Deliverance is not Guaranteed by Fasting

by Frank Jones


"The three-day fast called by Mordecai at Esther’s request in 4:15–16 is best understood in terms of a related, but significantly different, belief on the part of the Jews. It is quite distinct in character from the ‘fasting, weeping and wailing’ which are mentioned at the beginning of the same chapter (4:1–3). That was a spontaneous response to bad news. This fast, in contrast, is ‘called’ by Esther and Mordecai, and therefore takes on the character of a ritual act. Furthermore, it is specifically ‘for’ Esther (4:15), who is about to take her life in her hands by approaching the king unbidden; it has an intercessory aspect to it. The Jews apparently do not believe that particular events have a fixed character; but neither do they think that the way they turn out is entirely due to natural causes. The fasting here implies belief in a higher power who may be induced to intervene in a favourable way. The fast in question appears to be a religious act which it is hoped will induce him to do so on this particular occasion. But the outcome is not guaranteed by the act. There is no mechanical connection between ritual and result. The power who is appealed to remains free and sovereign: ‘If I perish, I perish’ (4:16)." (Webb, Barry. Five Festal Garments, 121-122.)


The Hidden God Seen

by Frank Jones


"In particular, the hiddenness of God that we find in Esther mirrors the world many of us live in today, particularly in the West. Events seem to take their normal course, and miracles are few and far between, if they occur at all. But if we have read Esther correctly, it testifies in a striking way to the fact that the absence of the miraculous does not mean the absence of God. He remains committed to the welfare of his people, and works all things for their good, even when he is most hidden. This message about the special providence of God is one that is reiterated in the New Testament and one that God’s people still—and perhaps especially—need to hear today (Rom. 8:28)." (Webb, Barry. Five Festal Garments, 131.)


God is Active When Hidden

by Frank Jones


"One thing it does is to set Esther off sharply from some deliverance narratives, such as the exodus from Egypt or the exploits of the judges, and align it closely with others, such as the stories of Joseph and Ruth. What these point to only partially, however, Esther carries to its logical conclusion. God is present even when he is most absent; when there are no miracles, dreams or visions, no charismatic leaders, no prophets to interpret what is happening, and not even any explicit God-talk. And he is present as deliverer. Those whom he saved by signs and wonders at the exodus he continues to save through his hidden, providential control of their history. His people are never simply at the mercy of blind fate or of malign powers, whether human or supernatural. Proverbs comes very close to distilling the theology of Esther in a single aphorism: ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its decision is wholly from Yahweh’ (Prov. 16:33, my translation). But, as Baldwin notes, Esther goes even further than this: ‘even when the dice had fallen the Lord was powerful to reverse its good omen into bad, in order to deliver his people’ (1984: 23)." (Webb, Barry. Five Festal Garments, 124-125.)


Lament with Confession

by Frank Jones


"Why should a living man ('Adam) complain, a man (geber) for the punishment of his sins?

There is such a thing as undeserved suffering, as the book of Job clearly recognizes. But his man is no Job, and the community of which is is a part is not a blameless one, as the previous poems have mad clear. And in such circumstances even lament can be a strategy of evasion. Only when it includes confession of sin does it fully come to grips with reality and allow the love, compassion and faithfulness of God to heal what is broken and make restoration complete. Lament without confession is mere complaint." (Webb, Barry. Five Festal Garments, 70-71.)


Revival of the Old-Fashioned Doctrine

by Frank Jones


"We want a revival of old-fashioned doctrine. Our fear is that, if “modern thought” proceeds much further, the fashion of our religion will be as much Mohammedan as Christian; in fact, it will be more like infidelity than either. A converted Jew, staying in London, went into a dissenting chapel which I could mention; and when he returned to the friend with whom he was staying, he enquired what the religion of the place could be, for he had heard nothing of what he had received as the Christian faith. The doctrines which are distinctive of the New Testament may not be actually denied in set terms, but they are spirited away; familiar phrases are used, but a new sense is attached to them.

Certain modern preachers talk much of Christ, and yet reject Christianity. Under cover of extolling the Teacher, they reject His teaching for theories more in accord with the spirit of the age. At first, Calvinism was too harsh, then Evangelical doctrines became too antiquated, and now the Scriptures themselves must bow to man’s alteration and improvement. There is plenty of preaching, in the present day, in which no mention is made of the depravity of human nature, the work of the Holy Ghost, the blood of atonement, or the punishment of sin. The Deity of Christ is not so often assailed, but the Gospel which He gave us, through His own teaching and that of the apostles, is questioned, criticized, and set aside. One of the great Missionary Societies actually informs us, by one of its writers, that it does not send out missionaries to save the heathen from the wrath to come, but to prepare them “for the higher realm which awaits them beyond the river of death.” I confess that I have better hopes for the future of the heathen than for the state of those who thus write concerning them. The heathen will derive but small advantage from the Gospel which such triflers with the Scriptures are likely to carry them.

I know not a single doctrine which is not at this hour studiously undermined by those who ought to be its defenders; there is not a truth that is precious to the soul which is not now denied by those whose profession it is to proclaim it. The times are out of joint, and many are hoping to make them more and more so. To me, it is clear that we need a revival of old-fashioned Gospel preaching like that of Whitefield and Wesley; to me, preferably that of Whitefield. We need to believe: the Scriptures must be made the infallible foundation of all teaching; the ruin, redemption, and regeneration of mankind must be set forth in unmistakable terms, and that right speedily, or faith will be more rare than gold of Ophir. We must demand from our teachers that they give us a “Thus saith the Lord;” for, at this time, they give us their own imaginations. To-day, the Word of the Lord in the Book of Jeremiah is true: “Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord. They say still unto them that despise Me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.” (Jer. 23:16, 17.) Beware of those who say that there is no hell, and who declare new ways to Heaven. May the Lord have mercy upon them!" (Spurgeon, C. H. Only a Prayer Meeting: Forty Addresses at Metropolitan Tabernacle and Other Prayer-Meetings. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009, 13-15.)


The Holy Art of Prayer

by Frank Jones


"If a church is to be what it ought to be for the purposes of God, we must train it in the holy art of prayer. Churches without prayer-meetings are grievously common. Even if there were only one such, it would be one to weep over. In many churches the prayer-meeting is only the skeleton of a gathering: the form is kept up, but the people do not come. There is no interest, no power, in connection with the meeting. Oh, my brothers, let it not be so with you! Do train the people to continually meet together for prayer. Rouse them to incessant supplication. There is a holy art in it. Study to show yourselves approved by the prayerfulness of your people. If you pray yourself, you will want them to pray with you; and when they begin to pray with you, and for you, and for the work of the Lord, they will want more prayer themselves, and the appetite will grow. Believe me, if a church does not pray, it is dead. Instead of putting united prayer last, put it first. Everything will hinge upon ... prayer in the church." (Spurgeon, C. H. The Greatest Fight in the World (Final Manifesto). Toronto; New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1891, 43.)


A Greater Glory

by Frank Jones


The simple comparison of verses will speak to the exceeding glory of the New Testament in the Person of the Son of God.

Then Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" (Exo 34:6)

Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us. (Joh 14:8)

For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor 4:6)

 


Social or Saving Gospel?

by Frank Jones


"The same great change appears in community life. A new community, let us say, has been formed. It possesses many things that naturally belong to a well-ordered community; it has a drug-store, and a country club, and a school. “But there is one thing,” its inhabitants say to themselves, “that is still lacking; we have no church. But a church is a recognized and necessary part of every healthy community. We must therefore have a church.” And so an expert in community church-building is summoned to take the necessary steps. The persons who speak in this way usually have little interest in religion for its own sake; it has never occurred to them to enter into the secret place of communion with the holy God. But religion is thought to be necessary for a healthy community; and therefore for the sake of the community they are willing to have a church.

Whatever may be thought of this attitude toward religion, it is perfectly plain that the Christian religion cannot be treated in any such way. The moment it is so treated it ceases to be Christian. For if one thing is plain it is that Christianity refuses to be regarded as a mere means to a higher end. Our Lord made that perfectly clear when He said: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother … he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). Whatever else those stupendous words may mean, they certainly mean that the relationship to Christ takes precedence of all other relationships, even the holiest of relationships like those that exist between husband and wife and parent and child. Those other relationships exist for the sake of Christianity and not Christianity for the sake of them. Christianity will indeed accomplish many useful things in this world, but if it is accepted in order to accomplish those useful things it is not Christianity. Christianity will combat Bolshevism; but if it is accepted in order to combat Bolshevism, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a unified nation, in a slow but satisfactory way; but if it is accepted in order to produce a unified nation, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a healthy community; but if it is accepted in order to produce a healthy community, it is not Christianity: Christianity will promote international peace; but if it is accepted in order to promote international peace, it is not Christianity. Our Lord said: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” But if you seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in order that all those other things may be added unto you, you will miss both those other things and the Kingdom of God as well.

But if Christianity be directed toward another world, if it be a way by which individuals can escape from the present evil age to some better country, what becomes of “the social gospel”? At this point is detected one of the most obvious lines of cleavage between Christianity and the liberal Church. The older evangelism, says the modern liberal preacher, sought to rescue individuals, while the newer evangelism seeks to transform the whole organism of society: the older evangelism was individual; the newer evangelism is social.

This formulation of the issue is not entirely correct, but it contains an element of truth. It is true that historic Christianity is in conflict at many points with the collectivism of the present day; it does emphasize, against the claims of society, the worth of the individual soul. It provides for the individual a refuge from all the fluctuating currents of human opinion, a secret place of meditation where a man can come alone into the presence of God. It does give a man courage to stand, if need be, against the world; it resolutely refuses to make of the individual a mere means to an end, a mere element in the composition of society. It rejects altogether any means of salvation which deals with men in a mass; it brings the individual face to face with his God. In that sense, it is true that Christianity is individualistic and not social.

 But though Christianity is individualistic, it is not only individualistic. It provides fully for the social needs of man. In the first place, even the communion of the individual man with God is not really individualistic, but social. A man is not isolated when he is in communion with God; he can be regarded as isolated only by one who has forgotten the real existence of the supreme Person. Here again, as at many other places, the line of cleavage between liberalism and Christianity really reduces to a profound difference in the conception of God. Christianity is earnestly theistic; liberalism is at best but halfheartedly so. If a man once comes to believe in a personal God, then the worship of Him will not be regarded as selfish isolation, but as the chief end of man. That does not mean that on the Christian view the worship of God is ever to be carried on to the neglect of service rendered to one’s fellow-men—“he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, is not able to love God whom he hath not seen”—but it does mean that the worship of God has a value of its own. Very different is the prevailing doctrine of modern liberalism. According to Christian belief, man exists for the sake of God; according to the liberal Church, in practice if not in theory, God exists for the sake of man." (Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, 151-153)


Faith or Christ Saves? Christ Jesus the Lord!

by Frank Jones


"Faith is being exalted so high to-day that men are being satisfied with any kind of faith, just so it is faith. It makes no difference what is believed, we are told, just so the blessed attitude of faith is there. The undogmatic faith, it is said, is better than the dogmatic, because it is purer faith—faith less weakened by the alloy of knowledge. Now it is perfectly clear that such employment of faith merely as a beneficent state of the soul is bringing some results. Faith in the most absurd things sometimes produces the most beneficent and far-reaching results. But the disturbing thing is that all faith has an object. ... But the one who does the believing is always convinced just exactly that it is not the faith, but the object of the faith, which is helping him. The moment he becomes convinced that it is merely the faith that is helping him, the faith disappears; for faith always involves a conviction of the objective truth or trustworthiness of the object. If the object is not really trustworthy then the faith is a false faith. ...  For faith is essentially dogmatic. Despite all you can do, you cannot remove the element of intellectual assent from it. Faith is the opinion that some person will do something for you. If that person really will do that thing for you, then the faith is true. If he will not do it, then the faith is false. ... Faith is often based upon error, but there would be no faith at all unless it were sometimes based upon truth. But if Christian faith is based upon truth, then it is not the faith which saves the Christian but the object of the faith. And the object of the faith is Christ. Faith, then, according to the Christian view, means simply receiving a gift. To have faith in Christ means to cease trying to win God’s favor by one’s own character; the man who believes in Christ simply accepts the sacrifice which Christ offered on Calvary. The result of such faith is a new life and all good works; but the salvation itself is an absolutely free gift of God." (Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, 141-143)


Faith or Life?

by Frank Jones


"Regeneration means a new life; but there is also a new relation in which the believer stands toward God. That new relation is instituted by “justification”—the act of God by which a sinner is pronounced righteous in His sight because of the atoning death of Christ. It is not necessary to ask whether justification comes before regeneration or vice versa; in reality they are two aspects of one salvation. And they both stand at the very beginning of the Christian life. The Christian has not merely the promise of a new life, but he has already a new life. And he has not merely the promise of being pronounced righteous in God’s sight (though the blessed pronouncement will be confirmed on the judgment day), but he is already pronounced righteous here and now. At the beginning of every Christian life there stands, not a process, but a definite act of God." (Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, 140.)


The Work of Christ is a New Man

by Frank Jones


"But how is the redeeming work of Christ applied to the individual Christian man? The answer of the New Testament is plain. According to the New Testament the work of Christ is applied to the individual Christian man by the Holy Spirit. And this work of the Holy Spirit is part of the creative work of God. It is not accomplished by the ordinary use of means; it is not accomplished merely by using the good that is already in man. On the contrary, it is something new. It is not an influence upon the life, but the beginning of a new life; it is not development of what we had already, but a new birth. At the very centre of Christianity are the words, “Ye must be born again.” These words are despised to-day." (Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, 136.)


Misunderstanding the Cross

by Frank Jones


"The modern liberal teachers persist in speaking of the sacrifice of Christ as though it were a sacrifice made by some one other than God. They speak of it as though it meant that God waits coldly until a price is paid to Him before He forgives sin. As a matter of fact, it means nothing of the kind; the objection ignores that which is absolutely fundamental in the Christian doctrine of the Cross. The fundamental thing is that God Himself, and not another, makes the sacrifice for sin--God Himself in the person of the Son who assumed our nature and died for us, God Himself in the Person of the Father who spared not His own Son but offered Him up for us all." (Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, 132.)