Is Scripture Like Sweetbreads or Broccoli?

Danny Hyde makes a case for reading Scripture in a way that will “inflame.” It could be (all about) my cold heart, but I’ve always been wary of getting close to fire. It may shed light, but it also consumes (as in our God is a consuming fire). Still, what struck me as curious about Hyde’s piece was his invoking the experimental Calvinist vocabulary of earnestness (see John Piper).

I should read the Word with earnestness: “with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them.” When Moses called the Israelites to assemble to hear the words of the Lord, it was so that they would “do them” (Deut. 4:1).

This is vital for us to meditate upon. It’s so easy for us to read the Word looking for doctrine, looking for the theological argument the Apostles make, and looking for the proofs we need to persuade others to believe in Christ. We so often focus on the word Word when we speak of the “Word of God.” But don’t forget that it is the Word of God. The Word is the means that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. When you sit down to read it, then, you are coming not to an it, but to a Him. This should make us earnest and desirous to read because we are having fellowship with the Lord in the reading and in the doing.

Hyde is not wrong to call his readers to have fellowship with God, to do so through reading the word, or to combine doing with reading. But where does the Larger Catechism actually talk about earnestness? Or why can’t my reading Scripture or attending the ORDINARY means of grace be routine, as in weekly? Why should I feel like I have failed if my worship or Bible reading has been ordinary, lacking in earnestness?

If you do a word search on earnest in the Westminster Standards, you obtain curious results:

This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. (CF 18.2)

The members of the invisible church have communicated to them in this life the first fruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so in him are interested in that glory which he is fully possessed of; and, as an earnest thereof, enjoy the sense of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory; as, on the contrary, sense of God’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment, are to the wicked the beginning of their torments which they shall endure after death. (LC 83)

It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints. (LC 174)

Oddly enough, the experimental Calvinists at the Assembly used the word earnest more in its monetary meaning than in its associations with intensity or enthusiasm (or hedonism?), and they used it in connection with the Lord’s Supper, an ordinance sadly missing in many Presbyterian and Reformed Lord’s Day services. At the same time, those same divines emphasized how ordinary the means of grace are. In fact, they used “ordinary” roughly four times more than they did “extraordinary,” and always to the detriment of the latter:

This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. (CF 18.3)

If this is in any way an ordinary reading of the Standards, I do wonder why Christian piety has to be intense, earnest, palpable, or (my least favorite word) robust? Why can’t Christian devotion be ordinary? I eat oatmeal most days for breakfast (TMI). It is not something I order off the menu when I go out to eat. When I enjoy a special meal, I order something unusual. But that doesn’t mean that oatmeal is bad, or that my modest enjoyment of it everyday is somehow inferior. Granted, the word of God is special (as in special revelation). But our feeding upon it can be ordinary (as in ordinary means of grace).

If serious Christians could remember that special can be ordinary — the way that manna in the wilderness was — then maybe we could be content with worship and devotion that is not trumped up to move worshipers but instead services that are word-saturated in the way that everyday breakfasts are dominated by hot, soupy grains.

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156 Comments

  1. Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Andrew, this past Sunday when I mentioned to my pastor (and our mutual friend) you were coming for a visit, he mentioned, with some humorous concern, that he had introduced you to Tillich. I’ll tell him his concern may be warranted… ;)

  2. Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Jack, I neither confirm nor deny.

    I miss DPH. I was delighted to exchange emails with him today.

    All I will say is the name he gave his dog, that did indeed keep me pressing on. The link on my name ain’t some Liberal Protestant, or Barthian site, is it now?

    I’m a reformed man, Jack, in mutiple ways. Think of me as one who has been forgiven much, back to your original point ;-)

  3. Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Andrew, no worries. I’d never confuse you with a lib or Barthian. You play golf too much… But the link on you name reminds me of Machen’s formula for “earnest” sanctification:

    Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

    ’nuff said…

  4. Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Jeff Cagle was good. Very reasonable and well-spoken. He had one issue that he was in the minority on, but I can’t recall what it is. Maybe 2K, actually.

    He did a beautiful job grilling Bryan Cross on the Motives of Credibility. Epic debate that will go down in the Old Life annals.

    In truth he probably had too much of a real life to spend as much time as some people (ahem, me)spend here. He was into butterflies and nice stuff like that. More power to him.

  5. Posted February 13, 2014 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    Andrew,

    ENOUGH of the golf references, sheesh! All it is, is a game spent in the frustrating pursuit of an ever elusive goal – par, and even when reached there are higher standards of excellence, such as the birdie or the eagle. Most of us hacks can only play the game, never come close to mastering it – and so console ourselves with a six-pack in the cooler, and a stiff pour after the 9th, and an even stiffer one on the 19th. It’s a game of self-inflicted frustration…

    Wait, am I talking about golf, or Reformed piety?

    Nevermind… play through.

  6. Posted February 13, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Jed,

    Yes.

    Peace.

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