Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baxter on Education

Richard Baxter, the great Puritan theologian, writes some incredibly trenchant comments about education in The Reformed Pastor, pp. 56-59 in The Banner of Truth edition:

"…He is like to be but a heartless preacher, that hath not the Christ and grace that he preacheth, in his heart. O that all our students in our universities would well consider this! What a poor business is it to themselves, to spend their time in acquiring some little knowledge of the works of God, and of some of those names which the divided tongues of the nations have imposed on them, and not to know God himself, nor exalt Him in their hearts, nor to be acquainted with that one renewing work that should make them happy! They do but ‘walk in a vain show,’ and spend their lives like dreaming men, while they busy their wits and tongues about abundance of names and notions, and are strangers to God and the life of saints. If ever God awaken them by his saving grace, they will have cogitations and employments so much more serious than their unsanctified studies and disputations, that they will confess they did but dream before. A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are willful strangers to the primitive, independent, necessary Being, who is all in all. Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied. We know little of the creature, till we know it as it stands related to the Creator: single letters, and syllables uncomposed are no better than nonsense. He who overlooketh him who is the ‘Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,’ and seeth not him in all who is the All of all, doth see nothing at all. All creatures, as such, are broken syllables; they signify nothing as separated from God. were they separated actually, they would cease to be, and the separation would be annihilation; and when we separate them in our fancies, we make nothing of them to ourselves. It is one thing to know the creatures of Aristotle, and another thin to know them as a Christian. None but a Christian can read one line of his Physics so as to understand it rightly. It is a high and excellent study, and of greater use than many apprehend; but it is the smallest part of it that Aristotle can teach us.

When man was made perfect, and placed in a perfect world, where all things were in perfect order, the whole creation was then man’s book, in which he was to read the nature and will of his great Creator. Every creature had the name of God so legibly engraven on it, that man might run and read it. he could not open his eyes, but he might see some image of God; but no where so fully and lively as in himself. It was, therefore, his work to study the whole volume of nature, but first and most to study himself. And if man had held on in this course, he would have continued and increased in the knowledge of God and himself; but when he would needs know and love the creature and himself in a way of separation from God, he lost the knowledge both of the creature and of the Creator, so far as it could beatify and was worth the name of knowledge; and instead of it, he hath got the unhappy knowledge which he affected, even the empty notions and fantastic knowledge of the creature and himself, as thus separated…; the duties which we owed to God as Creator have not ceased…. It is the work of Christ to bring us back to God, and to restore us to the perfection of holiness and obedience; and as he is the way to the Father, so faith in him is the way to our former employment and enjoyment of God. I hope you perceive what I am at in all this, namely, that to see God in his creatures, and to love him, and converse with him, was the employment of man in his upright state; that this is so far from ceasing to be our duty, that it is the work of Christ to bring us, by faith, back to it; and therefore the most holy men are the most excellent students of God’s works, and none but the holy can rightly study them or know them. ‘His works are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein;’ but not for themselves, but for him that made them. Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush, if it be not God that you seek after in them. to see and admire, to reverence and adore, to love and delight in God, as exhibited in his works – this is the true and only philosophy; the contrary is mere foolery, and is so called again and again by God himself. This is the sanctification of your studies, when they are devoted to God, and when he is the end, the object, and the life of them all.

And, therefore, I shall presume to tell you, by the way, that it is a grand error, and of dangerous consequence in Christian academies, (pardon the censure from one so unfit to pass it, seeing the necessity of the case commandeth it,) that they study the creature before the Redeemer, and set themselves to physics, and metaphysics, and mathematics, before they set themselves to theology; whereas, no man that hath not the vitals of theology, is capable of going beyond a fool in philosophy. Theology must lay the foundation, and lead the way of all our studies. If God must be searched after, in our search of the creature, (and we must affect no separated knowledge of them) then tutors must read God to their pupils in all; and divinity must be the beginning, the middle, the end, the life, the all, of their studies. Our physics and metaphysics must be reduced to theology; and nature must be read as one of God’s books, which is purposely written for the revelation of himself. The Holy Scripture is the easier book: when you have first learned from it God, and his will, as to the most necessary things, address yourselves to the study of his works, and read every creature as a Christian and a divine. If you see not yourselves, and all things, as living, and moving, and having being in God, you see nothing, whatever you think you see. If you perceive not, in your study of the creatures, that God is all, and in all, and that ‘of him and through him, and to him, are all things,’ you may think, perhaps, that you ‘know something; but you know nothing as you ought to know.’ Think not so basely of your physics, and of the works of God, as that they are only preparatory studies for boys. It is a most high and noble part of holiness, to search after, behold admire, and love the great Creator in all his works. how much have the saints of God been employed in this high and holy exercise."

Taking Responsibility

1 Corinthians 4:14-16 (NKJV)
14 I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

For the last several weeks we have insisted that one of the lessons which the men in the congregation have been given to teach the Church is stability. As the fathers of Israel, they are to be a source of consistency from one generation to the next, not blown about emotionally or doctrinally but holding fast to the traditions just as they have been taught in the Word of God.

Today Paul identifies another dimension of fatherhood – he was the father of the Corinthian congregation, the one who had started this congregation in Gentile territory. Consequently, he had a unique relationship with them. Because he was their father, not merely their teacher, he takes responsibility for them in a particular way. Consequently, we have two letters – both of considerable length – which Paul sent to this congregation, endeavoring to help them to grow in Christ.

So what principle of manhood is revealed here? What do fathers do? Quite simply, they take responsibility for those under their charge. While boys make excuses, men take responsibility. And this is precisely what Paul does for the Corinthians. He writes these extensive letters to them to warn them, to instruct them, to correct them because he bore responsibility for them.

So, men, how are we doing taking responsibility for those under our charge? Have we taken responsibility for the problems in our marriage? While not all the sins in the marriage may be ours, the responsibility for the state of the marriage is – and so we need to take responsibility and, like Paul, move our marriage toward greater Christ likeness. Have we taken responsibility for the problems in our children? While their sins are not our own, their growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ is our responsibility – we are to be shepherding them, directing them, correcting them, warning them, counseling them – the very thing that Paul is doing in our text, “as my beloved children, I warn you.”

And what of you others? Have you considered the weight that is upon the shoulders of your husband or your parents? And have you made that weight a joy or a burden? Wives, are you a crown of glory or a ball and chain?
• Better to dwell in the wilderness, Than with a contentious and angry woman. (Pr 21:19)
• Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. (Pr 31:10-11)

Children, are you a joy and delight, or are you a heartbreak and sorrow?
• He who begets a scoffer does so to his sorrow, And the father of a fool has no joy. (Pr 17:21)
• The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, And he who begets a wise child will delight in him. (Pr 23:24)

Reminded of the call that is upon us as men to take responsibility and as wives and children to make that responsibility a delight, let us kneel and confess that we have failed in our callings.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Let them ask their Husbands at home

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NKJV)
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

For the last two weeks we have observed that one of the lessons men teach the body of Christ is stability. Men provide a sense of continuity from one generation to the next, enable families, churches and communities to weather storms by holding to what is most important, and provide others with a firm sense of identity.

Our text today, in a way, emphasizes this same point and so I want to touch upon it for just a moment. While its message about the women in the congregation is one we will consider in the future, for now I would like you to note what this passage requires of the men in the congregation. In the context of delivering prophetic oracles and judging the oracles that are delivered, Paul urges the women to keep silent in the churches. They were not to exercise judgment over the other prophets since that would be exercising teaching authority over men in the Church – a thing that was contrary to God’s law. So what were these women to do? First, they were to keep silent – since the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets, they were to control their tongues and wait to speak. Second, when they got back home, they were to ask their husbands about the matter – or, presumably, if they were unmarried or widowed, to ask one of the elders outside the church assembly.

And what were their husbands to do? Their husbands were to teach them. And this, of course, assumes what? That their husbands were able to teach them – that they either knew the answer or were capable of getting the answer by asking someone who would know. Notice, therefore, the calling that Paul is placing upon the men in the congregation: we men need to be prepared to teach our families the Word of God. While we may not be the best theologian in town, we are called to be the resident theologian in our home. So we need to learn as best as we are able.

In last week’s sermon we read Ephesians 4 where Paul describes the function of leaders in the Church. Jesus has given leaders to the Church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting…” (Eph 4:11,13). For an analogous purpose, our text today reveals that God has given men to families – men to provide a sense of stability and ballast not only emotionally but doctrinally as well. Our goal as men is that our families not be blown about by every wind of doctrine but stable, able to hold fast to Christ in the midst of the storm.

So, men, what of us? Are we prepared? If not, then what do we need to do to get there? The high and holy calling of manhood is set here before us today. What a privilege to be entrusted with such a calling! Let us rise to it by the grace of God.

And the rest of us, have we given honor and respect to the men in our homes by listening to them, learning from them, and seeking their wisdom? Wives, in particular, have you sought your husband’s counsel? Few things will motivate him to grow more than a wife who loves, trusts, and honors him.

Knowing that we all have failed in this regard – we men have failed to be the resident theologians in our home, we have been lazy with the Word of God; we others have failed to respect the men in our homes and have instead nagged them, or bullied them, or ignored them; let us kneel and confess our sins to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Men and Stability

1 John 2:13 (NKJV)
13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

What is it that separates the men from the boys? This was the question we began to answer last week. What are the lessons that the men in the congregation have to teach us as the people of God?

Last week I remarked on the stability that men provide for family, for church, and for society at large. Men are to be the source of ballast so that come what may – come trials, come hardship, come joy, come sorrow – men provide a clear sense of direction, identity, being.

Today I would like to expand upon this by noting the title that John uses to identify men – “fathers.” The men in the congregation are the “fathers” of the Church. And note that this is not a new designation for the men among God’s people. After all, throughout the Old Testament God was in the business of fulfilling the promises He made to whom? To the “fathers” – to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it is on the basis of the covenants that God made with “the fathers” – the covenants with Abraham, with our fathers under Moses, and with David – that our Lord Jesus Christ took on human flesh for us. And so notice that throughout the many genealogical registers in Scripture – both Old Testament and New – the lists include successive generations of “fathers” who paved the way for the coming of Christ. While including special women here and there, the individuals that provide the sense of stability and continuity with the past are the men.

In other words, as important and indispensible as mothers are, it is through fathers that the history of Israel passed; it was to the fathers that God was faithful; and it is men whom God now calls “fathers” in the Church – fathers whom we are to respect and honor as the source of stability and strength for the Church.

So men have you reckoned with your high calling? Whether or not you are an earthly father, you are a father in Israel. God has called you to be a source of stability and strength in Israel and by means of you is going to pass the faith on to future generations who will look back and number you among “their fathers.” And so, as any good father, our obligation is to lead the way in devotion to the Lord and to His bride, the Church. We should be enthusiastic for worship, zealous for singing the psalms, eager to hear the Word of God, hungry to come to the Supper each week. But if your experience growing up was like mine then it was just the opposite. The women were the spiritual ones; the men abdicated. This ought not to be. We have an obligation to exemplify before the congregation what truly matters, what is worthy of all acceptance. We are to be examples to the flock, to so exemplify the love of Christ for His bride, the Church, that all God’s people be zealous for Her glory and growth to the praise of Christ Himself.

Others – including children, young men, young women, older women – have you shown the fathers in the faith due honor and respect? Our God calls us to “honor our father and our mother” and this includes respecting the men in the congregation generally by expecting of them all that God does. Remind them of God’s calling on them and be encouraged by them to pass the faith on to future generations.

Reminded that we have often despised our fathers in the faith, that we have considered their wisdom passé, that we have rejected their counsel in favor of our own, that we have scorned the gift God has given us in men, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Separating the Men from the Boys

1 John 2:12-14 (NKJV)
12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one.

What is it that separates the men from the boys? This is the question my Omnibus IV students recently had to consider. And their consideration of that question prompted me to return to my series of exhortations on the lessons which we learn from the different groups of people in the church – infants, children, young men, young women, and now men – not young men, not older men, but just plain men – so what is it that separates the men from the boys?

We realize at the outset, of course, that in some senses this is no longer a question of simple age. Many boys become men when in their teens. And many “grown-up” men continue to be boys when they should have left boyhood behind long ago. Manhood is more a matter of character than it is a biological state. So the words we speak will help us identify what it means to be a man and the lessons men can teach the body of Christ.

Among the answers that the students gave there were a few that repeatedly appeared. The first was stability. Men are stable. Having left behind the rashness of youth; frequently having assumed the responsibility for a family; men are called upon to be a rock of steadiness in a stormy sea.

Steadiness is the subject of John’s commendation in our text today. Note that John writes to three distinct groups in the congregation – little children, young men, and fathers. He gives two exhortations to each of these groups. While his exhortations to little children and to young men vary each time, his exhortations to the fathers are identical both times. “I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.” The consistency of the exhortation reveals that John too saw the men in the congregation as the source of stability and strength for the congregation.

What is it that has troubled Christendom in the West for over a hundred years? Is it not the absence of men? And so, lacking a clear sense of spiritual stability and identity, each new generation has pined for some new fad, some new experience, some new source of strength. This same thing has been happening in our families. While mom typically provides the warmth and color for the home, dad provides a clear sense of stability and identity. Dad identifies, “This is who we are. This is what it means to be a member of this family.” But just as men have been absent from church, dads have been AWOL from the family.

So what is it that enables a man to be stable? Here we must note what John writes. “I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.” The source of a man’s stability is not to lie in anything in himself; it is not to lie in his “macho-ness”; it is not to lie in his personal strength – for all these things can change in a moment. Rather, the source of a man’s stability lies in God Himself – the One who is truly stable, who does not change, shift, or move – and it is for this reason that men are privileged to share the name father with the First Person of the Godhead.

So, brothers and sisters, are we learning from the men in our midst the importance of entrusting ourselves whole and entire to the loving arms of our Heavenly Father who is our Rock, our Fortress, the One who grants stability to our lives in the most trying times? Have we learned from them to have a clear sense of center, a clear sense of identity that is rooted in Christ Himself and that does not change when trials come. I am a Christian. I am a servant of Jesus. This will never change. I fear that we have neglected to learn this lesson. How often we are unstable, unsure, and driven about by the wind and the waves. So let us kneel and let us confess our sin to the Lord.