His promises.

The songs seems to draw heavily on themes from Psalm 27, but Tomlin points to the story in 2 Kings 6:8-23 as the core biblical inspiration of the song.  It really is a must-read passage!  There the king of Aram was bent on capturing the prophet Elisha because he kept prophetically telling the king of Israel where to fortify against Aramean attack.  The Aramean king sent his army to the city where Elisha was and surrounded it.  When Elisha’s servant saw the army, he became fearful, but Elijah comforted him, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” (2 Kings 6:16).  Surely the servant was like, “Uhmm, Bro. Elisha, there’s nobody with us but us!”  So, Elisha then prayed to the Lord to reveal to the servant all of God’s angel army that actually surrounded and outnumbered the Aramean army.  It was an awesome sight to behold and had the effect killing the servant’s fear.

Friends, that God in the story of Elisha is the same God we serve today.  He is still the God of Angel Armies, the Lord of Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts.  In light of this awesome reality, may you fear no one or no thing but God!

I invite you to sing along with Chris as you worship our Almighty God!

VERSE 1
You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear?

VERSE 2
You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though trouble linger still
Whom shall I fear?

CHORUS
I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies is always by my side
The One who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies is always by my side

VERSE 3
My strength is in Your name
For You alone can save
You will deliver me
Yours is the victory
Whom shall I fear?
Whom shall I fear?

BRIDGE
And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in Your hands
I’m holding on to Your promises
You are faithful
You are faithful

____________________

You can hear Chris Tomlin tell the story behind the song, perform the song, and demonstrate how to play the song at http://worshiptogether.com/songs/songdetail.aspx?iid=1975092.

Read more ...

Bless Your Heart: A Biblical Look at the Heart of Man

Helen Keller once said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.”  We certainly live in a culture and day where the heart has been elevated to preeminence.  How many times have we heard someone give the advice, “Just follow your heart!”?  That’s the wisdom of the age, but it’s not just isolated to secular communities.  You very well might just as easily hear that from folks who claim to follow Jesus Christ.

As we turn to Scripture, the heart does indeed play a huge role.  In fact, the word “heart” is used in the Bible more than the words “law,” “grace,” and “gospel” combined (1,038 to a combined 897 in the New American Standard 1995 translation).  Therefore, the heart is a central topic in the Word of God.

But, what exactly is it?  When the Bible uses the term “heart,” it’s not aiming at that blood-pumping organ in your chest that years of fried chicken and mashed potatoes covered in gravy attack.  (Why does everything that tastes good have to be bad for you?!!)  No, the heart is a metaphor in Scripture, representing the unseen seat of emotions, desires, and will of our inner person.

man's hands with heart

There is so much that could be said about the heart from the pages of Scripture, but the following truths are central to a biblical understanding of the heart of man:

 

1.  The heart is to be fully employed in loving God.

Jesus himself stated that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, (Matthew 22:37-38), which is just a quote of Deuteronomy 6:5.  Here we see that your entire being, including your heart, is to be engaged in loving God.  You are to emote positively toward God.  You are to desire God.  You are to will to know God, please God, and glorify God, and the heart is central to this end.  It is the very purpose for which you were given a heart by God.

But, as we well know, what God made good and functional unto holiness became wicked and dysfunctional when our federal head, Adam, sinned in the garden, which leads us to the second central truth from the Bible concerning the heart.

 

2.  The heart is now sin-ridden and sin-producing.

Sin ravaged the heart of man.  Indeed, every facet of our being has been touched by sin, leaving us totally depraved.  Our heart, which was given to us by God to facilitate love for God, has been wrecked by sin such that rebellion is the product instead.

Less than ten generations after our first father and mother inaugurated human sin, God declares that the hearts of men are consumed with sin, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land… the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:1, 5).  This degeneracy grieved God, and He soon responded by destroying all human life except for the family of Noah through a world-wide flood.  While this action certainly ridded the earth of much evil, the source of evil, the heart of man, was left intact.  This fact is demonstrated soon after the water subsided when we find Noah drunk and naked (Genesis 9:21) and is still true to this day.  Our hearts are still naturally consumed with sin.  They are sin-ridden.

Because our hearts are sin-ridden, they are also sin-producing.  Jesus clearly tells us that whatever is in our hearts will flow out (Luke 6:43-45).  It’s simply a spiritual law.  So, since our hearts are naturally consumed with sin, sin flows out as Jesus said in Mark 7:21-23, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.  All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”  What else can a depraved heart produce but depravity?

It’s for this reason that God goes on to describe the fallen heart in this way, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Perhaps “just follow your heart” isn’t such good advice after all!

 

3.  The heart is naturally hard to God and the things of God but can be made harder.

Sin naturally makes our hearts hard to God and the things of God, but they can be made harder.  There are places in the Scripture when God is said to harden the hearts of men for various purposes.  We see this hardening with Pharaoh and Egypt in Exodus (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17).  We see it again with the Gentiles living in the Promised Land in the days of Joshua (Joshua 11:20).  God even hardened the hearts of the Jewish people as discipline (Isaiah 6:8-10; 63:17).  In fact, a partial hardening of the hearts of Jews is still in effect unto this day (Romans 11:25).  God in His sovereign justice may harden whomever He wants (Romans 9:18).

Nevertheless, we also see various examples of people hardening their own hearts toward God.  Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart, even as God declared He would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34).  Speaking about the Israelites, God said, “But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing.  They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts,” (Zechariah 7:11-12).

All of this further heart hardening is truly a fearful thought, but Scripture clearly admonishes us to not harden our hearts, “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness,” (Psalm 95:8).  The book of Hebrews picks up on this command, quoting this verse three different times (3:8, 15; 4:7).  We must be vigilant against a hardening of our hearts toward God.

 

4.  While the heart is hidden from other people, it is not hidden from God.

One can live 24/7 with another person and not know the actual contents of their heart.  My wife often asks me, “What’s on your heart?” and my response is usually, “Oh, it’s nothing.”  But, what I often want to say is, “Trust me.  You REALLY don’t want to know.”  Indeed, she can’t know unless I tell her.  We can so easily hide our hearts from others.

However, while we can cover our hearts with people, before God our hearts are laid bare.  God searches us and knows us—not just our outward self but even our inward man such that He knows the word on our tongue before it’s ever spoken (Psalm 139:1-4).  He is the God who searches the heart and tests the mind (Jeremiah 17:10).

Undoubtedly, God knows the very nature and content of our heart.  The glory of this fact is twofold.  One, as Chris Tomlin beautifully put it in his song “Indescribable,” “You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same; You are amazing God.”  Despite seeing the true mess that we are, God is still mercifully for His people.  And two, God knows the perfect remedy for His people, namely a new heart.

 

5.  We need a new heart, and God promises to graciously deliver it.

Anne Frank is said to have once said, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”  Undoubtedly this Jewish woman who suffered and died in the Holocaust was more prone to optimism than realism because the Bible clearly says the opposite.  We are not really good at heart.  In fact, our natural hearts are beyond repair.  We need a new heart, and praise be to God, He graciously delivers!

God says in Jeremiah 24:7 of Israel, of which all who are connected to Jesus Christ by faith are a part, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”  He later equates this giving of a heart to a heart transplant, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,” (Ezekiel 36:26).  This new heart will have the Law of God written on it and will know God (Jeremiah 31:33-34).  All of this new heart reality is connected with the New Covenant, which was instituted through Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31).  God knows what we need and graciously delivers!

So, when does this heart transplant happen?  It happens at regeneration, our new birth.  In fact, this is what regeneration is—having a spiritual heart transplant.  It’s this gracious work of God that then enables us to come to Christ and believe.

 

6.  It is with the new heart that we believe on Jesus and are saved.

Romans 10:8-13 makes this truth abundantly clear, “But what does it say? ‘THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’”

Our heart that once hated God and rebelled against God is replaced with a heart that loves God and desires fellowship with God, leading one to volitionally call on the name of the Lord for salvation and then experience that salvation.

 

7.  Christ dwells in our new hearts.

In our old hearts, Christ would never feel at home, but in our new hearts, He gladly takes up residence.  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 3:14-19, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

When we repent of our sin and believe on Jesus, Jesus enters into our hearts.  That part of us that once was consumed with sin is now consumed with Christ.  What a glorious reclamation!

Read more ...

“Heroes of the Pulpit” – George Whitefield

Over the summer, I want to draw attention to some of my preaching heroes.  Not only do I commend them to you, but I also want to give you an example of their pulpit ministry.

___________________

George Whitefield

George Whitefield, who lived December 27, 1714 – September 30, 1770, is one of the greatest preachers in Christian history.  Although he was an English Anglican preacher, he along with the Wesley brothers helped found the Methodist movement and was used by God to spread the Great Awakening in Britain and American colonies.

Whitfield wasn’t your regular run of the mill preacher of the day.  With a love for theater, he initially drew crowds by portraying the lives of biblical characters with a realism no one had seen before. He cried, he danced, he screamed with such dramatic flair that the most famous British actor of the day, David Garrick, commented, “I would give a hundred guineas if I could say ‘Oh’ like Mr. Whitefield.”

He usually preached outdoors because even the largest churches couldn’t hold the huge crowds that came from everywhere to hear him.  In 1739, Whitefield set out on preaching tour of the American colonies.  Every stop along Whitefield’s trip was marked by record audiences, often exceeding the population of the towns in which he preached.  His last sermon on this tour was given at Boston Commons before 23,000 people, likely the largest gathering in American history to that point.  The fact is even more amazing when we remember that this was long before the days of microphones and PA systems!

Most would agree that George Whitefield was the most famous religious figure of the 18th century, commanding thousands on two continents through the sheer power of his oratory.  In his lifetime, he preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers.  He is a hero of the pulpit indeed!

 

THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN

by George Whitefield

Acts 26:28 — “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

The chapter, out of which the text is taken, contains an admirable account which the great St. Paul gave of his wonderful conversion from Judaism to Christianity, when he was called to make his defense before Festus a Gentile governor, and king Agrippa. Our blessed Lord had long since foretold, that when the Son of man should be lifted up, “his disciples should be brought before kings and rulers, for his name’s sake, for a testimony unto them.” And very good was the design of infinite wisdom in thus ordaining it; for Christianity being, from the beginning, a doctrine of the Cross, the princes and rulers of the earth thought themselves too high to be instructed by such mean teachers, or too happy to be disturbed by such unwelcome truths; and therefore would have always continued strangers to Jesus Christ, and him crucified, had not the apostles, by being arraigned before them, gained opportunities of preaching to them “Jesus and the resurrection.” St. Paul knew full well that this was the main reason, why his blessed Master permitted his enemies at this time to arraign him at a public bar; and therefore, in compliance with the divine will, thinks it not sufficient, barely to make his defense, but endeavors at the same time to convert his judges. And this he did with such demonstration of the spirit, and of power, that Festus, unwilling to be convinced by the strongest evidence, cries out with a loud voice, “Paul, much learning doth make thee mad.” To which the brave apostle (like a true follower of the holy Jesus) meekly replies, I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” But in all probability, seeing king Agrippa more affected with his discourse, and observing in him an inclination to know the truth, he applies himself more particularly to him. “The king knoweth of these things; before whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him.” And then, that if possible he might complete his wished-for conversion, he with an inimitable strain of oratory, addresses himself still more closely, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest them.” At which the passions of the king began to work so strongly, that he was obliged in open court, to own himself affected by the prisoner’s preaching, and ingenuously to cry out, “Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

Which words, taken with the context, afford us a lively representation of the different reception, which the doctrine of Christ’s ministers, who come in the power and spirit of St. Paul, meets with now-a-days in the minds of men. For notwithstanding they, like this great apostle, “speak forth the words of truth and soberness;” and with such energy and power, that all their adversaries cannot justly gainsay or resist; yet, too many, with the noble Festus before-mentioned, being like him, either too proud to be taught, or too sensual, too careless, or too worldly-minded to live up to the doctrine, in order to excuse themselves, cry out, that “much learning, much study, or, what is more unaccountable, much piety, hath made them mad.” And though, blessed be God! All do not thus disbelieve our report; yet amongst those who gladly receive the word, and confess that we speak the words of truth and soberness, there are so few, who arrive at any higher degree of piety than that of Agrippa, or are any farther persuaded than to be almost Christians, that I cannot but think it highly necessary to warn my dear hearers of the danger of such a state. And therefore, from the words of the text, shall endeavor to show these three things:

First, What is meant by an almost-Christian.

Secondly, What are the chief reasons, why so many are no more than almost Christians.

Thirdly, I shall consider the ineffectualness, danger, absurdity, and uneasiness which attends those who are but almost Christians; and then conclude with a general exhortation, to set all upon striving not only be almost, but altogether Christians.

I. And, First, I am to consider what is meant by an almost Christians.

An almost Christian, if we consider him in respect to his duty to God, is one that halts between two opinions; that wavers between Christ and the world; that would reconcile God and Mammon, light and darkness, Christ and Belial. It is true, he has an inclination to religion, but then he is very cautious how he goes too far in it: his false heart is always crying out, Spare thyself, do thyself no harm. He prays indeed, that “God’s will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” But notwithstanding, he is very partial in his obedience, and fondly hopes that God will not be extreme to mark every thing that he willfully does amiss; though an inspired apostle has told him, that “he who offends in one point is guilty of all.” But chiefly, he is one that depends much on outward ordinances, and on that account looks upon himself as righteous, and despises others; though at the same time he is as great a stranger to the divine life as any other person whatsoever. In short, he is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart. He goes on year after year, attending on the means of grace, but then, like Pharaoh’s lean kine [cow?], he is never the better, but rather the worse for them.

If you consider him in respect to his neighbor, he is one that is strictly just to all; but then this does not proceed from any love to God or regard to man, but only through a principle of self-love: because he knows dishonesty will spoil his reputation, and consequently hinder his thriving in the world.

He is one that depends much upon being negatively good, and contents himself with the consciousness of having done no one any harm; though he reads in the gospel, that “the unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness,” and the barren fig-tree was cursed and dried up from the roots, not for bearing bad, but no fruit.

He is no enemy to charitable contributions in public, if not too frequently recommended: but then he is unacquainted with the kind offices of visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, and relieving the hungry in a private manner. He thinks that these things belong only to the clergy, though his own false heart tells him, that nothing but pride keeps him from exercising these acts of humility; and that Jesus Christ, in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew, condemns persons to everlasting punishment, not merely for being fornicators, drunkards, or extortioners, but for neglecting these charitable offices, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, he shall set the sheep on his right-hand, and the goats on his left. And then shall he say unto them on his left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also say, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or a-thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not unto me: and these shall go away into everlasting punishment unto me: and these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” I thought proper to give you this whole passage of scripture at large, because our Savior lays such a particular stress upon it; and yet it is so little regarded, that were we to judge by the practice of Christians, one should be tempted to think there were no such verses in the Bible.

But to proceed in the character of an Almost Christian: If we consider him in respect of himself; as we said he was strictly honest to his neighbor, so he is likewise strictly sober in himself: but then both his honesty and sobriety proceed from the same principle of a false self-love. It is true, he runs not into the same excess of riot with other men; but then it is not out of obedience to the laws of God, but either because his constitution will not away with intemperance; or rather because he is cautious of forfeiting his reputation, or unfitting himself for temporal business. But though he is so prudent as to avoid intemperance and excess, for the reasons before-mentioned; yet he always goes to the extremity of what is lawful. It is true, he is no drunkard; but then he has no Christian selfdenial. He cannot think our Savior to be so austere a Master, as to deny us to indulge ourselves in some particulars: and so by this means he is destitute of a sense of true religion, as much as if he lived in debauchery, or any other crime whatever. As to settling his principles as well as practice, he is guided more by the world, than by the word of God: for his part, he cannot think the way to heaven so narrow as some would make it; and therefore considers not so much what scripture requires, as what such and such a good man does, or what will best suit his own corrupt inclinations. Upon this account, he is not only very cautious himself, but likewise very careful of young converts, whose faces are set heavenward; and therefore is always acting the devil’s part, and bidding them spare themselves, though they are doing no more than what the scripture strictly requires them to do: The consequence of which is, that “he suffers not himself to enter into the kingdom of God, and those that are entering in he hinders.”

Thus lives the almost Christian: not that I can say, I have fully described him to you; but from these outlines and sketches of his character, if your consciences have done their proper office, and made a particular application of what has been said to your own hearts, I cannot but fear that some of you may observe some features in his picture, odious as it is, to near resembling your own; and therefore I cannot but hope, that you will join with the apostle in the words immediately following the text, and wish yourselves “to be not only almost, but altogether Christians.”

II. I proceed to the second general thing proposed; to consider the reasons why so many are no more than almost Christians.

1. And the first reason I shall mention is, because so many set out with false notions of religion; though they live in a Christian country, yet they know not what Christianity is. This perhaps may be esteemed a hard saying, but experience sadly evinces the truth of it; for some place religion in being of this or that communion; more in morality; most in a round of duties, and a model of performances; and few, very few acknowledge it to be, what it really is, a thorough inward change of nature, a divine life, a vital participation of Jesus Christ, an union of the soul with God; which the apostle expresses by saying, “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” Hence it happens, that so many, even of the most knowing professors, when you come to converse with them concerning the essence, the life, the soul of religion, I mean our new birth in Jesus Christ, confess themselves quite ignorant of the matter, and cry out with Nicodemus, “How can this thing be?” And no wonder then, that so many are only almost Christians, when so many know not what Christianity is: no marvel, that so many take up with the form, when they are quite strangers to the power of godliness; or content themselves with the shadow, when they know so little about the substance of it. And this is one cause why so many are almost, and so few are altogether Christians.

2. A second reason that may be assigned why so many are no more than almost Christians, is a servile fear of man: multitudes there are and have been, who, though awakened to a sense of the divine life, and have tasted and felt the powers of the world to come; yet out of a base sinful fear of being counted singular, or contemned by men, have suffered all those good impressions to wear off. It is true, they have some esteem for Jesus Christ; but then, like Nicodemus, they would come to him only by night: they are willing to serve him; but then they would do it secretly, for fear of the Jews: they have a mind to see Jesus, but then they cannot come to him because of the press, and for fear of being laughed at, and ridiculed by those with whom they used to sit at meat. But well did our Savior prophesy of such persons, “How can ye love me, who receive honor one of another?” Alas! have they never read, that “the friendship of this world is enmity with God;” and that our Lord himself has threatened, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me or of my words, in this wicked and adulterous generation, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father and of his holy angels?” No wonder that so many are no more than almost Christians, since so many “love the praise of men more than the honor which cometh of God.”

3. A third reason why so many are no more than almost Christians, is a reigning love of money. This was the pitiable case of that forward young man in the gospel, who came running to our blessed Lord, and kneeling before him, inquired “what he must do to inherit eternal life;” to whom our blessed Master replied, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal:” To which the young man replied, “All these have I kept from my youth.” But when our Lord proceeded to tell him, “Yet lackest thou one thing; Go sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor; he was grieved at that saying, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions!” Poor youth! He had a good mind to be a Christian, and to inherit eternal life, but thought it too dear, if it could be purchased at no less an expense than of his estate! And thus many, both young and old, now-a-days, come running to worship our blessed Lord in public, and kneel before him in private, and inquire at his gospel, what they must do to inherit eternal life: but when they find they must renounce the self- enjoyment of riches, and forsake all in affection to follow him, they cry, “The Lord pardon us in this thing! We pray thee, have us excused.”

But is heaven so small a trifle in men’s esteem, as not to be worth a little gilded earth? Is eternal life so mean a purchase, as not to deserve the temporary renunciation of a few transitory riches? Surely it is. But however inconsistent such a behavior may be, this inordinate love of money is too evidently the common and fatal cause, why so many are no more than almost Christians.

4. Nor is the love of pleasure a less uncommon, or a less fatal cause why so many are no more than almost Christians. Thousands and ten thousands there are, who despise riches, and would willingly be true disciples of Jesus Christ, if parting with their money would make them so; but when they are told that our blessed Lord has said, “Whosoever will come after him must deny himself;” like the pitiable young man before-mentioned, “they go away sorrowful”” for they have too great a love for sensual pleasures. They will perhaps send for the ministers of Christ, as Herod did for John, and hear them gladly: but touch them in their Herodias, tell them they must part with such or such a darling pleasure; and with wicked Ahab they cry out, “Hast thou found us, O our enemy?” Tell them of the necessity of mortification and self-denial, and it is as difficult for them to hear, as if you was to bid them “cut off a right-hand, or pluck out a right-eye.” They cannot think our blessed Lord requires so much at their hands, though an inspired apostle has commanded us to “mortify our members which are upon earth.” And who himself, even after he had converted thousands, and was very near arrived to the end of his race, yet professed that it was his daily practice to “keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, lest after he had preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away!”

But some men would be wiser than this great apostle, and chalk out to us what they falsely imagine an easier way to happiness. They would flatter us, we may go to heaven without offering violence to our sensual appetites; and enter into the strait gate without striving against our carnal inclinations. And this is another reason why so many are only almost, and not altogether Christians.

5. The fifth and last reason I shall assign why so many are only almost Christians, is a fickleness and instability of temper.

It has been, no doubt, a misfortune that many a minister and sincere Christian has met with, to weep and wail over numbers of promising converts, who seemingly began in the Spirit, but after a while fell away, and basely ended in the flesh; and this not for want of right notions in religion, nor out of a servile fear of man, nor from the love of money, or of sensual pleasure, but through an instability and fickleness of temper. They looked upon religion merely for novelty, as something which pleased them for a while; but after their curiosity was satisfied, they laid it aside again: like the young man that came to see Jesus with a linen cloth about his naked body, they have followed him for a season, but when temptations came to take hold on them, for want of a little more resolution, they have been stripped of all their good intentions, and fled away naked. They at first, like a tree planted by the water-side, grew up and flourished for a while; but having no root in themselves, no inward principle of holiness and piety, like Jonah’s gourd, they were soon dried up and withered. Their good intentions are too like the violent motions of the animal spirits of a body newly beheaded, which, though impetuous, are not lasting. In short, they set out well in their journey to heaven, but finding the way either narrower or longer than they expected, through an unsteadiness of temper, they have made an eternal halt, and so “returned like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the more!”

But I tremble to pronounce the fate of such unstable professors, who having put their hands to the plough, for want of a little more resolution, shamefully look back. How shall I repeat to them that dreadful threatening, “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him:” And again, “It is impossible (that is, exceeding difficult at least) for those that have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and the powers of the world to come, if they should fall away, to be renewed again unto repentance.” But notwithstanding the gospel is so severe against apostates, yet many that begun well, through a fickleness of temper, (O that none of us here present may ever be such) have been by this means of the number of those that turn back unto perdition. And this is the fifth, and the last reason I shall give, why so many are only almost, and not altogether Christians.

III. Proceed we now to the general thing proposed, namely, to consider the folly of being no more than an almost Christian.

1. And the First proof I shall give of the folly of such a proceeding is, that it is ineffectual to salvation. It is true, such men are almost good; but almost to hit the mark, is really to miss it. God requires us “to love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength.” He loves us too well to admit any rival; because, so far as our hearts are empty of God, so far must they be unhappy. The devil, indeed, like the false mother that came before Solomon, would have our hearts divided, as she would have had the child; but God, like the true mother, will have all or none. “My Son, give me thy heart,” thy whole heart, is the general call to all: and if this be not done, we never can expect the divine mercy.

Persons may play the hypocrite; but God at the great day will strike them dead, (as he did Ananias and Sapphira by the mouth of his servant Peter) for pretending to offer him all their hearts, when they keep back from him the greatest part. They may perhaps impose upon their fellow- creatures for a while; but he that enabled Elijah to cry out, “Come in thou wife of Jeroboam,” when she came disguised to inquire about her sick son, will also discover them through their most artful dissimulations; and if their hearts are not wholly with him, appoint them their portion with hypocrites and unbelievers.

2. But, Secondly, What renders an half-way-piety more inexcusable is, that it is not only insufficient to our own salvation, but also very prejudicial to that of others.

An almost Christian is one of the most hurtful creatures in the world; he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing: he is one of those false prophets, our blessed Lord bids us beware of in his sermon on the mount, who would persuade men, that the way to heaven is broader than it really is; and thereby, as it was observed before, “enter not into the kingdom of God themselves, and those that are entering in they hinder.” These, these are the men that turn the world into a luke-warm Laodicean spirit; that hang out false lights, and so shipwreck unthinking benighted souls in their voyage to the haven of eternity. These are they who are greater enemies to the cross of Christ, than infidels themselves: for of an unbeliever every one will be aware; but an almost Christian, through his subtle hypocrisy, draws away many after him; and therefore must expect to receive the greater damnation.

3. But, Thirdly, As it is most prejudicial to ourselves and hurtful to others, so it is the greatest instance of ingratitude we can express towards our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. For did he come down from heaven, and shed his precious blood, to purchase these hearts of ours, and shall we only give him half of them? O how can we say we love him, when our hearts are not wholly with him? How can we call him our Savior, when we will not endeavor sincerely to approve ourselves to him, and so let him see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied!

Had any of us purchased a slave at a most expensive rate, and who was before involved in the utmost miseries and torments, and so must have continued for ever, had we shut up our bowels of compassion from him; and was this slave afterwards to grow rebellious, or deny giving us but half his service; how, how should we exclaim against his base ingratitude! And yet this base ungrateful slave thou art, O man, who acknowledgest thyself to be redeemed from infinite unavoidable misery and punishment by the death of Jesus Christ, and yet wilt not give thyself wholly to him. But shall we deal with God our Maker in a manner we would not be dealt with by a man like ourselves? God forbid! No. Suffer me, therefore,

To add a word or two of exhortation to you, to excite you to be not only almost, but altogether Christians. O let us scorn all base and treacherous treatment of our King and Savior, of our God and Creator. Let us not take some pains all our lives to go to haven, and yet plunge ourselves into hell as last. Let us give to God our whole hearts, and no longer halt between two opinions: if the world be God, let us serve that; if pleasure be a God, let us serve that; but if the Lord he be God, let us, O let us serve him alone. Alas! why, why should we stand out any longer? Why should we be so in love with slavery, as not wholly to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, which, like so many spiritual chains, bind down our souls, and hinder them from flying up to God. Alas! what are we afraid of? Is not God able to reward our entire obedience? If he is, as the almost Christian’s lame way of serving him, seems to grant, why then will we not serve him entirely? For the same reason we do so much, why do we not do more? Or do you think that being only half religious will make you happy, but that going farther, will render you miserable and uneasy? Alas! this, my brethren, is delusion all over: for what is it but this half piety, this wavering between God and the world, that makes so many, that are seemingly well disposed, such utter strangers to the comforts of religion? They choose just so much of religion as will disturb them in their lusts, and follow their lusts so far as to deprive themselves of the comforts of religion. Whereas on the contrary, would they sincerely leave all in affection, and give their hearts wholly to God, they would then (and they cannot till then) experience the unspeakable pleasure of having a mind at unity with itself, and enjoy such a peace of God, which even in this life passes all understanding, and which they were entire strangers to before. It is true, if we will devote ourselves entirely to God, we must meet with contempt; but then it is because contempt is necessary to heal our pride. We must renounce some sensual pleasures, but then it is because those unfit us for spiritual ones, which are infinitely better. We must renounce the love of the world; but then it is that we may be filled with the love of God: and when that has once enlarged our hearts, we shall, like Jacob when he served for his beloved Rachel, think nothing too difficult to undergo, no hardships too tedious to endure, because of the love we shall then have for our dear Redeemer. Thus easy, thus delightful will be the ways of God even in this life: but when once we throw off these bodies, and our souls are filled with all the fullness of God, O! what heart can conceive, what tongue can express, with what unspeakable joy and consolation shall we then look back on our past sincere and hearty services. Think you then, my dear hearers, we shall repent we had done too much; or rather think you not, we shall be ashamed that we did no more; and blush we were so backward to give up all to God; when he intended hereafter to give us himself?

Let me therefore, to conclude, exhort you, my brethren, to have always before you the unspeakable happiness of enjoying God. And think withal, that every degree of holiness you neglect, every act of piety you omit, is a jewel taken out of your crown, a degree of blessedness lost in the vision of God. O! do but always think and act thus, and you will no longer be laboring to compound matters between God and the world; but, on the contrary, be daily endeavoring to give up yourselves more and more unto him; you will be always watching, always praying, always aspiring after farther degrees of purity and love, and consequently always preparing yourselves for a fuller sight and enjoyment of that God, in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and at whose right-hand there are pleasures for ever more. Amen! Amen!

Read more ...