Book Review: “On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry”

Ragy R. Girgis, M.D., On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry: Exploring Mental Illness in the Bible (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2020), 112 pages.

Overview and Purpose of the Book

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On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry by Ragy Girgis, MD

When I received a copy of Dr. Girgis’ book, I was eager to read it. I am fascinated by the connection of body and soul, and I was excited to see a Christian’s perspective on mental illness in the Bible.[1]

Dr. Girgis clearly states his goal on page 3, writing, “Therefore, the goal of this book is to help change misconceptions that have historically pervaded Christianity by educating both laity and clergy about serious mental illness.” In order to accomplish this goal, Dr. Girgis sets out to perform an “exegetic examination of Biblical accounts of what may have been untreated serious mental illness,” to see the biblical worldview of mental health as represented in a variety of passages of Scripture.[2]

After mentioning a few books that have sought to accomplish this goal, Dr. Girgis sets his work apart as reading the Scriptures through a “post-Enlightenment narrative,” changing the way the Scriptures are interpreted to reflect a modern understanding of the

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The chapters of the book follow a primarily exegetically-driven focus.

mental illness.[3] Without denying the accounts recorded in Scripture, he desires to view them in light of modern, medical advancements. He writes that the reader will “gain an appreciation of the non-morality and non-spirituality-based, biological nature and timelessness of available treatments.”[4]

Finally, Dr. Girgis ends the Preface and Introduction with a reminder that his book is written: “to be a resource for any Christian, including both the lay believer as well as clergy and Christian academicians.”[5] He wants his readers to see that “mental illness” is not a spiritual issue but a physical one.

Chapter two provides a wonderfully succinct overview of mental illness. Chapters 3-9 are exegetical examinations of individuals who may have struggled with mental illness. These include Moses and the children of Israel (Ch. 3), King Saul (Ch. 4), King David (Ch. 5), Jonah (Ch. 6), Nebuchadnezzar (Ch. 7), the Gadarene Demoniac (Ch. 8), and the demon-possessed man (Ch. 9). In chapter 10, Dr. Girgis performs an overview of the various teachings regarding witchcraft and sorcery. Chapter 11 seeks to describe the power and limits Satan (and demons) have on the creation and human beings. He provides his own assessment of end-times views in connection with a demonic activity in Chapter 12. In Chapter 13, Dr. Girgis brings the book to an end with a message of hope and encouragement.

Strengths of the Book

This book is helpful for its contributions to the field. Dr. Girgis is an experienced psychiatrist. Additionally, he has published many articles in peer-reviewed journals and has contributed to several scientific books. His professional experience alone provides a wealth of wisdom. Added to this fact is his faith in God.

Another strength of Dr. Girgis’ book is his heart. Repeatedly you read phrases like “I find that many Christian believers, including both laity and clergy, have misconceptions about serious mental illness, such as that it is related to morals weakness, bad parenting, and/or volition.”[6] Dr. Girgis seeks to help believers understand that mental illnesses are biological in nature, not necessarily a result of sin on behalf of the individual.

A third strength of the book is its accessibility. I am about a month away from completing a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, and in the coursework,  we are required to read many works in the fields of psychology and counseling. Thus, I was familiar with the terms and literature connected with Dr. Girgis’ field. However, the average layman (or, woman) would be able to pick up his book and read it with comprehension. He provides helpful definitions of a variety of terms and illnesses. For example, on page 17, he provides this definition of disorganized speech, as “is an abnormal thought process.” He then proceeds to provide several clarifying statements. He follows this method throughout his book.

A fourth strength is his inclusion of biblical references. In his 112-page book, Dr. Girgis devotes eight chapters to examining specific passages of Scripture. Then, two other chapters have many references to the Word of God.

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This work offers several examinations of the Biblical texts.

A fifth and final strength is his desire to help individuals understand that mental illnesses are not the result of sin but are biological phenomena. He writes, “These misconceptions often prevent Christian believers with serious mental illness and their families from seeking professional mental health treatment when it is most needed. In many cases, they do not accept psychiatric medications as they would medications for non-psychiatric conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.” Many Christians completely reject this thesis, and this ultimately harms many who have biological problems causing mental disorders.

Weaknesses of the Book

While I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Girgis’ book, and as a whole, found it helpful, there are a few issues I have. First, Dr. Girgis, in his effort to reexamine Scripture, ultimately questions it. To his credit, he frequently reminds his readers that his view does not deny the miracle, it merely enhances it. He writes, “I would suggest that this additional understanding [i.e., that mental illness was the problem afflicting individuals that are described as ‘demon-possessed’] actually enhances our understanding of these miracles and, more importantly, of how we would understand serious mental illness.”[7] He routinely returns to this idea.[8] Why is this a weakness?

I see it as a weakness because it denies the literal understanding of the Bible. The authors of Scripture know what mental illness is (which Dr. Girgis acknowledges in chapter 3).[9] Thus, the writers of the Bible were familiar with it, and if the individuals possessed by demons, or individuals afflicted with depression (such as Saul), our response should be to believe them, to take them at their word. By seeking to view the Scriptures through post-Enlightenment eyes, he inadvertently, regardless of claims otherwise, calls doubt to God’s Word.

A second weakness is a failure to acknowledge the effects of sin on the mind. I agree that Christians must change the way they view mental illness. In fact, this is a strength. However, it appears that he dismisses the potential that spiritual issues can cause mental illness. For example, in Saul’s case, he routinely rejected God’s Word. After a terrible verdict of judgment, he begins to experience the afflictions of “an evil spirit.”[10] Saul’s rebellion brought about this tormenting spirit. This, no doubt, increased his hatred for David as well as contributed to his psychotic behavior. Likewise, the curses pronounced in Deuteronomy 28:28, God uses these distresses as judgments against sin.

A third weakness is an inconsistent and honest exegesis of Scripture. I mentioned one part of this in the first weakness, but I want to address another aspect of that. Dr. Girgis sets out to perform an overview of angelic power and abilities in the Scripture. After examining or referencing five passages, he concludes, “Therefore, Satan, or any angel or other spiritual being, has no power over Creation, or humankind, who was actually given dominion over Creation by God…These statements indicate that angels, in general, do not have power over Creation and have barely more power than humans.”[11] This is simply not true. Angels are incredibly powerful beings. A look at most systematic theologies will provide ample references to prove this. The writer of Kings dismisses this by writing, “That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp.”[12] This does not sound like they “have barely more power than humans.” Along the same lines, Dr. Girgis completely dismisses the clarify of Scripture concerning the possession of Judas.[13]

A fourth weakness, though similar to weaknesses one and three, is that he fails to interpret Scripture in a cohesive manner. For example, the Bible clearly teaches mental illness exists (see Deuteronomy 28:27-28, 34). However, in the Gospels something changes. This is a weakness.

Who should read this book?

Pastors and church leaders should read this book. It is helpful because he brings awareness to the biological issues related to mental illnesses. I think it will help open their eyes to the fact that we live in fallen bodies, and many in our churches are afflicted, not with spiritual issues, but with the physical fallenness of life.

I think Christians, in general, should read this book. It is accessible and clear. Keep in mind the weaknesses, and you will enjoy this book and expand your view of mental illness.

[1] Dr. Girgis declares his faith on page 11.

[2] Girgis, On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry, 3.

[3] Ibid., 5.

[4] Ibid., 7.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid., 13.

[7] Ibid., 8.

[8] See, for example, pages 30, 45, 46, 48-49, just to name a few.

[9] See Deuteronomy 28:27-28, 34.

[10] 1 Samuel 16:14, NIV.

[11] Exodus 17, Job, Genesis 3, Revelation 12:7-9, and Hebrews 2:5, 7-8; Girgis, On Satan, 81.

[12] 2 Kings 19:35, NIV.

[13] Girgis, On Satan, 86.

 

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

5 Principles for Navigating Church in COVID-19

These five principles were developed prior to our church writing the reopening plan. I sought to develop these principles for the major teachings of the Scriptures. As such, these principles span our church’s plan to reopen and can apply to a variety of issues dealing with COVID-19 and beyond. I pray that they will be a blessing to you.

 

As we eagerly anticipate reopening, we realize this is a complicated situation. There are many reasons it is complicated. For one, there are a variety of opinions. Some feel that we should open immediately. Others, however, feel like we should remain outdoors until a vaccine is made. And there are many within these views.

It is further complicated by the variety of materials available to the public. Organizations such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Whitehouse, and even local governmental organizations (such as the Department of Health and Environmental Control for South Carolina) have kept information flowing. However, as everyone will readily admit, this information is conflicting at times. At one point, masks seemed to be the hero of this pandemic. While at other times, masks were seen as completely pointless.

A third complication we face is the issue of personal liberty. As citizens of the United States, we enjoy incredible freedoms. And, as followers of Christ, we enjoy liberties as well (see Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-9). We have freedoms in Christ, and these freedoms sometimes overlap others’ consciences.

As a pastor, I want to shepherd the flock of God as faithfully and lovingly as I can (1 Peter 5:1-3). I can tell you that the deacons want to do this as well. We have sought the Scriptures in prayer to do just that. I realize that our plan will not satisfy everyone. While I am saddened by this, I also know that our church is filled with believers who love the Lord and each other. As such, I am sure that your charity will make up for my own mistakes and shortcomings, that they will fill in the gaps of my plan, and that it will ultimately glorify our glorious Father.

I wanted to provide you with the guidelines that we used to determine our plan. I am providing this, first, so that you will have time to examine our hearts as based on God’s Word. I will comment on them briefly to elaborate on them to avoid any confusion.

  • Our plan to reopen has God’s glory for its ultimate aim (1 Cor. 10:31)

The very foundation of our plan, and our church, and of our lives individually, is to glorify God. We are put on this earth for that fact, and if any aspect of our lives is not lived with this purpose in mind, then we must immediately confess this as sin and seek restoration to our Father.

  • Our plan seeks to lead our congregation in the most helpful way, including spiritually, physically, and mentally (Heb. 13:8; Isa. 40:11; 42:3, cf. Matt. 12:20)

The second guiding principle is our desire to lead you in the most helpful way. I mention three parts of this: spiritual, physical, and mental. We want to lead you spiritually because as spiritual beings our souls are eternal. Jesus sees the importance of the spiritual when He tells Satan that man must not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from God (see Matthew 4:4). We also are concerned about your physical health. While the media has presented the facts of COVID-19 in an unfair light, people are indeed dying. We want our congregation to remain as healthy as possible. Further, the mental stress of COVID-19 and its byproducts are high. We want to alleviate these difficulties as much as humanly possible. Our plan seeks to balance these three aspects of our congregation while leading.

  • Our plan desires to observe, as much as possible without disobeying God, the recommendations and regulations as set forth by local and federal government (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; cf. Acts 5:29)

As Christians, we are given the command by God to submit to the government. Paul and Peter both place governmental authorities under the sovereignty of God. As Christians individually, and as a church corporately, we want to follow their lead as much as biblically possible. Thus, if the government requires us to follow an order, and if that order does not violate a clear command of Scripture, we are biblically obligated to follow that order. Our plan was developed with this in mind and will be updated as further aids are provided.

  • Our plan desires to display the preeminent characteristic of a disciple of Christ, charity, in all we do (1 Cor. 13:4-7, 13; John 13:35)

Love is the distinguishing mark of the believer (or, at least it should be!). As such, love has guided our reopening plan. We want to love our congregation the way that Christ loves His church. When you read a part of the plan or have a question about the validity of something, remember we are attempting to love you. We will also see your questions, concerns, and suggestions from a place of love.

  • Our plan desires to accommodate individuals with different liberties, always seeking “for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:1-23, cf. 19)

This one is perhaps the most difficult guidelines through which to navigate. We understand the liberties we have, both as citizens of the US and as Christians. Our reopening plan seeks to work through these nuances of liberty. One example would be facemasks. As of the time of this publication, there are no requirements in the State of South Carolina requiring the wearing of masks. There are several ramifications of this that I think will prove helpful to discuss.

There are those in our congregation who are completely against wearing masks. How should those who desire to wear masks navigate this? They should love their brothers and sisters in Christ. In loving humility, they should not mock them nor should they speak about them behind their backs. Likewise, these individuals who are against wearing masks should not look down upon those who chose to wear them.

There are those in our congregation who never leave their homes without their masks. How should those who do not wear masks navigate this? They should love their brothers and sisters in Christ. In loving humility, they should not mock them nor should they speak about them behind their backs. Likewise, these individuals who wear masks should not look down upon those who chose not to wear them.

Regardless of your preference, you should always, always seek to build each other up in love. Do you see the wonders of following Jesus Christ? It shows us that, even amid significant disagreements, we can show deference and love, and even build each other up.

These are our guiding principles for reopening our church. Would you prayerfully read through these? Would you consider praying for each other with these in mind? Would you seek to incorporate these into your daily life?

May God enable us to grow closer to Him and one another through this pandemic,

Bobby

Aesthetic Theology: A Brief Look

*This post is from a school assignment*

An Overview of Aesthetic Theology

Aesthetic theology, an approach to interpreting Scripture exclusively by its literary aspects, produces great harm in biblical interpretation. As one article describes this method, “Like philosophical aesthetics, theological aesthetics is a study of mak­ing and meaning. In both disciplines, the event of making is considered a combination of human skills and production, with the ungraspable moments of talent, inspiration and intuition, be they divine or not. As a study of meaning, each discipline explores subjective responses to the givenness [sic] of reality.”[1]

The Dangers of Aesthetic Theology

One can readily note many difficulties with this approach to interpretation. First, there is a failure to consider the historical setting of the Scriptures. As Kostenberger and Patterson remark, “Biblical scholarship was reduced to narrative criticism or various other forms of literary criticism, and while interesting literary insights were gained, Scripture’s historical dimension was unduly neglected, resulting in an imbalanced interpretation once again.”[2] This refusal to interact with the historical setting, which refuses to interact with the inspired text as given. Duvall and Hays counter this dangerous ejection, “Since God spoke his message in specific, historical situations…we should take the ancient historical-cultural situation seriously. The bottom line is that we cannot simply ignore ‘those people living back then’ and then jump directly to what God wants to say to us.”[3]

 

Duvall and Hays’ last comment provides insight to another danger of the aesthetic approach to biblical interpretation: it is subjective. In a review article, Kostenberger acknowledges this subjective theme, writing, “Once isolated from its historical grounding and its authoritative position, a text yields a limitless number of meaning possibilities. Radical pluralism and relativity in interpretation are the results, and authoritative biblical preaching degenerates into mere storytelling.”[4] Because aesthetic theology divorces itself from the anchor of history, it frees the interpreter to determine what he or she desires. Noting this, the anonymous reviewers of The Art of Theology conclude, “The result is a view on the human ability to be a creator in one’s own right as a given possibility to respond to the Creator. To actualise [sic] this possibility means becoming a co-creator who mediates the truth of creation.”[5] This danger allows for a variety of misinterpretations, up to and even including the creation of cults.[6]

 

A third danger with aesthetical theology is the reliance on the human interpreter. The anonymous authors state, “For in Chris­tian theology, the subjective responses to the givenness [sic] of reality are not only regarded as generating meaning, but also as participating in the meaning of divine creation.”[7] One immediately acknowledges the human interpreter as the essential need for interpretation. Biblically speaking, the individual human being is dependent upon: 1) the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 2:10-16), and 2) the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit (see 1 John 2:27). With aesthetic theology, however, one only needs to be able to understand literary genres, sentence structures, and grammar.[8]

The Antidote to Aesthetic Theology 

The primary difficulty with aesthetic theology is not that is utilizes narrative, nor is it because it incorporates literary studies in its interpretation. The primary issue is that it uses the tool of literature alone. The cure for such imbalance is the conduct the necessary historical research into the original setting.[9]

As Kostenberger and Patterson rightly observe, “In order for the interpretation of Scripture to be properly grounded, it is vital to explore the historical setting of a scriptural passage, including any cultural background features.”[10] By conducting the necessary research, the interpreter is able to grasp the context in which the original authors wrote. This prevents subjective interpretation, which is not biblically ethical.[11] It prevents aesthetic theology from overemphasizing the literary aspects of the text, working within a balanced framework from which to interpret the Scriptures properly.[12]

Additionally, after conducting the necessary background research of the historical context, interpreters must also be mindful of the theological ramifications. That is, interpretations are not divulged in a theological vacuum. There is a need to observe the theological cohesiveness of the canon of Scripture, and the means to operate within this spectrum are found within biblical theology as it relates to the interpretation of Scripture. “Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible,” says Vos. Within this framework, the interpreter is protected from teachings foreign to the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are the best interpreters of Scripture.[14]

Without divorcing the sacred text of its literary composition, biblical hermeneutics, aimed at “teaching the message of truth accurately,” investigates the original context in which the Scriptures were given, while observing their movement in the greater narrative of the Bible.[15]

_____________

[1] WorldTrade.Com, “Review of The Art of Theology Theological: Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics and the Foundations of Faith,” Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technological Books in the Humanities & Sciences, https://www.wordtrade.com/religion/christianity/balthasar1R.htm, accessed 22 May 2020.

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishers, 2011), 77.

[3] J Scott Duvall and J. Daniels Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 116-117.

[4] Andreas Kostenberger, “Aesthetic Theology—Blessing or Curse? An Assessment of Narrative Theology,” Faith and Mission, vol. 15, no. 2 (Spring 1998), 28.

[5] WorldTrade.Com.

[6] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 61-62.

[7] WorldTrade.Com.

[8] See Kostenberger, “Aesthetic Theology,” 30; see also Gordon D. Fee and Doulas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth 3rd Edition  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 27-28.

[9] Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 116; Fee and Stuart, How to Read, 26-27.

[10] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 93.

[11] See Kostenberger and Patterson’s warnings, Invitation, 58.

[12] Kostenberger and Patterson refer to this as “the hermeneutical triad,” Invitation, 66-68; Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint, 2015), 5.

[14] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 74; see also London Baptist Confession of Faith, I:9.

[15] 2 Timothy 2:15, New English Translation; see Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019) for an excellent treatment of this hermeneutical approach.

Biblical Studies Carnival 171 (May 2020)

I am happy to host the Biblical Studies Carnival this month! Our previous Biblical Studies Carnival 170 was hosted by Peter Goeman at PeterGoeman.com.  He did an excellent and thorough job, and you can check it out here: https://www.petergoeman.com/biblical-studies-carnival-170-april-2020/ Thank you Phil and Brent for the privilege. The Biblical Studies Carnival is a way to highlight a month’s worth of articles, blogs, videos, etc. for different fields involving or connected to biblical studies. Phil and Brent are always looking for volunteers, particularly for July and August.

Next month’s host is Jim West at Zwingli Redivivus (https://zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com/). I am looking forward to his post!

On New Testament Studies

Richard Fellows wrote an article on Paul’s companions, titled, “Chuza and Joanna as Andronicus and Junia, prominent apostles.” In this post Fellows dives into great detail about these two companions of Paul. He provides charts with the Semitic names, Latin names, and Greek names, providing reasons for the name selection. You can check it out here: http://paulandco-workers.blogspot.com/

Gary Greenberg (bio here), recently published another book titled  The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John. In Gary’s own words, “It is, to the best of my knowledge, the first systematic study of every incident in the Gospel of John (except for speeches, discourse and “I Am” sayings) that cross-references almost every incident in the Gospel of Mark (except for speeches, discourses, parables, doublets and most exorcisms) and establishes a direct literary relationship between both gospels, both as to story content and substantial sequential agreement in story order.” Not only would the book be a wonderful addition to your textual studies, he is also blogging a series discussing this proto-gospel.

In her blog, ENGENDERED IDEAS, Dr. Lyn Kidson shared a post titled, “Temple Prostitutes or Virtuous Priestesses?” In this article, Dr. Kidson sets out to dissect James’ speech to the early church (see Acts 15:22-29). She examines the four prohibitions and seeks to understand James’ injunction against fornication. You can read more here: https://engenderedideas.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/temple-prostitutes-or-virtuous-priestesses/ You can also follow her on Twitter, here: https://twitter.com/lyn_kidson In addition, here is a list of her work: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lyn_Kidson

Phil Long of Reading Acts is continuing his series through the book of Revelation. For the latest posts on Revelation, see:

In addition to his Revelation series, Phil has also posted several helpful reviews!

 

On Greek

Here are some helpful articles, videos, and other resources to help with Greek studies.

Ariel Sabar writes an interesting article on the supposed oldest fragment of Mark’s Gospel. Sabar provides the backdrop of the fragment while working through the weaving web of theft and deception. You can read about that here: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/museum-of-the-bible-obbink-gospel-of-mark/610576/

Peter Williams writes about the new Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th rev. ed., “If I were just allowed one book to assist my study of the New Testament, this edition, with its 114 year history, would be it.” Williams’ article is detailed, providing an examination of the “main changes,” “comparative statistics,” and “versional citations.” But, warns Williams, “For quick orientation to the witnesses in a variation unit I will reach for my NA28 first, but might still regularly consult NA27.” That is, don’t throw away your NA27! Williams provides a detailed examination of this monumental work to NTTC. Learn more about it here: https://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/peter-williams-on-the-nestle-aland-novum-testamentum-graece/

The Patrologist recently began a series through the book of Ecclesiastes on YouTube. In the videos, he reads the Greek out loud, provides comments on the syntax, and helps the viewer gain more from the passage. You can check his videos out here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKvJmmtC1JYVLMdTTT98bAw

In addition to those videos, the Patrologist also offers many helpful blog posts on his blog, The Patrologist, which can be examined here: https://thepatrologist.com/ You can also follow him on Twitter (which I highly suggest you do, should you be a Twitterite) here: https://twitter.com/ThePatrologist

Brent Niedergall has also been busy producing several helpful posts for Greek studies. First, Brent shared a post titled “NFM and Textual Criticism,” in which he discusses “a method that makes classifying manuscripts into text-types a simple and objective task.” Read on here: https://niedergall.com/nmf-and-textual-criticism/ And for a free resource, check out https://github.com/jjmccollum/jude-nmf In another post, Brent discusses discouragement from BDAG, overviewing several citations host of primary sources, particularly as they relate to Fragment 144. Learn more about that here: https://niedergall.com/fragment144/ Finally, Brent produces part 1 of a study on διότι. Brent attempts to determine a deeper understanding of this word that appears 22 times in the GNT. Read part one here: https://niedergall.com/dioti-deep-dive-part-1/

On Hebrew

Daniel Gurtner shared a fascinating article (with accompanying video) by Ariel David on how researchers read a Torah scroll heavily damaged without opening it. In addition to the fascinating method (they used a particle accelerator), this method offers hope for future scrolls that may be too brittle to unroll. Check it out here: https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium.MAGAZINE-particle-accelerator-to-help-read-dead-sea-scrolls-too-fragile-to-unroll-1.8821595

Joan Taylor, Dennis Mizzi, Marcello Findanzio share their discoveries of missing texts. They begin their wonderful post, “We really didn’t mean to find any missing texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Read how they were able to use multispectral imaging to decipher texts. Here is the article: https://scroll.in/article/962810/how-my-team-and-i-accidentally-discovered-text-on-the-dead-sea-scrolls You can learn more about Joan and her team here: https://dqcaas.com/the-international-network-team/ as well as keep up with their research here: https://dqcaas.com/

John Meade shared a fantastic article, combining Hebrew and textual criticism for the Easter celebration. In the article, he reminds us of the need for an ethical and intentional scholarship when he writes, “The Bible’s authentic textual history won’t be confirmed by sensational discoveries. It will be confirmed by patient study and analysis of the evidence we possess and by responsible discoveries of provenanced artifacts, like the well-known Dead Sea Scrolls.” You can read the article here: https://equip.sbts.edu/article/resurrection-really-happened-textual-criticism-easter/

On Rabbinic/Judaic Studies

A special thanks to Bob MacDonald for passing this along. Celebrating their seven-year anniversary, TheTorah.com features a host of “academic and rabbinic scholars.” While the link provided offers “reflections” of each of the scholars. The benefit, however, is in the links under each individual. If you conduct research in this field, you will want to check this out: https://www.thetorah.com/blogs/seven-years-of-critical-torah-study-scholars-and-rabbis-reflect

Here are the list of scholars, by clicking on each name you will be taken to their reflection which provides a link to the author’s page:

Prof. Cynthia Chapman posted a helpful (and detailed) study of Ruth and her transition to an Israelite. At the end of the post Dr. Chapman writes, “As family members tuck into the cheese blintzes, they should realize that through the shared ingesting of the flour-based crepes, they are reaffirming their kinship ties in a way reminiscent of Boaz and Ruth’s simple meal of roasted wheat dipped in sour wine.” For more, see: https://www.thetorah.com/article/the-substance-of-kinship-how-ruth-the-moabite-became-a-daughter-in-judah

Book Review: “Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness”

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Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness

Allen S. Nelson IV, Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness (Perryville, AR: Allen S. Nelson IV, 2019), 210 pages.

I connected with Allen on Twitter some time ago. I saw one of his Tweets, and I liked what I read. As I observed Allen on Twitter, I was impressed with his desire to serve God and help the church. Though he has helped in many ways, his most effective work comes from his pen. In addition to this book, Allen Nelson has authored From Death to Life: How Salvation Works. He also blogs at ThingsAbove.Us.

An Overview of Before the Throne

Allen Nelson wrote this book to help believers (and unbelievers) receive a glimpse of the holiness of God.  In the preface, Allen remarks “Offering these meditations from the perspective of one writing in the 21st century is my way to warm the modern reader’s heart toward the greatness and glory of God.”[1] Allen’s book does just that.

Displaying his preacher-roots, Allen structures each chapter in an alliterated fashion. Ranging from undoubtable to unquenchable, all focus on the holiness of God. As Allen examines each facet of the holiness of God (a task he readily and regularly reminds us can only be done on a finite basis), he does so by examining two passages

 

of Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-7 and Revelation 4:5-11. That is, his book is written by expounding upon and extrapolating the truths from two passages of Scripture, all from a book that describes or displays the holiness of God.

The chapters are around 18-20 pages in length. At the end of each chapter, Allen provides several questions for “Group Discussion or Family Worship.”[2]

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The Group Discussion or Family Worship. (p. 24)

 

In addition, Allen also cites additional Scripture for discussion and meditation.[3]

 

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Scripture Review for further discussion and meditation. (p. 82)

Strengths of Before the Throne

From my perspective, Allen’s most significant contribution in this work is his ability to take the weighty Puritans and deep preachers of this age and bring them down to the average layman. This task is impressive, for the Puritans were deeply spiritual and incredibly academic. It takes work to read them, even for academics. Yet, Allen translates their thoughts in such a way that the grandmother in the pew can grasp the holiness of God.

Another strength of the book is that it helps whet the appetite. As a pastor, I long for our people to know the holiness of God. And Allen’s work helps encourage that hunger for holiness. Each chapter provides a different glimpse of the holiness of God, and each chapter increases your hunger for holiness.

A third strength is Allen’s work in the Questions for Group Discussions or Family Worship. The questions are good questions, not the typical, “What does this mean to you?” questions often found in Bible studies. They are deep, thought-provoking, and soul-searching questions. As a father, I appreciate this as well because our family observes family worship. With that said, I think it would be better for maturing children (10 years old and upward).

The fourth strength of Allen’s work is the humility through which he writes it. Throughout the book, Allen acknowledges his inadequacies to write upon the holiness of God, not because of a lack of writing ability, but because of the incomprehensibility of God’s holiness. For instance, he writes, “It is impossible to comprehend God as He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture without understanding His holiness.”[4] His humility is also displayed in instances such as his footnote on page 21.

A final strength is the length of the book. Allen could have easily written a large tome or even volumes on the holiness of God. But Allen’s work is a little over two-hundred pages. This makes it more accessible to the average individual in the pew.

Opportunities of Before the Throne

The book is accessible for the layman, but this work shows that Allen is a capable theologian. I believe that he would benefit the church to devote a considerable treatment to God, not just His holiness, but all of His qualities and attributes.

Another opportunity that might help make the work even more practical is a glossary of terms. Though he defines uncommon words in the text, it might help increase the vocabulary of the average Christian.

Who Should Read Before the Throne

Everyone should read this book. For the pastor, it is a healthy reminder of Who our God is. Additionally, Allen distills the implications for pastoral and ecclesial ministry. In a convicting statement, Allen writes, “We’ve created an atmosphere of entertainment in the church today because we have found God boring.”[5]

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“It is impossible to comprehend God He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture without understanding His holiness.” (p. 26)

Pastors, including myself, need to be reminded of the importance of following God’s command for His people, which undoubtedly includes church services (see Leviticus 19:2).

Sunday school teachers and small group leaders should read it well. In fact, they can purchase the book and use the group questions in the back! The lofty thoughts of which Allen writes will enable these individuals to minister on behalf of a thrice-holy God.

The average Christian should read this as well. When I say “average” I do not in any way mean that in a derogatory fashion. I simply mean the common Christian, the man who works at Walmart, the lady who manages the bank, the teacher, the mechanic, and so on. This book, as I have mentioned, it accessible to those without theology degrees.

Lastly, this book is for someone who is not a follower of Jesus Christ. Reading this book, saturated with Scripture, will provide you a glimpse into the greatness of God. I pray, as I know Allen does too, that this book will be a tool to bring you into a saving relationship with God.

Concluding Remarks

I want to thank Allen for his work in this book. My own soul has benefited from it, and now members of our church are benefiting from it as well.

Resources from Allen Nelson

You can follow Allen on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/cuatronelson

For Allen’s sermon, visit his church’s website here: http://www.perryvillesbc.org/

For Allen’s other writings, see this website: https://thingsabove.us/

____________________

[1] Allen S. Nelson IV, Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness (Perryville, AR: Allen S. Nelson IV, 2019), 1.

[2] For example, see page 24.

[3] For example, see page 82.

[4] Nelson, Before the Throne, 26.

[5] Ibid., 181.

Lessons I learned from the Birth of Our Son

It has been several weeks since I have completed a single post. My personal goal is to publish a blog at least once a week (on Thursdays) and if I am able to twice a week (on Tuesdays). However, our family recently added a fourth child to the mix, Calvin Knox. The last three weeks have been a trial and a half! From the rough labor to the unknown problems, little Calvin’s arrival has brought a great deal of stress to our family.

Now, this is not to say that we do not love him. We adore him!

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Soren holding Calvin for the first time.

He has already been such a blessing and wonderful addition to our family. Our other three children absolutely love him, and my wife and I enjoy simply staring at his cute, old-man looking face. But with his arrival came a lot of stress.

First, we think the labor was difficult for him. My wife spent over 21 hours in labor, and it seems that his head was a little crooked in the birth canal. In addition, the doctor had to use a vacuum to get Calvin out. Calvin’s head, as you can imagine, had a lot of trauma. The doctor assured us, though, that he would be fine and the swelling would go down within a few weeks.

Second, several of his toes are fused together. My wife and I find it adorable, but the doctor was concerned that there might be an underlining genetic issue.

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This is Soren’s hearing test. It was one of many tests this little guy endured.

They told us that everything looked good with his vitals and that he would probably need light surgery to correct the fusing. Again, it seemed that everything would be fine.

Third, while we were at the hospital, one of Calvin’s pediatricians requested an ultrasound of his kidneys. We were not aware of this, and my wife and I became very nervous. All three of our other children never had an ultrasound of anything on them, and so we began to worry about our little boy. The pediatrician explained that she wanted to check on his kidneys because Calvin’s tummy was extended, there may be a problem with his kidneys. Everything checked out fine, though.

Fourth, while we were at the hospital, Calvin seemed to be feeding well. He only lost a small amount of weight, and everything looked as though he were doing fine. At the first post-hospital appointment (Monday morning), however, Calvin had lost a significant amount of weight.

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My sweet wife, Hannah, holding our second son and fourth child. 

He was not getting enough milk, and the doctor was very concerned. The pediatrician found that his mouth was small, the roof of his mouth was high, and his suck was weak. He would have difficulty eating, and though she offered several suggestions to help the little fella, she suggested we talk to a pathologist.

Fifth, at the next appointment (Thursday of the same week), Calvin’s temperature was low (96). With the coronavirus, only Hannah was allowed to accompany Calvin, and when I received a call, Hannah was upset. She said the doctor was sending Calvin to the Shriner’s Hospital in Greenville for possible sepsis. At this point, my wife and I were extremely worried about Calvin. It seemed for every step forward he took three steps back. My mom drove to pick up our three older children, while Hannah and I went to Shriner’s. Again, because of the coronavirus, only one parent was allowed. My brave wife accompanied our little boy, while I waited in the parking lot.

This period was unsettling. I was away from our other children, our newborn son, and my wife. I was completely helpless. I recently completed a study through Psalm 119 of the word affliction. Two of the verses that contain that word came to mind, no doubt due to our gracious God the Spirit: Psalm 119:71 and 92.

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Our daughter, London, holding Calvin for the first time.

These two verses, along with Romans 8:28, provided a tidal wave of encouragement. I prayed and begged God for His healing of our little boy, for strength for my wife, and for His name to be glorified in everything.

While in the parking lot, I attempted to work. But it is almost impossible in such a situation to concentrate on anything else. I tried waiting in the ER waiting room, but they closed it, again due to the coronavirus. After discussing it with my wife, I headed home. I was completely alone, my mom even took our dog, Levi. It was eerily quiet. There were no children running around, singing songs or whistling, no dog barking, just silence. My wife’s thirtieth birthday was the coming Sunday, and so I wrapped her presents, not sure at this point if she would be home.

Later that evening (Thursday still) my wife called and told me all the tests that they would be running. It was a huge list, requiring at least a two-day stay at the hospital. The doctor told her that, if Calvin tested positive for sepsis, he would possibly need a 14-21 day stay. With each update, my wife received it seemed Calvin’s condition was becoming worse. Now my wife was upset, obviously, but she was trusting in the Lord in a way that she had never done before. Her faith in our sovereign God was displayed in a strong way, and I could not be more proud of her!

Friday came and with it, I went back to Shriner’s. I waited in the parking lot, once again, attempting to work and complete some assignments for school. My wife called and had me meet her. This was the first time we had seen each other in 24 hours, but it seemed like a month. Calvin was doing well, but we were still waiting for several test results. Many people all over the country were praying for our little Calvin, and it still overwhelms me at the love and care so many have shown our family.

Friday afternoon I decided to go and get our older children. With the unknown hospital stay, and with the fact that I was missing them like crazy, we decided to bring them back home. I was excited to get our children together! They asked questions about Calvin and momma, and the older two prayed for their little brother.

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Ellie loves her little brother “Cauvin”! 

Friday evening my wife said that two of the three tests came back negative for sepsis, and things started to look up. They scheduled a full-body x-ray to check for any bone defects, at which Calvin would have been referred to a genetic specialist. The X-ray came back negative for any issues, and once again we were overwhelmed by God’s graciousness.

Saturday morning came and the doctor told Hannah that if the last test came back negative, she could take Calvin home. It was better than Christmas morning! We were excited and could not wait to get our family back together.

I took the other three children and ran a couple of errands, eagerly awaiting a call from Hannah saying she and Calvin would be released. We returned home after the errands and right after I unloaded the last bag my phone rang. It was Hannah. I answered it and Hannah said, “We’re coming home!” Even typing this brings tears to my eyes. In a whirlwind of activity and concern, God answered the prayers of many of His children, graciously allowing our little Calvin to be well and return home. I loaded the kids back into the van and headed straight to the hospital where my beautiful bride and precious son were awaiting.

I cannot explain why God allowed us to go through this. But what I can do is offer a few lessons that God taught us. I hope and pray that they will help you when you go through dark waters.

BY GOING THROUGH AFFLICTION, MY WIFE AND I LEARNED TO TRUST GOD’S WORD

Psalm 119:71 states, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.”[1] It was good, the psalmist says. While I would never choose to go through something like that again, I can honestly say it was good. I learned that God comforts in an intimate and inconceivable way. That was good. I learned that God’s Word did not change with my dire circumstances. At a point in which everything seemed to be unraveling, God was sitting on His throne (Isaiah 6:1). None of this took Him by surprise. Everything was going according to His marvelous plan (Rom. 8:28). It was good that I was afflicted. When I was separated from my wife, knowing that she struggles with both depression and anxiety, I knew that God was with her and would never leave her (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5). It was good that we were afflicted. When we considered the fact that our little boy may not live, the treasure of our hearts was challenged (Matt. 6:19-21). Did we value our children’s lives over our God? Were we more concerned with our own desires more than God’s glory? It was good that we were afflicted.

God’s Word provided comfort during this affliction, and with this tool, we learned God’s Word better.

BY GOING THROUGH AFFLICTION, WE REALIZED THAT WITHOUT GOD, WE WOULD HAVE PERISHED

The psalmist writes, “If Your law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction.”[2] The psalmist realized that, without a loving relationship with God, affliction would have overcome him. My wife and I learned, through affliction, that God is the most important part of our lives. He was a refuge to which we would flee, whether reading His Word or praying to Him. The affliction was simply a tool that reminded us and continues to remind us, that God is the most important part of our lives.

We live great lives, enjoying our home, our church, and our family. And it is easy for us to become focused on those things rather than on God. Affliction reminded us, however, that God is the center of our lives. Our relationship with Him, given to us by His grace, is the anchor. We would have never been able to go through this trial without God.

BY GOING THROUGH AFFLICTION, WE WERE REMINDED THAT ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD

Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”[3] Paul writes all things. This includes that wonderful times, such as the day I married the most beautiful, sweet, and amazing lady, Hannah. It included the churches in which I served, the births of our other three children, the long walks with my wife, the sweet sunrises, the laughing and singing of our children, the lovely afternoon nap, and so on. Those are all good things. But all things also include those dark times. The times when you watch your sweet, practically perfect grandmother waste away through Alzheimer’s. The times when you have bills due but not enough money. Those times when you argue with your spouse. And yes, even those times when your child could be deathly ill.

As we waited for updates and tests, while separated from each other and our children, we learned on a practical level that all things work together for good. My wife, as I mentioned earlier, has struggled with anxiety. Yet, as she is growing in her walk with our Heavenly Father, she would write on Facebook, “Please pray with us that we will find out what’s going on with our little guy and that God would be glorified through this situation!”[4] We are learning that all things work together for good, even those difficult, life-altering times.

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Thank you to all who prayed for our little boy. God has graciously answered our prayers!

This period of our life has been one of the most stressful. Yet, it has also been a season of growth. We are reminded of the preciousness of life, of the joys of being together, and of God’s sovereign rule. We are reminded that, even in the midst of this trying time, that God’s goodness has not changed one iota. We are reminded that His Word is a treasure trove of encouragement, challenge, and balance.

__________

For the study of affliction in Psalm 119, see these links:

A Study in Affliction: An Introduction to Psalm 119 and the Believer’s Trials

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 1)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 2)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 3)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 4)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 5)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 6)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 7)

__________

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 119:71.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 119:92.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 8:28.

[4] https://www.facebook.com/hannah.o.howell

Ministering in COVID-19

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

With the entrance of the coronavirus, and the accompanying chaos the quickly ensued, churches and believers all over the world were struck with the difficulty of ministering amidst this pandemic.

 

In our own church, we have transitioned from limited services to sermons posted on YouTube, all within a few short days. Our congregation, which loves gathering together, has been separated as a whole for several weeks, and it looks like it might be a few more.

 

The command to minister, however, is not put into social distancing from the believer. Though ministering may look different in this pandemic, believers must still minister.

 

The question remains, “How?” What I would like to do is provide a few suggestions. I am so proud of our church because even amid this pandemic you all have been busy ministering to those within and without the congregation. Let’s keep it up, and do what we can to minister to those who need the Gospel.

 

  1. Prepare to minister to one another and the community through physical resources.

    One primary way that we can minister to those within our church and outside our church is through physical resources. According to The Post and Courier, South Carolina has experienced a 400% claim in unemployment requests.[1]

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    Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

    With this considered, there will be many who are in desperate need of physical resources. This can include financial resources to help with bills (such as electricity, water, etc.). It can also include the need for food. Our foodbanks have already experienced an increase in usage, and there is every reason to believe that this need will continue to grow.[2] We can help minister by setting aside a few extra purchases each week. Let us seek to meet those physical needs while not neglecting the spiritual needs.

  2. Prepare to minister to one another and the community through emotional resources.

    There has been death and disruption of life.[3] The economic ramifications will be felt for years to come. This, understandably, will affect people emotionally. Through the loss of loved ones and friends to the upending of life as normal, individuals will need emotional support. How can we minister to those?

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    Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

    We can offer a listening ear. Like Job’s friend initially, sometimes we need to simply be with people (see Job 2:11-13). Other times we need to share our own struggles with others. One of the reasons believers experience suffering, as the Scriptures teach us, is to help comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). As people are more open during these times, we can also utilize these times to present the Gospel which provides the answer to the problems of which they may not even be aware. These are tangible ways, though, in which believers can minister.

  3. Prepare to minister to one another and the community through spiritual resources.

    The most important need people have is God. Believers need to be reminded of their constant need of God, but people who have not followed Jesus Christ also need God, though they may not be aware of it. Believers can provide wonderful spiritual resources through books, sermons, and edifying relationships. Consider purchasing extra books to give them away. One way you can help yield fruit from this endeavor is to encourage them to work through a book with you. You can schedule a weekly time to talk about what you read in the book. In this way, you are ministering to their spiritual needs. For example, during times like these, people often wonder why God allows something like this to happen. Working through the book, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, would help them understand how God works. Be ready to discuss the Gospel. Learn how to apply the truths found there to the various issues people are facing.

No doubt there are other ways in which we can minister. Please let us know because we want to ensure that everyone has their needs met, be they physical, emotional, or spiritual. We do this to glorify God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

[1] Andrew Brown, “SC Unemployment Claims Skyrocket by 400 Percent with Job Losses Caused By Coronavirus,” The Post and Courier, 19 March 2020, https://www.postandcourier.com/health/covid19/sc-unemployment-claims-skyrocket-by-400-percent-with-job-losses-caused-by-coronavirus/article_b166e166-69fe-11ea-9890-fb73cf7c7c3a.html, accessed 17 April 2020.

[2] Nina Lakhani, “’ A Perfect Storm’: the US Facing Hunger Crisis As Demand for Food Banks Soars,” The Guardian, 2 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/02/us-food-banks-coronavirus-demand-unemployment, accessed 17 April 2020.

[3] Consider this opinion post in The New York Times Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/21/opinion/letters/us-coronavirus-reaction.html, accessed 17 April 2020.

 

Six Reasons to Be Content (Part Four)

In Matthew 6:11, Jesus prays, “Give us this day our daily bread” (ESV)

This small petition is packed with meaning, as we have already noted in our reading of Manton’s exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. It has been an incredibly rich study yielding delightful fruit for our souls.

However, in our present section, Thoman Manton is discussing the use of this petition. The Puritan preachers were extremely practical preachers, seeking to divide rightly the Word of Truth and to apply it vigorously to our lives. In this particular petition, Manton spends time examining how this truth can help the Christian be content.

The word content means having enough. When you are standing in line at the buffet and the server asks if you would like more, you reply, “No thank you, I’m good!” What you mean is that you have plenty of food and do not need anymore (evident in many of our waists, sad to say!). We are content. So, how does Manton provide yet another reason to be content?

Manton writes, “God doth not only give suitable to your condition, but suitable to your strength, such a portion as you are able to bear.” (Manton, 164)

What a gloriously sweet Father we serve that He will not give us more than we can handle! A wise parent will give her child a few pieces of candy because she knows that too much sugar can spoil their dinner, harm their teeth, and possibly make them sick. Likewise, and on a great level (infinitely so, we might say), our Heavenly Father loves giving us good gifts, but does so with infinite wisdom to match. He knows how many blessings we are able to bear without souring our souls. He knows how many good gifts to lay on our backs before we give in to self-sufficient thoughts.

Speaking in a pastoral, wise tone, Manton notes, “God layeth affliction pon his people, and he gives them mercies as they are able to bear; if they had more, they would have more snares, more temptations.” (Manton, 164)

Another reason to be content, then, is because God is sovereignly good because He wisely distributes His goodness in proportion to the ability of the believer. 

 

____________________

You can purchase Thomas Manton’s Works from the Banner of Truth Trust here.

For more in this series on contentment, see:

Six Reasons to Be Content (Part 3)

Six Reasons to Be Content (Part 2)

6 Reasons to Be Content (Part 1)

For more from Manton, see:

4 Ways to Minister Like the Angels: A Word from T. Manton

3 Ways to Know You Love God’s Will

On the Goodness of God’s Will: Manton’s Marvelous Memoir

Guided by Gurnall: Part Twelve

William Gurnall, following the consistent practice of Puritan preachers, offers a doctrine first and then provides several reasons for the doctrine.

As we have journeyed through The Christian In Complete Armour, we have learned much about the armor of God. In this section, Gurnall offers the following doctrine:

It is not enough to have grace, but this grace must be kept in exercise. (Gurnall, 63-64)

In this “fourth branch,” Gurnall is discussing the “put on” aspect of the armor of God. In Ephesians 6:11, Paul commands the believer, “Put on the armor of God…” (ESV) As Gurnall notes, “It is one thing to have armour in the house, and another thing to have it buckled on; to have grace in the principle, and grace in the act.” (Gurnall, 63)

 

This armor is to be used, as Gurnall mentions. Noting the lifelong excursion of spiritual war, Gurnall informs the believer that “Our armour and our garment of flesh go off together; then, indeed, will be no need of watch and ward, shield or helmet.” (Gurnall, 64)

 

“FIRST. CHRIST COMMANDS US TO HAVE OUR ARMOUR ON, OUR GRACE IN EXERCISE.” (Gurnall, 63)

 

What Gurnall is telling us is that we must be busy about the work God has given us to do. We must endeavor to follow Peter’s pattern in 2 Peter 1:3-11. Peter remarks on this need for growth by describing our state, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8, ESV)

 

The spiritual disciplines are a must for the believer. In my brief ministerial experience, many Christians complain of defeat in the face of temptation, struggles with sinful thoughts, and joyless living. When I ask them how their time with God has been, I come to find out that it is almost non-existent.

 

How can you increase your growth? There are two helpful resources I would recommend. First, Dr. Jim Berg’s book Changed Into His Image: God’s Plan for Transforming Your Life is an excellent work with an accompanying study guide. This book provides a treatment of the Christian life with practical applications. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Second, Donald S. Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines For the Christian Life. As with Dr. Berg’s book, Spiritual Disciplines has a study guide. Whitney offers a treatment of the various spiritual disciplines (such as Scripture intake, prayer, fasting, etc.).

 

Put on your armor, Christian, and exercise the grace that has been given to you!

 

“SECOND. SATAN’S ADVANTAGE IS GREAT WHEN GRACE IS NOT IN EXERCISE.” (Gurnall, 64)

It is easier, says Gurnall, for Satan to trip you up when you are not growing in grace (i.e., wearing the armor of God). Consider an athlete. The individual trains and enhances their skill in the sport in which they compete. However, when the individual fails to train with consistent intensity, they fail at the sport. Likewise, when Christians fail to grow in grace, Satan is granted easy access to further harm you and help you sin.

 

The devil and forces of evil are given the upper hand when the Christian fails to practice his or her grace. How many dear brothers and sisters pack the pews on Sundays as defeated by the great adversary of our souls because of inactivity!

 

“THIRD. BECAUSE IT IS SO AWKY A BUSINESS, AND HARD A WORK, TO RECOVER THE ACTIVITY OF GRACE ONCE LOST, AND TO REVIVE A DUTY IN DISUSE.” (Gurnall, 65)

 

Remember, Gurnall is discussing the need to use the armor, not to simply own it. It is easy, reasons Gurnall, to maintain and grow in grace then it is to restart it. Now, we must take caution here and not that Gurnall is not discussing a Christian’s loss of his or her salvation. It is eternal redemption. However, he is not wrong in this sentiment.

 

Consider his elaboration, “The longer a soul hath neglected duty, the more ado there is to get it take up; partly, through shame, the soul having played truant, now know not how to look God in the face; and partly, from the difficulty of the work, being double to what another finds that walks in the exercise of his grace.” (Gurnall, 65)

 

It is easier to maintain a car through consistent oil changes, tune-ups, and gas refills than it is to leave it idle for years. Most of the car’s operating systems would need to be replaced and fixed before operable. Christian, maintain your vehicle! Daily intake the Word of God and pray, attend church services with your fellow brothers and sisters, nourish your should through the spiritual disciplines. Neglect not your armor!

 

“FOURTH. WE MUST KEEP GRACE IN EXERCISE IN RESPECT OF OTHERS OUR FELLOW-SOLDIERS.” (Gurnall, 65)

 

Here Gurnall discusses one of the most important aspects, though often neglected, of the Christian life. Christianity involves a community, or fellowship, to use the biblical word (see 1 John 1:3, for example). We were meant to live together.

 

Though we are currently in social distancing due to the coronavirus, Christians were never meant to live the Christian life alone. We need each other. And one of the many responsibilities that you have to your brothers and sisters (and indeed all of us) is for the benefit of them.

 

We don our armor for them. Gurnall notes, “Thus, Christian, thou art to be helpful to thy fellow-brethren , who have not that settlement of peace in their spirit as thyself, not that measure of grace or comfort.” (Gurnall, 66)

 

In other words, Christians need you to live the Christian life to encourage them to continue pressing on! One of the most encouraging ministers I know is John MacArthur. He has pastored his church for fifty years. He is committed to the expository preaching of God’s Word. And for fifty years he has opened the Scriptures and expounded upon them, living in and among his people. They have observed his doctrine and his way of life, and he is still their pastor. His faithfulness is a challenge to me!

 

You never know what encouragement you offer to your fellow brothers and sisters. Thus, we must for their sake and ours, don the armor of God.

 

CONCLUSION

 

God has given us armor to wear, not to collect dust. Likewise, He has provided the sacred Scriptures to help our knowledge of Him increase, to provide guidance for our lives as we grow in godliness. Are we putting it to good use? Are we donning our armor daily? Or, are we neglecting the state of our souls?

 

Brothers and sisters let us consider the words of Gurnall solemnly. Let us, therefore, put on the whole armor of God.

 

____________________

For more guidance from Gurnall, check these out:

Guided By Gurnall: Part Eleven

Guided by Gurnall: Part Ten

Guided By Gurnall: Part Nine

Guided by Gurnall: Part Eight

Guided by Gurnall: Part Seven

Guided by Gurnall: Part Six

Guided By Gurnall: Part Five

Guided by Gurnall: Part Four

Guided by Gurnall: Part Three

Guided by Gurnall: Part Two

Guided by Gurnall: Part One

Guided by Gurnall: Introduction

Lessons on the Judgment of God: Part Four

For the last few weeks, we have been examining lessons on God’s judgment from Genesis chapter five. We have previously noted God’s reason, God’s consistency, and God’s grace in judgment. Continuing on this positive note from our last lesson, we see God’s provision in judgment.
It seems odd to find provision in the midst of judgment, but it is something clearly observable in Genesis chapter five. Though judgment was being executed (notice the several men who died), and though God’s judgment to a fuller extent would be coming (see Genesis 7 and the global flood), God gave provision in the forms of Noah and his three sons (5:28-32).
We learn from the New Testament scripture that God saved humanity, He provided a way of escape and for the continuation of the human race through Noah (see 1 Peter 3:20 and 2 Peter 2:5).
In this example, in the Old Testament, we are reminded of the provision from the judgment in Jesus Christ
Judgment, particularly God’s judgment, is a terrifying event. However, even in the midst of judgment, we see God’s goodness. To God be the glory!
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See previous entries in this series:
Lessons of the Judgment of God
Lessons on the Judgment of God: Part Two
Lessons on the Judgment of God: Part Three