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.


163 thoughts on “Is Scripture Like Sweetbreads or Broccoli?

  1. quite robustly written, I must say!

    But nobody uses the KJV anymore.

    Ephesians 1: 11 In HIM we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also,WHEN YOU HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH, THE GOSPEL OF your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the GUARANTEE of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

    Other translations say that the Holy Spirit is the “deposit” of our inheritance.

    I meet a lot of people these days who don’t like my doctrine or my gospel or my “word of truth”. Many of them tend to tell me that they ( but perhaps not me) have HIM instead of doctrine. Their doctrine is that the “guarantee” is the person who is the Holy Spirit, and of course not apart from the persons who are the Father and the Son, and so therefore because of that, we need something “more than” ordinary Bible reading if we are going to be “serious”.

    I Cor 7: 17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churchES. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

    Galatians 5: 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love

    Since my pietist counselors have rejected logic for the sake of persons, it’c curious that their logic tells them that propositions about persons do not matter because persons are not propositions. Then we share an experience which leaves us all feeling cold, because I experience thinking about their bad logic.


  2. Perhaps DGH could tell us if revivalists and passionistas have always (Whitefield, Edwards?) felt the need to add to the biblical and confessional vocabulary. How much modern ministry/preaching would collapse if we removed this short list of words: desire, city, brokenness, radical, authentic, impact, flourishing, encounter?


  3. In the Dr. Bray Church History lectures at biblical training dot org, he talks about, for example, something remarkable in the Gospel of John, when read in the original Greek.

    Bach’s Brandenburg does something to this classically training piano player I can’t capture in words.

    Scripture is like that, even the vulgar tongue required for my me and my under educated brain.

    As for food, going with Broccoli. Mr. Bush can bite me. Yo


  4. One With Christ (Crossway, 2013) by Moody Bible Institute professor Marcus Johnsonstarts with an attack on “the merely forensic” and continually assumes that the forensic is based on the “reality of personal union.”. The phrase “more than merely” is repeated many many times. “Faith unites” we are told because “faith is the presence of Christ”.

    Johnson: Many have assumed that justification is a synthetic declaration that takes into account no prior relationship of the believer to the PERSON of Christ. p 92

    mcmark: The “unionists” assume that justification is a legal fiction (as if) unless it’s an analytic declaration based on an already existing “personal relationship” to Christ. They warn about ideas of “abstract union” based on legal imputations by God to the ungodly, and point us instead to personal infusion and indwelling and impartation—-you know, the “real” not the contract federal legal mechanical transaction stuff….

    McDermott: “for Jonathan Edwards,God has decided that at the moment when a person trusts in Christ, that person becomes so really united with Christ’s person, that imputation is not merely legal but based on God’s perception of a new real fact, which is the new moral character of the person called Christ who now includes (by real union) what used to be the sinner.”

    Jonathan Edwards in his book on justification asks “whether any other act of faith besides the first act has any concern in our justification, or how far perseverance in faith, or the continued and renewed acts of faith, have influence in this affair?” When Jonathan Edwards answers that no other acts are required, Edwards means that works after justification should not be considered separate from the initial act of faith. Edwards thought of perseverance as a part of the original act of saving faith, “the qualification on which the congruity of an interest in the righteousness of Christ depends, or wherein such a fitness consists.”

    Jonathan Edwards—“The act of justification has no regard to anything in the person justified BEFORE THIS ACT. God beholds him only as an ungodly or wicked creature; so that godliness IN the person TO BE justified is not ANTECEDENT to his justification” (p. 147)


  5. John Owen seemed very happy to use the word “earnest” in the sense of “diligent, enthusiastic, passionate”. For several examples see his massive “Practical exposition of Psalm 130” (Works, vol. 14), which is not exactly a fluffy piece of pietism. Sure, much of my Bible reading will be ordinary, and will not fail to benefit me because it is, much as many of my conversations with my wife will be ordinary yet will still accomplish the goals of getting the shopping done and paying the bills. But hopefully there are moments in our private worship and especially in the ministry of the Word and Sacrament that will be uplifting and even glorious, just as there are in good marriages. These are not constant and unremitting, and we shouldn’t be guilted into thinking that they ought to be (no theology of glory). But desiring to read the Bible with commitment and enthusiasm are not bad things, even while we are suspicious of enthusiasts. If I’m wrong on that, I’m wrong along with the vast majority of the Westminster tradition.


  6. DGH, you missed an opportunity to play off of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Puns make everything better…


  7. The problem with being earnest is its contemporary pretenders. There is the highly emotive Charismatic earnestness that is not a worthy or even sound aspiration. Then there is the evangelical earnestness that is intended to be highly visible (i.e.,the earnestness itself) and comes complete with ropes so you can be bound to various extra-biblical ethical rules. Then there is a non-objectionable “earnest” state in which church is truly important, the Bible is truly our guide, preaching is to be heard with due reverence, etc. But it’s never is about outward appearance, and isn’t that what the Gurus of Earnest typically want *to see*?


  8. My problem with the spiritually earnest is it seems like (at least around here) they quickly become nasty when you question their doctrines of spiritual earnestness (where is Petros, anyway?). Maybe it’s better to be circumspect, as in:

    “I hope my thick head and hard heart aren’t so thick and hard that Word & Sacrament can pierce them and yield some benefits in my life — not only for my sake, but for the sake of others around me. And thanks Jesus, for dying on the cross for my sins in spite of me not being a very earnest or good person.”

    I guess some basic crabbiness is all I’m asking for.


  9. Lady BRACKNELL— “I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit. Touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”


  10. To follow up on Iain’s comments, and DG’s citations of the WLC, I believe that WLC 155-160 has clear implications for this question. The Word is to be read, preached, and received in a way that might summarily be called earnest or something like it.

    It is interesting, though, that such a notion seems most prominent for the one who is called to preach. WLC 159 asks “How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?” Part of the lengthy answer is “zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people.” I think that connotes the same sort of thing that earnestness does.

    I appreciate, however, your emphasis that this is the ordinary means of grace and that we should learn to enjoy it with regularity, whatever our affective state might be entering or exiting our reading or hearing of the Word.


  11. Darryl I think you’ve missed a beat with this one… you make earnestness and ordinariness mutually exclusive and I would suggest that communion with God through the Word would normally be both. In Danny, you are not dealing with the revivalists. The earnestness of the Psalmist (19 or 119) is in the ordinary means of grace.

    A bit of friendly fire there IMHO.


  12. DGH,

    I just read Danny Hyde’s bluster on Facebook. For whatever it’s worth, I think you’re absolutely right. We should still do that conference about the pietistic turn in puritanism. Have you read T. D. Bozeman’s “The Precisianist Strain” yet? I was re-reading a chapter a few nights ago, and realized that he cites Heiko Oberman as saying that puritanism was essentially proto-pietism.

    In light of that, which members of the Westminster Assembly would you say are not enthusiasts? Though I disagree with Mark Jones’s thesis, I’m concerned about the quotes he marshals from Owen. I think he proves Bozeman’s point – though what Jones celebrates, Bozeman seems nauseated by.


  13. “Thank you . . .for injecting some sanity into this thread.”

    I’m guessing Reverend Pruitt doesn’t usually say hello like this. If you want to get all Puritany about it, this is a drive by shooting of the heart. He must be showing us an example of how earnest is not enough. Clever.


  14. I must admit my disgust at eating organ meats made it nearly impossible to pay attention after the title. Pancreas or broccoli, what a choice!


  15. Earnestness accompanied by kindness, care for others, humility, and gentleness is a wonderful thing.

    Earnestness accompanied by self-righteousness, anger, censoriousness, stubbornness, and just plain being an a**hole to people is not.

    So earnestness in and of itself is probably not the problem.


  16. Reading Danny Hyde’s post I really don’t see any red flags worthy of a penalty. I don’t particularly like wondering this, but I’m wondering if this is snark that has jumped the shark…


  17. Matt, the earnestness is suffocating. What if it puts others off? What if Jesus had such visible displays in mind when he talked about keeping it in your prayer closet?

    Just because you’re pious doesn’t mean everyone else has to notice.


  18. Chris, I don’t know the Divines well enough to identify enthusiasts. I don’t have the baseball cards. Anyway, the way I read the Standards, we still have some room for modesty and restraint.


  19. Reading the Facebook responses on Danny Hyde’s page. Those folks need to exchange a few thousand posts with Richard Smith and they’ll better understand the Old Life hair trigger response to anything that smells even slightly like Edwardsian revivalistic pietism.

    I think it’s this sentence that caught D.G.’s eye more than the term “earnest”:

    “By reading the Word in such a way, we will not only be informed, but inflamed.”

    Maybe “edified” or “built up” rather than “inflamed”?


    (1) provoke or intensify (strong feelings, esp. anger) in someone.
    “high fines further inflamed public feelings”
    synonyms: enrage, incense, anger, madden, infuriate, exasperate, provoke, antagonize, rile;

    (2) cause inflammation in (a part of the body).”the finger joints were inflamed with rheumatoid arthritis”synonyms:swollen, puffed up;

    Neither of these sounds overly great.


  20. One of the Facebook comments:

    “It seems that the author of that article is an adherent of the Neo-Calvinist notion of the ‘objectivity’ model, and its scorn for vital religion.”

    Who is going to be madder, revivalists or Neocalvinists who discover that D.G. has switched over?


  21. Jack, there seems to be quite a little food fight (get it?) breaking out over some honest questioning. And while “red flag” seems a little off the mark, I do wonder when the Word of God is described the way Hyde does: “…the Holy Spirit’s love letter to us.” That’s classic evangelicalism. I’m not aware of any Reformed documents that speak in such romantic terms. And so here’s a question: why do the evangelicals get saddled with being therapeutic deists, but it’s not a red flag when the confessing Reformed use its language?


  22. Darryl, bingo. Just the other day I wondered aloud to a new lifer if he realized that when personal testimonies are indulged in a Reformed worship service it actually leaves some of us cold. He couldn’t fathom the possibility.


  23. Darryl,
    Jack, what if it isn’t inspiring but actually deflating? It feels like my personal trainer at the gym. Work harder! Are you committed?

    I get that this is how Danny’ article hit you subjectively. Just wondering if that’s a solid – objective – basis for your argument.


  24. Hyde says, “I want to acknowledge before all who read this Mark Jones, Nick Smith, and my bloke Carl Trueman, who have encouraged me today in light of this nonsense:”

    The use of “encouraged” is a bit strange. Was he “down” because of D.G.’s post? No need to be down, we’re just sharpening each other’s theology a bit. When we write for public consumption we need to be ready for some criticism or the need to clarify what we’ve written. Just come over here and give it back to D.G. if you think he’s wrong.

    Also “nonsense”? If it’s nonsense, come here and make your case.

    I know some people are just not combative, and that’s fine, but don’t go to the other extreme and play the sympathy card.

    Hopefully this all just blows over, though, as these are both very solid guys.


  25. Zrim – “…the Holy Spirit’s love letter to us.”

    Erik – This is also an odd formulation for a Calvinist since we believe it is also a letter of fearful judgment and eternal punishment to those who are not elect.


  26. Rev. Brian Lee is a good example of the ideal way to respond to a Hart post. When Lee’s praying before Congress came up, he came here himself for some friendly discussion and even debate. He never got angry or exasperated and made a nice case for what he did. Even if everyone didn’t agree it was a helpful discussion and I think a lot of mutual respect and understanding was the result.

    So much of what we accomplish in this arena is less about what we say than it is how we conduct ourselves while saying it.


  27. Zrim, granted, the phrase isn’t one I would choose, but is the substance of what Danny intends off base just because of a phrase used/misused by evangelicals?

    Hosea 3:1: “The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…”
    Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

    Not to mention the many, many places in Scripture that speak of God’s unfailing and steadfast love for his people. Food fight indeed, or mountain out of a molehill?


  28. I’m quite sure that I don’t have an earnest bone in my body…when it comes to the things of God.

    But I’m also pretty sure that what I’m counting on is His earnestness…for me.


    If I could wrap all of Piper’s “sermons” in a huge gunny sack and sink it to the bottom of the Marianas Trench…it wouldn’t be deep enough by half.


  29. Erik,
    So the problem is that Danny didn’t say “everything” one should say about Scripture? You seem to be agreeing with Danny by your comment that Scriptures are a love letter to us, i.e. the elect. This is getting into nit-picking territory.


  30. From Oscar Wilde, Algernon— “Well, one must be serious about something . . . . What on earth you are serious about I haven’t got the remotest idea. About everything, I should fancy. You have such an absolutely trivial nature.”

    As Harold Camping used to say after hearing another “testimony”—and thank you for sharing….

    Autobiography cannot be so very honest because now we need to re-narrate the arc and feel and shape of our story to find a more usable past….


  31. Hyde–and Calvin–got it right.

    “He who knows Christ in a proper manner beholds him earnestly, embraces him with the warmest affection, is absorbed in the contemplation of him, and desires no other object.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians)


  32. As much as I respect Danny Hyde, has he fell into the trap of so many today by quoting and seeing an issue (enthusiasm) primarily through the view point of an author rather than going to the confessions and creeds first? If one wanted to buttress a case on enthusiasm, Piper is a too obvious choice and the poor chap seems to have earnestness as THE sign of true insight and spiritual application. Likewise, those who write songs of so called worship in Piper’s circles have an odd and visibly agonising insistence of looking earnest in all they sing and play. Does this mean if one does not look earnest then our worship is not appropriate?
    Please can we have more writing all round which centres on the confessions and not the pernicious viewpoints of sincere men like Piper and the cool kid quoted in YRR circles, the Blairite Kevin DeYoung, his faithful ally?


  33. Jack, think Gilbert Tennent and Jonathan Edwards. That search for “genuine” piety wasn’t good for the church then — though of course, rare is the “conservative” Presbyterian who can even wonder about Edwards (we need to have our intellectual giants). I don’t think it is any more so today.


  34. Warren, here here. Calvin was astute enough to write: “Others do good, not from a desire to do what is right, nor on account of the glory of God, but only to obtain for themselves fame and a reputation for holiness. This last mentioned class Christ now describes, and he properly calls them hypocrites: for, having no proper object in view in the performance of good works, they assume a different character, that they may appear to be holy and sincere worshippers of God.” (Commentary on Matt. 6)

    Isn’t it conceivable that our earnestness may be a cover for less holy things going on inside us? Couldn’t it be deceptive to think that now I have arrived since I really really really feel Scripture speaking to me? Wouldn’t Calvin’s understanding of sin (not to mention Scripture’s) even in the life of the believer caution us about making too big a deal of our own zeal? Maybe we look to the earnestness of God in saving us?


  35. And could it be that the pursuit of earnestness is a form of a theology of glory that prevents serious Calvinists from pausing before they sing of their zeal?

    I am a Calvinist to the tips of my fingers. I do not think that Calvinism is to blame for some contemporary Christians’ inability to handle tragedy and to lament. Part of the problem is the perennial intrusion of the theologies of glory which the fallen world preaches to us and which our fallen hearts are always eager to believe.


  36. Paul Washer makes John Piper and Al Martin look like non-enthusiasts.

    But thanking God that I am not as self-righteous (or inflamed) as Paul Washer is also another way of being self-righteous.

    Galatians 6: 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised… 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

    Not being Jewish counts for nothing. Not being self-righteous counts for nothing. Not singing “throw up on the wall” music counts for nothing. Christ crucified will save all those for whom He was crucified.


  37. Darryl, TMI alert (so anyone can feel free to stop reading now, or not), but I went through a oatmeal only for breakfast phase in my life, ate it every morning. I actually still love the stuff (and no, we’re not talking instant oatmeal garbage, we’re talking boil the water, dump the oats in, cover for 5 min, all that jazz, add the brown sugar after. Like heaven. I’m getting hungry just thinking of it..).

    Anyway, now for my attempt at value, my pastor got me to start reading Scripure daily by explaining how the dialogue between me and God takes place in morning devotion. I come to His Word. He’s speaking. I meditate, think about what God is revealing of Himself, how does this apply to me, and what I am to do / change in my behavior in response to having understood. So the dialogue is coming to my Father to be shaped, and my response to all this takes place afterward in prayer. It’s deeply personal, and I don’t like writing this way on a public forum.

    For some reason, Psalm 139 has been on my mind, and seems appropriate here, as I close:

    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

    I don’t read enough of the blogo-sphere or twitter-verse to get Hyde or others mentioned, so offer no opinions on these other online writers. But that’s just (all about) me.



  38. Oh, and one more thing, my pastor told me through all of life’s ups and downs, it has been his daily devotional time that has made the biggest impact, in terms of helping him through all that. His telling me that made in impression, such that I returned to the ways of my youth, in the respect discussed about here. Haven’t looked back. I am thankful for good pastors..


  39. I don’t see how warning against hypocrisy is antithetical, or even just inimical, to “earnestness.”

    In fact, in his preface to his commentary on the Psalter, John Calvin states:

    “Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of our need, and next, from faith in the promises of God. It is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure. In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God is taught us in this book. And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled form all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds.”


  40. Jack, maybe. But the way the description seems to roll easily off the pen without any sort of qualification just seems careless. Yes, I get his general point, but the way Scripture portrays God’s unfailing and steadfast love for his covenant people seems altogether different from what an author of a so-called “love letter” is getting across. Think father versus teenage girl, love versus giddiness. Big difference.


  41. I’m guessing that Calvin’s “earnestness” remarks were meant mainly to contrast true piety with formalists who went through the motions without believing they signified or could transmit anything. Old Schoolers don’t believe worship, bible study, and prayer are meaningless — quite the contrary. We just don’t rate their efficacy or value by our or other’s degree of emotional involvement or response.


  42. Warren, and how do you know when your earnestness is not hypocritical? Have you thought about that?

    And do you think it is easier to gain a following with earnestness (read sincerity) or with moderation and restraint — meaning, you don’t talk about your devotion in ways that either exalts it or that makes others question their own devotion.


  43. Jack,

    “Love Letter” is sappy and overly simplistic. Show me a love letter and open up the Bible beside it. Not the same things.

    Where does the story of Tamar and Judah and Paul telling the Judaizers to emasculate themselves fit into the “love letter” trope?

    This is old hat Old School/New School stuff.


  44. During my days in the evangelical wilderness we sang a song (a lot) that had the line:

    “You (God) do all things well, just look at our lives”

    Even back then with my Calvinism in infancy that grated on me.

    Part of the problem was that after singing that and trying to have all these warm, glowing feelings in worship, I would see a lot of the members of the church go out and not treat each other very well at all.

    Any time our religion becomes about us and our warm feelings toward God, we are on the verge of hypocrisy — because we’re not that sincere or good. God is at work to sanctify us, but let’s be circumspect about how far along we are in that process.


  45. “Hyde–and Calvin–got it right. “He who knows Christ in a proper manner beholds him earnestly, embraces him with the warmest affection, is absorbed in the contemplation of him, and desires no other object.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians)

    I like Luther better, “Love God? Sometimes I hate Him.”

    That is more honest and reflects our true nature.

    But we do love Him (because He first loved us)…albeit certainly not all the time and certainly not as we ought.


  46. “…. 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? … 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 …”

    Amen. Reading through this thread topic several times I am reminded of the Hawkins/Darnell tune made famous by B.B. King, “The Thrill is Gone.” How many times do we have to feel “inflamed” by opening the pages of scripture before getting past the point of immediate “thrill” and therefore burned out (unless, of course, maybe you’re Piper). Ordinary is good.


  47. Having just re-read the post above, I don’t see it as very (get ready for this now) “inflammatory.” It speaks of curiosity, it asks questions, and it proposes an analogy (oatmeal). Behind the curiosity, the questions, and the analogy are probably concerns about showy earnestness and the proclivity of some Edwardseans to add affectional requirements that are every bit as burdensome as anything the Pharisees invented. In the context, it is an invitation to clarify exactly what this “earnestness” is in contrast to these concerns.

    It’s too bad that, for some, the lasting impression of this post is likely to be the knee-jerk and imperious reaction of a few, including pastors. It’s a reaction that, on the whole, tends to increase rather than abate those who are apprehensive of their brand of “earnest.”


  48. I hear your point Daryl. I’m daily ministering to evangelical college students who were raised on an overdose of earnestness. Many of them are crushed by the distance between their obedience and the picture painted for them of what the epic Christian life ought to be. Nonetheless, the LC 174 quotation you give in the OP above would warm the cockles of the most experimental Calvinist’s heart, with its stress on “earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ” – not just receiving the sacrament but receiving it rightly. And if the desire for earnestness in our pursuit of God is out of line, then you have a problem with Calvin, with Owen, and with most of historic Reformed theology. This is not some neo-Calvinist invention, even if they may have appropriated the emphasis in an unbalanced way.

    Nor, Erik, is “the love letter from God” idea an “old school/new school” issue. Read the Puritans on the Song of Solomon (i.e James Durham). Listen to Samuel Rutherford say in a sermon “You shall lay soul and head down in the bosom, and between the breasts of Jesus Christ; that bed must be soft and delicious, it is perfumed with uncreated glory”. Not language that I would use in a sermon, mind, but there is genuine Reformed warrant for “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs, at least historically speaking.

    Surely the central issue is the fact that the call to earnestness in loving God and his Word is law. As such, of course it can be proclaimed in a way that becomes crushing moralism. It certainly is in many of the sermons I hear in the broader evangelical community (e.g. chapel services). Of course, the right response to my lack of earnestness is to lament it and to let it drive me to Christ, who has truly been earnest in my place. I am very ready to confess with Luther that I often hate God instead of loving him, which is why the justification of the ungodly through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is such a precious doctrine. But can I as a preacher say anything else apart from “you are a sinner; flee to Christ”? The exhortations of the NT, as understood historically by Reformed theology, suggest a third use of the law, as a guide to the believer. Should I not strive, aspire, long for holiness? Would such holiness not include delighting in God’s Word? To be sure, we only make small beginnings on the road to such righteousness here and now, but the law still speaks to us of what such delightful obedience would look like, does it not? Personally, having outlined such obedience through the third use of the law, I am always going to end my sermon with what I call “the fourth use of the law”, which is to bring us back to the imputed righteousness of Christ again as our only hope in life and death. And we go to the Lord’s Table weekly so that even if I as a preacher have preached too much law, the Table proclaims the gospel again in all of its simplicity and sends us out with our eyes focused on Christ and not ourselves. Isn’t that essentially what Danny was trying to communicate?


  49. I botched my last sentence a bit but, like I’ve said so many times before, “you know what I mean.”

    BTW, Iain’s comment of 1:50 is a hoped-for and constructive response.


  50. The ability to flip that zealous religious switch, a point of pride with a lot of Evangelicals, does not work when you are on your death bed or otherwise knocked onto your backside.

    Seen several doubt their faith at this moment when they need it most, can only imagine what pastors see.

    Better to be a solid fan sitting in the cheap seats through thick and thin than one showing up for playoff games with your face painted in the team colours and screaming like a fool.


  51. Iain – Nor, Erik, is “the love letter from God” idea an “old school/new school” issue. Read the Puritans on the Song of Solomon (i.e James Durham). Listen to Samuel Rutherford say in a sermon “You shall lay soul and head down in the bosom, and between the breasts of Jesus Christ; that bed must be soft and delicious, it is perfumed with uncreated glory”. Not language that I would use in a sermon, mind, but there is genuine Reformed warrant for “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs, at least historically speaking.

    Erik – The possibility always remains open that lots of things Reformed people said in the past were all wet, historically speaking. They weren’t the Pope.


  52. “Erik – The possibility always remains open that lots of things Reformed people said in the past were all wet, historically speaking. They weren’t the Pope.”

    The human mind has an astonishing ability to convince a man that he meets standards he is convinced he must meet. I’ve seen it up close. There was one guy who claimed he hadn’t sinned in years. Another whooped himself up into thinking his emotions met the most strict demand of Edwardseans and his soul was in brotherhood with the most poetic of the Puritans. Et al. Sorry, I don’t believe Edwardseans are elevated on clouds of glory all the day, and I don’t believe Puritans fine-tuned their souls as much as they lead on. Moreover, I tend to think that men living in that kind of fantasy have psychological blind spots that are so extensive that they were/are potentially dangerous people.

    Please note that I have described certain people that I do not identify with anyone above.


  53. Iain, thanks for conceding that I have a point.

    I wonder, though, what you mean that earnestness is law. What happens to verses like Lord I believe, help though my unbelief? What happens to faith the size of a muster seed? What happens to those who think they are earnest and then find out they weren’t sufficiently so? How do they get off the tread mill and rest on Christ?

    And why can’t gratitude be the model for the Christian life — as in the Heidelberg Catechism, we live a godly life in gratitude — not in a quest for more zeal — for what God has done?


  54. Jack, how would Danny have rephrased the essay if he had taken into consideration how burdensome the quest for earnestness can be? Or is it that the zealous never consider the other side or even that there might be a different side?


  55. Iain, btw, you’re not really going to recommend that stuff from Rutherford, right? Even John Wesley told his brother, Charles, to take a cold shower when CW started to talk like an adolescent in love about his savior.


  56. M&M, on the same point, I listened to a podcast about sanctification where two were speaking up against antinomianism and while the one guy was describing the strides he had made in the last 10 years, he kept interrupting his interview companion. Doesn’t matter if I am impolite. I’m holy.


  57. Daryl,
    I’m very happy to concede your point that the pursuit of earnestness can be a crushing thing. But so could the pursuit of gratitude. My heart can make a work out of anything. That doesn’t mean that the thing in itself is not something good or to be sought after. The law is good and holy; the problem is that I am unholy. Zeal for God’s house is a good thing; the problem is that I lack zeal. The solution is Christ the law-keeper in my place, the one who was zealous for God’s house in my place. But ought I not to long and pray for greater zeal for God’s house and love for God’s law? Isn’t that what I should ask God to create in me by the work of his Spirit? Isn’t that what Reformed people mean by the third use of the law?

    And no, I’m not going to laud Rutherford’s language, or Durham’s commentary on the Song of Songs which to my mind is too often free associating rather than exegeting the text. My point (correcting Erik) was simply that the idea of love songs to (or from) Jesus is not a modern, new school invention. It is a strand that recurs throughout church history, and which is a striking feature of most pre-modern exegesis of the Song, including that from Reformed divines. That doesn’t make it good or right (as I will argue in my forthcoming commentary; all about me) but it does mean that it is not uniquely the product of modern narcissistic evangelicalism, as often seems to be asserted. As a Church Historian, I’m sure you might appreciate the importance of getting our facts right.


  58. One of the most mindblowing interviews I’ve ever heard was with Ted Haggard when he was the head of the National Association of Evangelicals. They were talking about sin and Haggard said that he had not sinned in several days. The interviewer seemed incredulous, but Haggard didn’t back down,


  59. Those Evangelicals (Haggard) just don’t get it, do they?

    They look at sin’s’. Instead of seeing their own bondage to sin, and the fact that they don’t want to stop sinning (otherwise they would)…they view it as carefully steeping around and jumping over the dogs turds that they view as obstacles to their holiness.

    They might as well be Catholics and join Jason’s crowd as they chant their way ’round the turds.


  60. Iain,

    “New School” is 19th century. “New Side” is 18th century. They weren’t modern narcissistic evangelicals.

    Where did I say “Love Letter” is a modern notion? I said just the opposite, that it is an old debate.


  61. Erik, you’re arguing against something I’m not affirming. See my response to Zrim on the first comment page. “Love letter” is not a phrase I would choose. That doesn’t change the fact the Scripture is replete with the affirmations of God’s steadfast love for his people. **Also see my first reply to you.** For Scripture to be about God’s love for his chosen people doesn’t mean every story must be specifically about that love. You know that. In the same way, Scripture is about two words, Law and Gospel. But that doesn’t means every verse or paragraph is always explicitly about either.

    Darryl, I don’t have any big problem with Danny’s article, except the choice of the phrase that must no be mentioned (see above). It doesn’t cause me to ring a bell – “ding, ding, ding.” And it doesn’t cause me to toss a penalty flag. But I’m wondering, since you’re raising concerns, maybe the better question is how would you change the wording of his article? And btw, two things I am not fond of- enthusiasm in worship and legalism through subtle but heavy use of the law, which would be evident by a perusal of my blog. Also, I share your concerns on the issue of emotionalism/enthusiasm as well as on other issues. Yet, is it necessary to always see completely eye-to-eye on every detail in order to be on the same page??

    One last thought, if Danny were leaning toward enthusiasm wouldn’t you think it might be evident in his church? It’s been 3 years, but last time I was there the service was somewhat of a model of Word and Sacrament centered reformed liturgical worship. I say ‘somewhat’ only because it wasn’t exclusive psalmody! Can’t have everything,eh? I go back and forth on that issue myself depending on whether I’m reading Scott Clark of T.David Gordon. 😉

    in the peace of Ann Hutchinson…


  62. Jack,

    You can use “love letter” if you want. I’m never going to ask you to borrow a “cook book”, though, because by your standards it could turn out to be about cooking, auto mechanics, dancing the macarena, and Inuit poetry. I just want to know how to make beef stew.

    If Reformed theology is about anything its about precision and avoiding sentimental cliches.


  63. You also have to consider that Scripture (and the Aquila Report) is read not just by Christians, but by people who don’t and won’t embrace the gospel. For them it is a “death letter” — a message of grim & fearful judgment, punishment, and terror. Maybe more of a warning sign than love letter.


  64. Maybe the “Good News Bible” should be the “Good News/Bad News Bible” and “The Living Bible” should be the “The Living/Dying Bible”? Bad marketing scheme, I admit.


  65. Erik, do you twist the words of others on purpose or is it unintentional on your part? You seem more interested in prosecuting a case than hearing what someone is saying. Fine. Send me to jail and put a notch on your belt…


  66. Romans 12: 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit

    D.M. Lloyd-Jones (disciple of Jonathan Edwards), “The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors”:

    “John Wesley was a man who was saved in spite of his muddled and erroneous thinking. The grace of God saved him in spite of himself. That is Calvinist! If you say that a man’s salvation includes understanding doctrine you are denying Calvinism. We are all saved in spite of what we are in every respect.”

    1. Jonathan. Edwards agreed with Thomas Shepard.
    2. Shepard was against John Cotton and Anne Hutchinson.
    3. Therefore Jonathan Edwards was theologically correct

    1. God causes justification.
    2. Theological orthodoxy does not cause justification.
    3. Therefore, theological understanding about justification or the atonement or the new birth is not a necessary result of God’s effectual call.
    Sarcasm alert–there are many ‘signs” of being a real Christian, but one is when you talk (enough) about “the person of Christ” instead of about forgiveness of sins and justification. Sometimes you need to stop with exegesis of the text and “just” say that name several times in a row. And don’t be proud since it’s God who caused you start being less cold. If it’s enough fire remains to be seen..

    Jesus thou art all compassion,
    enter every trembling heart.

    let us find that second rest.
    Take away our bent to sinning;

    let us SUDDENLY return and never,
    nevermore thy temples leave.

    mark–but then there’s tomorrow


  67. Jack,

    I have nothing against you or Hyde. I’m just objecting to his formulation on the same grounds that Zrim is – sappiness & imprecision.

    “As you read your Bible with reverence, consciously know that you are listening to the voice of God Himself. Because the Word is the Holy Spirit’s love letter to us, we should be humbled to the core and be in awe of the fact that of the billions of people in the world, you—I—have been given the Word.”

    This is a blog for theological debate so I’m debating. I apologize if I’ve caused offense.

    I would rather someone defend the notion that Hyde is promoting confessionally.

    Hyde himself quotes WLC 157:

    “The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.”

    note “Word of God”. I like that better.

    What exactly is it that you thinks needs defending? You seemed to have a beef from the time you arrived yesterday.



    marked by a tendency in favor of a particular point of view, biased
    strongly favoring an opinion in a way that may cause argument
    — ten·den·tious·ly adverb
    — ten·den·tious·ness noun

    pietist— “When the preponderance of my thoughts about my daily life with God are only seen from the perspective of Christ’s substitution and my unworthiness to merit his favor, not only do I miss the joy and motivation of knowing my deeds today can actually please God, but I can be left with a distant, abstract, academic view of my relationship with him.”

    mcmark stands when you sit— Like the Galatian false teachers, sanctification by effort and emotion does not deny justification by imputation. But pietism does minimize justification as only one “perspective” that some people happen to have. Notice the emphasis on “my thoughts”. No longer is the question about what “sanctification” means. The pietist is not interested in biblical or confessional distinctions. Whatever the Bible may or may not say about the “heart”, the pietist holds on to a distinction between head and heart.

    The pietist wants us to disregard the “academic” and “distant”, so that we can get to what is “actual”. The pietist does not (usually) question if gratitude for “actual” forgiveness is also a motive but he wants us to be thinking less about what God did in the past and be more “into” the effort and emotion which are the conditions of “future grace”.

    The pietist warns us— “I can begin to assume that it is only the perfect Christ that “God sees” (as though it were all some visual reality and not a relational reality). It is as if I am now, at least theoretically, absent from the relationship and if not absent, in some way made so irrelevant that my thoughts and actions can neither please him or grieve him in any real way.”

    mcmark sits when you stand—: At the end of the day , it does not matter what we want to be true. The pietist wants to be relevant, at least in his own “sanctification”. The joy and sudden THRILL of victory is never so SWEET unless there IS a possibility of the agony of defeat. So the pietist wants to be present in his relationship with God in such a way that his daily “sanctification” depends on him, even though he will carefully give his personal god the credit for his not being like those who think they are justified but maybe are not because they just don’t seem all that warm…


  69. McMark,

    That’s some good stuff. The thing that strikes me after a year and a half of debating both Catholics and Pietists (especially revivalistic pietists) is how much they share in common. They’ll debate theology with each other, but when it comes to how they actually practice their religion, there are great similarities. The daily mass and the daily quiet time have some things in common.

    We don’t have “quiet time” in our house, but we do read from the Confessions and the Bible most nights and say a prayer. Did the “quiet time” thing in college and it burned me out.


  70. Iain, with all the criticisms of antinomianism these days by people who are perhaps more open about their capacity to keep the law, I’d like to hear someone recommend gratitude as the path of sanctification. It is part of our Reformed heritage.

    BTW, as a matter of church history, Rutherford’s only songs to Jesus came out of the Psalter. I think that it pretty uncontested. Why even the Covenanters to this day and the Free Church until only recently sing only Psalms.


  71. Jack, I’d talk about Scripture as manna in the wilderness and encourage people to study Scripture. I’d avoid adverbs like zealously. Death to adverbs completely.


  72. You mean like Psalm 63?
    O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

    I guess the Psalmist didn’t get your memo about putting to death adverbs. Or earnestness…

    I’m a big fan of gratitude as the path to sanctification. It’s something I preach about regularly and pray for. Thomas Chalmers’ “expulsive power of a new affection” had a big influence on me. Strangely enough, I learned about that from Tim Keller.


  73. I’m gonna use 1) a bad military fake verb 2) a pietistic adverb and 3) a moderately vulgar military slang phrase:

    “I resolve from this day forth to effort earnestly to embrace the suck.”




  74. Rev. Hyde is clearly under the influence of the Puritans. The whole issue of what degree that Dutch Calvinism (Hyde ministers in the URC) is influenced or should be influenced by Puritan notions of Christian spirituality is an interesting one.

    Surely the Three Forms of Unity and the continental Reformed tradition pre-date the English Puritans.

    The only figure I’ve run across who brought Pietist and revivalist Puritan notions to the U.S. Dutch Reformed churches was Frelinghuysen, a contemporary of Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent.

    The Puritan influence is most clearly seen in the Netherlands Reformed (roughly 27 congregations and 10,500 members) and the Heritage Reformed (a split-off of the Netherlands Reformed with roughly 2,000 members), as well as Joel Beeke’s (a Netherlands Reformed Pastor) Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Beeke has been a prominent influence on Hyde.

    I think these expressions of Dutch Reformed Christianity have a pretty high burden of proof to bear if they are going to seek to apply Puritan spirituality to the broader United Reformed Churches in America — the more direct descendants of the Christian Reformed Church.

    Another burden they need to bear is the fate of the actual Puritan churches in the U.S. — the churches of Jonathan Edwards himself. Where are these churches today? For the most part they are extinct, having succumbed long ago to Unitarianism.

    My point is that Puritanism and Dutch Reformed Churches are an odd marriage, indeed.


  75. Since filling that hole in my heart, by my own free will, now every day is like I’m on megadoses of adrenaline. Non-stop adrenaline kick, tell all the pagans about it…

    I press the snooze bar more earnestly than ever, shaving is no longer a boring routine as I with great earnestness scrape my face, standing in line for the bus in subzero temps for 25 minutes is the greatest time to earnestly praise my free will decisions.


  76. I go to Google to find a picture of Frelinghuysen and what do I find:

    A book:

    Forerunner of the Great Awakening: Sermons by Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen (1691-1747)
    by Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen

    edited by…Joel Beeke.


  77. Another interesting notion is the apparent affinity of Neocalvinists (who would claim to be THE embodiment of all that was good in the CRC) and those holding to the Puritans. In reality the affinity may be tenuous in that perhaps all that is uniting them is disdain for Hart.


  78. Why can’t christian devotion be ordinary? Why can’t baptism be ordinary? Why can’t the lord’s supper be ordinary? Why can’t the preaching of the word be ordinary? Why can’t service be ordinary? It does away with so much noise, and it’s not without psychological or emotional effect. In fact, it’s of a better sort; It’s quiet, simple, stable and character forming. It’s mature, and mature is not dull, it brings contentment, peace, hope, love and even joy. What else do you want?

    I don’t always agree with Lewis, but his line about feelings sought being rarely found, is enduring.

    Luke 17

    10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done that which was our duty to do.’”

    1 Thess. 4

    11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.


  79. On guilt, grace, and gratitude, there’s always Heidelberg Catechism 2, 86, and Belgic Art. 24 (with which the Westminster Standards agree):

    HC 2

    2. How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?

    Three things: the first, how great my sin and misery is; the second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery; the third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.

    HC 86

    86. Since then we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why should we do good works?

    Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and also that He be glorified through us; then also, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof; and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.

    BC Art 24:

    We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” causing him to live the “new life” and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

    Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.

    These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification—for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

    So then, we do good works, but nor for merit—for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure”60—thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ”

    Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works—but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

    So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.


  80. Tony: “adverbs are the language of the enthusiastic old Adam”

    Really? We’re going to cede an entire part of speech to the results of the Fall and refuse to use it because others misuse it? What about “patiently” (Heb 6:15)? “eagerly” (1 Pet 5:2)? “joyfully” (Heb 10:34)?

    Darryl: I wouldn’t put too much weight on Ps. 63:1. I’m sure you know the Psalmist didn’t write in English.

    Indeed. That’s why I’ve been teaching Hebrew for the past 18 years. Can you provide evidence that this is a bad translation and that BDB is wrong when it says that this verb means “to look early, diligently for”, along with the NASV, ESV, NIV, HCSV translations, which all render it “earnestly”? Just because the Bible is not in English doesn’t mean that it cannot be understood. In general, our English translations do a good job or rendering the Hebrew into comprehensible English.

    To reiterate: I’m not saying that these adverbs cannot be abused. They can be and regularly are. I get that. But abusus non tollit usum, as my old Latin teacher would have said.


  81. Chortles: “I resolve from this day forth to effort earnestly to embrace the suck.”

    Chortles, that’s the motto of Toronto sports fans (throw in the Buffalo Bills to the mix.)


  82. Is it okay to earnestly skim through chapters of the OT that frankly aren’t going to be of much use in my daily readings?


  83. 1. Someone asked about “being more than earnest.” Here you go. It’s all about me.

    2. I don’t think we should juxtapose the English Reformed over against the European/Continental Reformed if only because the Europeans at the time didn’t do so. The adjective “puritan” is about as slippery as the adjective “evangelical” is today. Some of the English Reformed were more subjective, some less. Some were confessional and orthodox and some, like Richard Baxter, were the Shepherdites of their day. I don’t think the piety of the orthodox, confessional British (to be more inclusive) was more intense than that of Ames (an Englishman pastoring and teaching in the Netherlands) or Voetius (an actual Dutchman) or their followers.

    3. I don’t think anyone in this discussion seriously doubts that Christians should be earnest about their faith and piety. One problem is that “earnestness” is a little subjective and if we press believers on continually or ham-fistedly, “earnestness” can become a man-made test of piety: “are you earnest enough brother” Well, probably not but who’s judging and by what standard? If the standard is 1st Great Awakening revivalism, probably not but, David (Ps 63), Asaph (Ps 78), Isaiah (26:9), and Paul (1 Thess 3) were not Edwardseans. The problem isn’t with the noun, the adjective, or the adverb in themselves. These are sound translations. The problem comes in what is made of them by those who think that other believers aren’t sufficiently earnest (or whatever quality is thought to be lacking).

    Yes, we probably aren’t earnest enough. Thank you for the reminder of the sin and death that clings to us and our need for sanctification. We also, however, need just as much a continual, gracious reminder of God’s unconditional favor toward wretches with their insufficiently warm hearts. We need the foolishness of the cross, the wonder of the empty tomb, the glory of his ascension and reign, and the mystery of the abiding presence of his Spirit as we await the consummation of all things.


  84. Iain, sure I can agree it’s a good translation if you admit that no one in Israel, except for a few priests, was reading the Bible earnestly (since they didn’t have copies). If so, then perhaps this verse is not about Bible reading as we know it today.


  85. So many people want/need that mountain top experience. See RS Clark’s “Quest for illegitimate Experience”

    I say the ordinary (means of grace) IS extraordinary.


  86. Darryl makes a good point re exhortations to read the Bible generally. We should be a little cautious about transferring exhortations in Scripture to read Scripture from their context to ours.

    1. Universal literacy (which is almost certainly in decline) is a relatively recent phenomenon. It certainly didn’t exist in the ancient world where relatively few people could read or could have been expected to be able to read Scripture.

    2. Very few people had direct, unmediated access to Scripture in the ancient world.

    3. Most people would have heard Scripture (as distinct from seeing Scripture with their own yes). We get a sense of this from Colossians 4:

    And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:16, ESV)

    4. Yes, now that most of us can read and now that Scripture is more available to us than ever, we should certainly capitalize on such blessings but we should be careful in how we draw the lines between the biblical exhortation to read and our setting.


  87. Put another way, it is simply required that we come to God’s word with expectant faith of how God will minister to us through it.

    Hebrews 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

    This can and ought to be regular and “ordinary” for Christians. But since we are prone to read coldly and distractedly, and apply the word abstractly or to everyone but ourselves due to our prideful sinful nature, we need encouragement to read it with expectant faith in reference to ourselves.


  88. Erik and Sean, and if we don’t see the connection between ordinariness and the end of Israel’s theocracy, we miss the epoch-making significance of Christ’s work:

    Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (WCF 7.6)


  89. Maybe we should just say that we should read Scripture and attend to the means of grace earnestly while being upfront and open about the fact that there is no standard of earnest that Scripture describes. I grew up Lutheran, in a church that went charismatic, and there was always a bit of looking down on others in my hometown who didn’t display the same degree of emotions or affections as our charismatic parish. There was lip service to “well, everyone worships in their own way” (meaning displays of enthusiasm, affection, etc.), but few in my parish really believed it.

    Why does Edwards have to be the model of earnestness. Some people just aren’t that outwardly emotional/enthusiastic, but that doesn’t make them less godly. In fact, some of the most godly people I’ve known have been “steady as she goes.”

    As Rodney King might say, “Can’t we all just get along?”


  90. Hi Iain,
    I’m not for banning adverbs from the English language. Only wishing (as you seem to agree) that they would be used appropriateLY, and not legalisticalLY. Truth be told, as a weary pastor on a Monday morning, my enthusiasm toward spiritual things is often pretty weak. I still pick up my Bible & read it, even when I’m not feeling it. There I read that Christ’s love for me is as objective as His Cross. In this I rest. “I live by faith the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”


  91. Robert, how about attending the means of grace more regularly than earnestly? That is measurable and all one man can really ask of another. But ever notice how regular and routine are four-letter words even in Word and sacrament churches, as opposed to earnestness and enthusiasm? No, we cannot all get along, sorry. In the real word some notions are inherently suspect while others are more inherently virtuous, and some of us would actually prefer to see the default setting of suspicion set on these latter categories while the virtues of regular and routine are extolled.


  92. Zrim,

    I have no problem with “regularly.” But is there no place for exhorting people to put their heart into it? Anyone can perfunctorily stamp a time clock. Is that what God wants?


  93. Well, Ian had me till “guilted” and then my enthusiasm wilted, along with the broccoli.
    But “Father” Brakel is not a Dutch Puritan?
    Say it’s not so, Joel.


  94. Robert, it could be that regularity and heart aren’t mutually exclusive, as in it takes heart to be regular (and disciplined). But if regularity’s problem is in becoming rote then enthusiasm’s is that it’s just as easily feigned and not something with which God seems pleased, as in their lips honor me but their hearts are far from me–a possibility of which the more enthusiastic among us rarely seem aware.


  95. Zrim,

    Robert, it could be that regularity and heart aren’t mutually exclusive, as in it takes heart to be regular (and disciplined). But if regularity’s problem is in becoming rote then enthusiasm’s is that it’s just as easily feigned and not something with which God seems pleased, as in their lips honor me but their hearts are far from me–a possibility of which the more enthusiastic among us rarely seem aware.

    I wholeheartedly agree. It may even be that enthusiasm is faked more than regularity becomes rote.


  96. I would say that if we then to Scripture (which, after all, is our ultimate authority) we would find many instances of the use of “earnest”. Some aren’t really relevant to this discussion; some- but not many- are in the sense of a surety or guarantee, and quite a few are exactly in the sense Mr. Hyde speaks, e.g. Nehemiah 3:20, Job 7:2, Jeremiah 11:7 and 31:20, Romans 8:19, 1 Cor. 12:31, Hebrews 2:1 and Jude 1:3: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

    I would say that we should do this, but since Mr. Hart has said that we should be sceptical not only of those who seek to be holy and stirred up in the faith, but the Bible itself! But I suppose that’s the result of a culture in which you change your Bible translation every time a new one comes out in a nice shiny cover and you preach on texts which literally say something different from the last time you preached on them. Where is the trust that not only has The Lord inspired his text but preserved it through the ages?

    If we are not to put trust in the Psalms’ use of earnest, we must also forsake the succour and encouragement which the Psalms offer because, by your standard, how can I trust what I’m reading? And this is the point: you think that you are helping those who are weak in the faith by doing down any sign or attempt at earnest faith (well I hope that your motives, at least, are honourable) but actually you condemn them to a life of doubt and inadequacy because they have nothing to work towards; no example of a more fulfiling Christian life. You do not counter doubt by wallowing in it. Paul says the older members of a congregation are meant to nurture the younger in the faith and be an example: all you and your acolytes are an example of is settling for an empty spiritual life. As Greg said in the discussion on movies: for those who are particularly beset by certain sins, a libertine attitude does not help them but leaves them open to ever more temptation.

    I’m glad to see that the Song of Solomon was mentioned. Of course Mr. Hart has no answer to this book because it dwells extensively in the rapturous communion of Christ and the believer. Which is why, I suppose, all you modernists have dishonoured this song- which for generations has been a source of such comfort and succour to the Lord’s people- by degrading it into a poem about human marriage. Why strive for the spiritual life shown there when you can bring it down to your level? (I’m afraid, Mr. Duguid that the Reformed understanding of this song, exemplified in Mr. Durham’s commentary, is the correct. If your commentary says anything different it’s not Reformed: but maybe Driscoll will like it?)

    Read the sermons and particularly the table addresses on the Song by the older Reformed ministers and you will see a spirituality that is keenly aware of the love of Christ to his church and of the attainments which can be reached in the Christian life. Of course this is not the case all the time- and suh low cases are also addressed in the Song- but it is what is to be pursued. And Mr. Duguid: such exposition does not warrant the “Jesus is my boyfriend” praise songs of today. But Christ is the Bridegroom and the church is the bride.

    It always amazes me that you all who claim to be Truly Reformed will cast away so much of the heritage when it becomes inconvenient. And the arrogance you have to claim that American Presbyterianism is somehow the norm, a tradition which began compromising ere it was constituted.


  97. Charity would be opening up a blog that freely allows people to discuss various views on their faith, until they prove they cannot handle this kind of freedom.


  98. C’mon guys. This whole “banish adverbs” thing is a bridge too far. Even the best painters paint themselves into a corner from time to time.

    I wonder if we might use an adverb to translate Jesus’ summary of the Law? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

    OR: Love God whole-heartedly (and soulfully, and intellectually).

    I think my good professor Duguid hit the nail on the head when he said the adverb is a sort of law — even the summary of the law — and the only problem we Reformed have with the law is its abuse, not its proper use[s].


  99. Brian, but every teacher of writing knows that adverbs gum up prose and poetry. It’s a sign that the words you’re using aren’t sufficient to carry your point. So you really really existentially mean it with an adverb.


  100. What stirs our adverb-y affections, anyway? Methinks it is the proclamation of Christ and His redemptive love for us (as Alan Strange alluded to in another thread). When I direct you to how adverb-y you’re hearing (or reading) the Word, it’s a Word of Law. As Brian points out, that’s a legitimate use of the Law. But the Law always shows me how far short my adverbs fall. I do not not love God as fully as I should, nor my neighbor as selflessly as I should. I do not hunger as earnestly for spiritual things as I should. Apart from Christ, I’m toast. The Gospel declares Christ lived perfectLY and zealousLY out of love for His Father and neighbor – FOR me. He fulfilled all the adverbs, and every jot & tittle. And He bore the barrenness of my love for God and neighbor on the Cross. Faith embracing that then expresses itself truLY in love to God and neighbor. Aim at the adverbs and you expose sin – even while teaching what OUGHT to be seen in our lives. And so we always preach Christ, which stirs up adverb-y love for God and neighbor. But our boast is in His Cross, not how adverb-y we are.


  101. But our boast is in His Cross, not how adverb-y we are.

    True dat, nor our is our boast in our lackingliness of adverbly behavior, yo.

    Aside: It always feels to (all about) me like playing golf out here, with every passing post, like how I’m always saying I’m done with the sport after just about every round I play..


  102. I’m still wanting to explore how this works pastorally without crossing boundaries that should not be crossed.

    How do we reconcile “Thus Saith the Lord” and probing subjective, internal, spiritual states.

    The most zealous Edwardsian we ever had here was basically in a church of one because he couldn’t find anyone pure enough to worship with. No one got him and his spiritual program adequately, apparently.

    Edwardsians have a lot of ground to make up here if they want to restore the credibility of that system.

    Get to work, with specifics.


  103. O.K. I’m resurrecting. Let’s start with a simple one. Is this statement true or false?

    RS: The Gospel, according to Paul, is that of Christ in you the hope of glory. Is that subjectivism? Call it what you will, but the great mystery of the Gospel which was hidden from the ages was then being preached by Paul and it was made known through him. It was that Christ is in you, the hope of glory. The Gospel is all about Christ being in His people.


  104. Another gem:

    Erik: So why the constant emphasis from you on religious affections, self-examination, examination of others, Edwards, Tennent, revivalism, etc.

    RS: Let me try one more time. You look for true religious affections because a true religious affection is the work of Christ in the soul. People can have many false affections and have them for the wrong reasons. But again, one examines self for the purpose of seeing if Christ is in them and if He is working in them. Some go into the woods (I do this too) and see the glory of God and His works there. But we are told to look in our hearts to see if the work of Christ is really there.

    Erik: Soul Doctor Richard (my new handle for you) – If you go seeking King Jesus in the temple of a heart (yours or someone else’s) and don’t find Him – what is your prescription? (beyond a nature walk).

    What happens if on the nature walk you see two horses copulating, a fox tearing apart a chicken, or a dog taking a dump? Nature isn’t always so gentle or peaceful.


  105. Erik, one idea, and then poof goes the AB.

    After the conference in 2009, John Muether led our Sunday School. The lasting impression was that those of us with giddy tendencies ought to read (or re-read) The Institutes, or maybe Calvin on Romans, I hear is good too.

    Totally unrelated to what you are after here. But something tells me I could personally benefit from some one on one time through reading the thoughts of that pastor of Geneva.

    My two sense, nothing more.



  106. If you see an adverb, kill it!
    –Mark Twain

    I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.
    –Stephen King

    Please: No one tell Greg Tribulation that I read Mark Twain or Stephen King.


  107. Erik Charter: I’m not sure I can take any more of your reviving of the ghost of Richard Smith. Back when he was posting, I concocted a drinking game in his honor (i.e., everyone take a shot when RS posts or when terms such as Pharisee, labyrinth, unholy dream[?], wet dream[??], etc. are used)–and then he disappeared.

    Delirium tremens ensued.


  108. And, RLK, citing their unbelieving advice approvingly. Your 2k breastplate is showing. But maybe the neo-Cal slip shows in the defense of adverbs, since doing things christianly must then go.


  109. RL,

    I distinctly remember sitting at my in-laws house Christmas 2012 trying to deal with him. My father-in-law had a bottle of Templeton Rye by the computer and I was tempted to down it all. The single most difficult person I have ever encountered at Old Life, and that’s saying something.

    Where he went I do not know but I am not looking that gift horse in the mouth.

    He predated the Sowers rule, but it should be re-named the Smith rule in his honor.


  110. … the main pastoral remedy for “not putting our heart into” worship would be preaching on true worship.

    Even more, the faithful preaching of Law and Gospel from all of Scripture which, by God’;s Spirit, brings sinners/saints to renewed faith and repentance… and grateful obedience from the heart. He who is forgiven much, loves much.


  111. He who is forgiven much, loves much.

    Reminded me of high school philosophy’s To whom much is forgiven. But only click that if you want to go a little crazy reading our liberal’s thoughts on that topic.

    Needless comments, CW? I guess that’s an eye of the beholder kind of thing. I’ll let others be the judge. I just post here.



  112. Zrim, yes, I proudly wear my 2K breastplate. (Oops. An adverb crept in.) And yes, it is showing because I wear it on the outside (but not on my sleeve).

    Those quotes I posted had more to do with Darryl’s point about English and good writing than with how earnestly we read Scripture, or with kindling in the bosom or Phebe Bartlett.

    It seems there are some legitimate points on both sides of this issue. But I also know how feeble and fickle my attempts at earnestness can be.


  113. Erik,

    That is telling.

    Speaking of wherever did people go, whatever happened to Jeff Cagle? I used to love his interaction with Hal 3000. Sharp guy.

    Anyone know?


  114. 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… 😉


  115. 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 😉


  116. 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…


  117. 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.


  118. 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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.