Are Humans Greater Than Angels?

The writers of the OT and NT never seem concerned to press that humans are greater than angels. There are various distinctions between humans and angels to be sure, but the concern never seems to be comparative.

Jonathan Edwards gave three reasons he understood humans to be greater than angels

  1. Angels were made to serve God by serving man, but man was made to serve God directly.
  2. Human grace, holiness, and love are greater virtues than angelic wisdom and strength.
  3. Believers are united to Christ in a way angels never will be.

His basic reason was this, “Men are a more ultimate end of the creation than the angels.” Edwards’ point is logical, but I’m not aware of a single place in Scripture where an author is concerned to make this point. (Miscellanies #103)

Actually, reflecting on the way the Bible speaks of angels, it seems obvious that in many ways angels are greater than humans.

  1. Angels are spirit, existing in a realm above us (Heb 1:14)
  2. Angels worship around the throne, they participate in heavenly realities beyond our currently experience
  3. Angels rescue humans (e.g. Lot, Peter), they have powers and abilities humans do not have

Moses portrays man as the pinnacle of God’s creative work, the bearers of his image (Gen 1). Yet angels are in a realm above us experiencing realities beyond us having powers that exceed ours.

Therefore, we should probably simply maintain that humans and angles hold distinct roles in the redemptive plan of God. Humans are the object of God’s redemptive plan, angels are the messengers and servants of the plan.

But to say in an absolute sense that angels are greater than humans, or that humans are greater than angels seems unwarranted in light of the Biblical evidence.

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“Fake News” and False History from 1678

51504436We are constantly hearing these days about “fake news.” It’s nauseating how much human effort is being wasted on spinning lies to support positions. We wish that watching or reading the news didn’t demand so much incredulity just to avoid being made a fool. Who would want to repost or retweet the attention-grabbing links that hours later are proven to be deceitful propaganda? Evidently all too many are willing. Fake new goes viral. No matter that it was fake. No matter it keeps coming.

And yet “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc 1:9). Fake news, lies in support of a position, propaganda. This is nothing new. In his collection of essays about the Reformation era, All Things Made New: The Reformation and Its Legacy, Diarmaid MacCulloch tells a cautionary tale about an Irish pseudo-historian named Robert Ware (1639-1697). He was an intellectual from a long line of intellectuals. But he was a liar. A smart liar. And he was an ardent supporter of the emerging Anglican consensus in Dublin. And so he wrote non-historical history that bolstered the Anglican cause.

Robert Ware made up entire historical accounts, dialogues that never transpired, and conspiracy theories that lumped Protestant dissenters (i.e. Presbyterians) in with Roman Catholic conspirators. MacCulloch provides a couple examples.

In 1547 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer preached a pithy and dramatic sermon at the Coronation of King Edward VI, during the royal youth to renew the scriptural role of young King Josiah of Judah in his own kingdom. In the early 1560s, Queen Elizabeth I berated Dean Alexander Nowell in his own cathedral church of St Paul’s, for subversion of her Protestant religious settlement through his hill-judged gift to her of a presentation copy of the Book of Common Prayer, enriched with devotional pictures. Both events are still repeatedly to be met with in accounts of the English Reformation…but there is one problem: neither of them happened. They are fictions created by Robert Ware.

Robert Ware’s forgeries “pollute the historical pool of sources about English and Irish history.” And so a review of his story becomes a caution about “the preoccupations and temptations to which historians are prone, even in modern historiographical practice.”

The caution isn’t just for historians. It’s for all. Lies masquerading as facts are everywhere, meaning we should all have a healthy sense of incredulity. We should not rush to judgment for or against. In evaluating politically oriented news, we should always recognize that the author is “coming from somewhere,” some angle.

As someone who preaches and teaches regularly, I want to be careful in what information I pass along. If I’m presenting a story or anecdote from history or passing along some information as true, then I want to be reasonably sure that it is indeed true. Check original sources, be sure they are reliable sources, investigate any contrary opinions. If I pass along dubious information, does that not call into question my overall methodology and reliability?

 

A Lesson from Calvin on Concluding Sermons

Calvin’s Central Contribution: The Majesty of God

Calvin’s central theological contributions was his view of God’s infinite majesty, that is, God’s impressive beauty, dignity and transcendence.[1] Calvin said his aim in his ministry was to “set before [man], as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God.”[2] It was Calvin’s “zeal to illustrate the glory of God” which constitutes the heart of his theological reform as well as the legacy he has left the church. In speaking of Calvin’s conception of God’s infinite majesty, we must enter a thought world that almost seems foreign to contemporary religion. As David Wells said, “It is this God, majestic and holy in his being…who has disappeared from the modern evangelical world.”[3]

Instead the church today has espoused what has been called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,[4] which portrays God as a grandfatherly figure who wants people to be happy and morally good in life. We speak of God in very intimate terms as being among us, on mission, ready to answer our prayers. He treasures us. He speaks to us with advice for living the good life. And we think of Jesus primarily as man. But “Christ” (Anointed One), his majestic title, has fallen into disuse. And we prefer instead to think of the carpenter who lived an exemplary and loving life. And while most of this is true so far as it goes, it simply doesn’t go far enough. It’s damning with faint praise. Calvin saw these realities, the nearness of God, as essentially linked to other realities, the transcendence and majesty of God. And it was this perspective that motivated his efforts toward reform.

So to understand Calvin, we must first gather his understanding of God’s majesty. Then we will be prepared to understand what influence that conception had on his preaching. As John Murray said:

“We must first have a firm grasp on Calvin’s view of God’s infinite majesty. This we may derive in part from Institutes. As we bring even elementary understanding to bear upon our reading of the Institutes we shall immediately discover the profound sense of the majesty of God, veneration for the Word of God, and the jealous care for faithful exposition and systematization which were marked features of the author. And because of this we shall find the Institutes to be suffused with the warmth of godly fear.”[5]

The Creator has the right to rule and to demand obedience, and man’s self-understanding must take God’s loftiness into account, as Calvin notes, “Man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty.”[6]

This then is Calvin’s understanding of God’s infinite majesty, which is the “formative principle of Calvinism” according to B.B. Warfield. Warfield explains what he believes it means to “be a Calvinist”:

The Calvinist is the man who has seen God, and who, having seen God in His glory, is filled on the one hand, with a sense of his own unworthiness to stand in God’s sight as a creature, and much more as a sinner, and on the other hand, with adoring wonder that nevertheless this God is a God who receives sinners. He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him, in all his thinking, feeling, willing—in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual—throughout all his individual, social, religious relations—is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.[7]

Many others have also noted the foundational or central role of this aspect of Calvin’s thinking, referring to the marrow of Calvinism as the sovereignty of God. “Thus, if we had to reduce Calvinism to one concept,” says Joel Beeke, we must agree, “to be Reformed means to be theocentric.”[8]

1. God’s Majesty in Calvin’s Preaching Method

The majesty of God gave shape to the structure of Calvin’s pulpit ministry. As light is emitted from the sun, so also the Word reveals the brilliance of its source. And precisely because Calvin believed that God had revealed his glory through the rays of the Word, he was committed to treating the Word with the same reverence and humility that is appropriate to God himself. So his method of teaching the Word needed to accord with this high reverence. Calvin is known for consecutive expositional preaching: beginning in chapter one verse one of a book, and moving verse by verse through that book to uncover its meaning. In this sense, Calvin tethered himself to the text, recognizing his own lowliness before the Word and not wanting to speak his own opinions over and above God’s revelation. He has such a high view of God’s Word simply because he has such a high view of God himself. “The glory of God so shines in his word, that we ought to be so affected by it, whenever he speaks by his servants, as though he were near to us, face to face.”[9]

2. God’s Majesty in Calvin’s Concluding “Formula”

Not only was Calvin’s expositional method a demonstration of his sense of divine majesty, but so was the manner in which he closed each of his sermons. His closing line in nearly every sermon exhorted the congregation toward humility in light of all that had been taught from the Word. All his sermons in Job ended with the nearly uniform pronouncement, “Now let us bow in humble reverence before the face of our God.”[10] In his 22 sermons from Psalm 119, there is an equal uniformity in his closing words. The final paragraph of each sermon begins this way, “And according to this holy doctrine, let us prostrate ourselves before the face of our good God, in acknowledging our faults.”[11]

A similar pattern is evident in almost all the sermons Calvin preached. In fact, it appears in many of the sermons that having called on the congregation to bow before the majesty of God, Calvin would then ask them to join together in a prayer of praise and confession. In his sermons on the Beatitudes, his final words are recorded at the end of each sermon: “Now let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God, acknowledging our sins….Therefore together let us say, Almighty God and heavenly Father…”[12] Although the rest of the corporate prayer is not recorded, one can imagine the congregation together acknowledging their sins and pleading for mercy because of Christ. Every sermon’s conclusion was marked by this reverence.

The humility that is evident in this constant exhortation points back to Calvin’s understanding of God and what it means to be in fellowship with God. Calvin said that Augustine’s statement pleased him very much: “If you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always, I would answer, ‘Humility.’”[13] Understanding God to be so far exalted above man, he regularly concluded his preaching with a call to submission before divine transcendence.

3. God’s Majesty in the Themes of Calvin’s Preaching

In addition to these two structural results of Calvin’s understanding of God’s majesty (expositional preaching and closing exhortation to humility), there are numerous thematic elements in his preaching that flow directly from his sense of God’s loftiness. I will describe two of those themes and mention several others.

One of those thematic elements is the depravity of man. Calvin labors in all of his preaching to unpack the first line from the Institutes: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess…consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[14] In light of this, his exposition attempts to impress the reader with what the passage teaches about God and his majesty, but also about man and his sinfulness. This twofold attempt led Calvin to discuss depravity at length even from passages in which the doctrine of sin is not explicit.

For instance, Psalm 119:1-8 seems to contain very scant evidence of the depravity of man. It is a simple pronouncement of happiness toward those who keep the law of God. For many preachers, depravity may find very little room in the exposition of this passage. But Calvin almost seems to understand this to be a psalm about depravity. He labors throughout his whole sermon to insist on the waywardness of the human heart, that it is so unwilling to respond to God’s law. Calvin says,

First of all, [the psalmist] wants us to note, that we understand not wherein our chief blessedness consists, and the reason is, because we are blind, and do live in the world as savage and wild beasts, utterly void of sense and reason: and suffer ourselves to be led and carried away of our brutish and swinish affections and lusts.[15]

His sermon on 1 Timothy 3:16 also illustrates this point. This verse is a creedal statement about Jesus Christ with hardly a reference to sin, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (ESV). And yet Calvin finds opportunity to impress on the congregation their own condition as sinful people before the majesty of the living God:

There is nothing but rottenness in us; nothing but sin and death. Then let the living God, the well-spring of life, the everlasting glory, and the infinite power, come; and not only approach to us and our miseries, our wretchedness, our frailty, and to this bottomless pit of all iniquity that is in men; let not only the majesty of God come near this, but be joined to it, and made one with it, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.[16]

Whatever passage Calvin found himself in, he was careful to correlate that passage to a biblical understanding of the human condition, which is inevitably connected to his view of God’s majesty.

A second theme that runs through Calvin’s preaching is that mankind owes obedience to God. “In reading Calvin, nothing challenges me more than the way in which the obedience due to God controlled his thinking and living….For Calvin, to accept compromise when Scripture has spoken is to affront the divine majesty of the Author.”[17] This theme is plainly evident in all of Calvin’s preaching, although perhaps the most striking example comes from his preaching on the book of Job. He understand the entire story of Job’s life to be teaching us that we ought to submit ourselves in all humility and obedience to the sovereign will of God:

“The story [of Job] shows us how we are in the hand of God, and that it belongs to Him to order our lives and to dispose of them according to His good pleasure, and that our duty is to submit ourselves to Him in all humility and obedience, that it is quite reasonable that we be altogether His both to live and to die; and even if it shall please Him to raise His hand against us, though we may not perceive for what cause He does it, nevertheless we should glorify Him always, confessing that He is just and equitable, that we should not murmur against Him, that we should not enter into dispute, knowing that if we struggle against Him we shall be conquered. This, then, in brief, is what we have to remember from the story, that is, that God has such dominion over His creatures that He can dispose of them at His pleasure, and when He shows strictness that we at first find strange, yet we should keep our mouths closed in order not to murmur; but rather, that we should confess that He is just, expecting that He may declare to us why He chastises us.”[18]

There are many other lesser themes related to God’s majesty that are evident throughout Calvin’s preaching. He reminded his listeners that God’s condescension to mankind’s lowly estate ought to evoke not only utter obedience, but also extreme gratitude. He also impressed upon them the same conviction he displayed through expositional preaching, that the word of God itself reveals the divine majesty. But the controlling vision was the majesty and glory of God. This awareness of the majesty of God is perhaps Calvin’s most important legacy. And the impact this awareness had on his preaching provides a timeless example for preachers who want nothing more than to be faithful to God and his Word.

 

 

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. 2 vols. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 3.6.2, 3.20.41.

[2] John Dillenberger, ed. John Calvin: Selections from His Writings (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1975), 89.

[3] David Wells, No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 300.

[4] Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 67. Albert Mohler has called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “the new American religion” in an article entitled “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism—the New American Religion,” available at http://www.christianpost.com/news/moralistic-therapeutic-deism-the-new-american-religion-6266/.

[5] John Murray, “Introduction,” in Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

[6] Calvin, Institutes, 1.1.3. This section is entitled “Man before God’s majesty.”

[7] B. B. Warfield, “The Theology of Calvin,” http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/warfield/warfield_calvintheology.html (accessed May 10, 2014). This essay originally appeared in a booklet published by the Presbyterian Board of Education in 1909.

[8] Joel Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008), 40.

[9] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948-1950), 4:343.

[10] John Calvin, Sermons from Job, selected and translated by Leroy Nixon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 119. Slight variations of this sentence are used as the final words of every sermon in Job.

[11] John Calvin, Sermons on Psalm 119, translated by Thomas Stocker (Old Paths Publications, 1996), no page numbers. As in the sermons on Job, there is slight variation in the form or word of this sentence, but its distinctness from the closing line in the Job sermons is evident, as is its similarity.

[12] John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 48.

[13] Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11.

[14] Ibid., 1.1.1.

[15] Calvin, Sermons on Psalm 119.

[16] John Calvin, “The Mystery of Godliness,” in The Mystery of Godliness and Other Sermons (Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 12-13.

[17] Iaian Murray, “Foreward,” John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008), xii.

[18] Calvin, Sermons from Job, 3.

A City in Transition: Understanding Raleigh’s Identity

I moved to Raleigh in 2006, and it was obvious to me from the beginning that I wasn’t the only transplant. The “Raleigh native” is somewhat of a rarity. I’m always fascinated to meet such a person. What is it that draws people to Raleigh-Durham? It certainly helps that Raleigh-Durham keeps showing up in rankings of top places to live. But here are a few dynamics behind that.

Small wanting to be big

Raleigh is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. And the growth is accumulating in “growth centers” (Cameron Village/NCSU area, Crabtree, Mid-Town/North Hills, New Bern Ave and Wake Medical Center). Public transportation has not yet accommodated all the new people, but the city is striving to catch up in order to facilitate rapid growth. Still, at this point, most people don’t tend to walk, bicycle, or use public transportation for their commute. Eighty-eight percent of commuters drive their own car.

Conservative wanting to be progressive

This struggle plays out in politics, responses to state politics, desire to attract business to Wake County. There is a felt tension between Charlotte, the more liberal big NC city, and Raleigh the more conservative. Raleigh seems to be trying to break this mold as we have shifted from McCrory to Cooper, and continue to see activists working to repeal HB2 and speak loudly against Trump, among other things.

Old wanting to be modern

Matt Tomasulo running for Raleigh city council at-large in 2015, ran a slick campaign built around the idea of “making Raleigh a twenty-first century city.” There’s a narrative packed into that statement. Tomasula is the Founder and Chief Instigator behind Walk [Your City], an emerging civic platform to help cities put people first and embrace walkability through online tools that boost offline mobility.

Diverse and growing in diversity

The Research Triangle is drawing a diverse array of employees. There is a large Indian population in Morrisville. Refugees have settled in Raleigh and African and Hispanic immigrants continues to fill the Capital Blvd corridor.

Suburban morphing toward urban

The urban area in Raleigh is expanding from within the inner beltline to within the outer beltline. As growth centers expand along the inner beltline, population and business continues to expand between the beltlines. What was once suburban is turning urban, and “suburban” is now being pushed further out into places like Knightdale, Brier Creek, and Heritage.

Highly educated and achievement oriented

This is not a new shift but as with any large city, lots of people means there are lots of people more educated and more advanced than you are which means you will feel challenged to reach down and strive to do better. Home to eight colleges or universities, including NC State, Duke, and UNC, the Triangle will only continue to advance in education.

New subcultures emerging

Besides these big shifts, there are a number of interesting developments at the “subculture” level. There is greater interest in fitness and health (by the way, check out “The Church of CrossFit” from The Atlantic), there is a growing hipster and artist community, local coffee shops and small craft breweries keep popping up, and local t-shirts are a bit of a craze. More people seem to be identifying strongly as North Carolinians or Raleigh-ites, whether they were born here or in the Midwest like me.

Implications

So many people in RDU have relocated from other places, meaning they are far from family, detached from supportive networks, and “separated from extended families and under a great deal of stress.” At the same time, they’re feeling the pressure of a highly educated and achievement oriented setting. All of this means that we’re logistically we’re fast paced, busy. As Mary Bell said, “achievement is the alcohol of our time…these days the best people don’t abuse alcohol, they abuse their lives.” And that’s no less true in Raleigh than in so many larger cities.

Along with this, depression is a big struggle along with anxieties. People are seeking fulfillment in some constructed identity or achievement. At the same time, there is a large and growing international community, many of whom are struggling through the transition to life in a new country. They are also disconnected from family and roots, and struggle with depression, substance abuse and loneliness.

There is huge space for the gospel in the midst of all this. The gospel teaches us that no earthly achievements will ever satisfy the inner-cravings of the heart. That pursuit is like drinking salt-water to sate your thirst. The gospel also bring the indestructible joy of communion with God and the assurance of undoing life with him. This reality is emotionally stabilizing in the midst of life’s vicissitudes. And the gospel brings us into deep community with others, a community shaped by love, humility and mutual acceptance. These relationships are intended by God to make life bearable even blessed. The gospel speaks most fully to the aspirations of the human soul, and that is true in Raleigh as in every other part of the world.

Commit Your Work to God

We usually think of the Proverbs as a collection of sayings about how to live wisely in the world, how to be shrewd and successful in business, the high value of hard work, the practical benefits of honesty. If a business operates according to the proverbs, it will no doubt have many happy customers, not to mention happy shareholders. But where does the practical wisdom of the proverbs come from?

The proverbs are wise precisely because they view the world as God’s world, created and directed by him. God is the Maker, the Creator. The world in which we live and act belongs to him, and the rules by which the world operates flow from him. So to live well in his world a person has to constantly acknowledge God as Creator and then submit to him; this is what it means to fear the Lord.

But even as a person works diligently in God’s world, still the outcome of all work rests with the Lord. This is how the proverbs view the sovereignty of God, his absolute right to rule in every aspect of his world. So that even though a person is expected to make plans and work hard to accomplish them, the outcome is always from God. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (19:21).

First Implication: Work Hard

God’s work matters more than my work, but this doesn’t diminish the meaningfulness of my work. God expects us to plan, strategize, and work hard. In fact, he accomplishes his purposes through our diligence, not apart from it. Therefore, do not lessen your ambitions, but heighten them. Rather than being slothful or idle, we should work all the harder knowing that God intends to integrate our efforts into his purposes. Work for him and not for yourself. Labor so that he might be exalted, not you.

Second Implication: Commit Your Work to God

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (16:3). The most appropriate response to the primacy of God’s purposes is the daily recommitment of myself and my work to God. I am his, I am living in his world, my energy and my opportunities are from him, and the eventual result of all my labors today is completely in his hands.

All our daily work, both the mundane and the monumental, must be committed to the Lord. I may prepare a business plan, yet the success of the business is completely dependent on God. The same is true with parenting, developing ministry strategy, resolving conflict, working at a good marriage, or anything else. Pause at the beginning of each day, and throughout the day, to give your work to God. “Father, these efforts are enabled by you, and I ask that you might use them for your purposes.”

Third Implication: Leave the Outcome to God

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (21:31). Do you ever finish some project or presentation and then immediately begin to guess at how it will be received by others? Will they be impressed? Will it have an enduring impact? The anxiety of self-interest. Or have you ever despaired over the meaningless of your work? Perhaps at the end of a long day you wonder, was it worth it? The proverbs remind us that as we work diligently, giving our work to God, that our work is meaningful and God will accomplish his purposes through it.

A prayer of daily commitment might look like this. Father, you are the maker of me and all things. I am yours and I want to be useful for your purposes today. Please give me the energy that I need to do the good works that you have prepared for me. Please help me to steward with wisdom the opportunities you have given me, for I have nothing but what I have received from you. Please make my plans and efforts successful in the economy of your kingdom. I am yours and my work is yours so please use me to make your glory visible in the world today.

God’s sovereignty over our work in the book of Proverbs, a non-exhaustive sampling:

  1. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Prv 3:6)
  2. The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens (3:19)
  3. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked (10:3)
  4. The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (16:1)
  5. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established (16:3)
  6. The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (16:9)
  7. The lot is cast into the lap, but its decision is from the Lord (Prv 16:33)
  8. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand (19:21)
  9. The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (21:1)
  10. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord (21:31)

 

 

The Church is a Lion Tamer: Importance of Precision in Theology

In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton has a chapter on the paradoxes of Christianity. At the end of the chapter he points out that the beauty of these paradoxes demands accurate proportion. To shift the proportion is to ruin the paradox altogether, with disastrous results for humanity. For this reason, he calls the church the “lion tamer” of bad doctrine.

I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The church could not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of irregular equilibrium.

It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember that the church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a lion tamer.

The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfillment of prophecies, are ideas which, anyone can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious. The smallest link was let drop by the artificers of the Mediterranean, and the lion of ancestral pessimism burst his chain in the forgotten forests of the north. Of these theological equalizations I have to speak afterwards.

Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, Even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties.

The church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless.

God’s Promises are His Insurance Office

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) writes in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment about how to claim the promises of God as your own in order to develop contentment. He says the covenant of grace in general and the promises of God in particular are like “a great insurance office for the saints.”

Here is an insurance office indeed, a great insurance office for the saints, at which they are not charged, except in the exercising of grace, for they may go to this insurance office to insure everything that they venture, either to have the thing itself, or to be paid for it. In an insurance office you cannot be sure to have the very goods that you insured, but if they are lost the insurers pledge themselves to make it good to you. And this covenant of grace that God has made with his people is God’s insurance office, and the saints in all their fears may and ought to go to the covenant to insure all things, to insure their wealth and to insure their lives… It is a special sign of true grace in any soul, that when any affliction befalls him, in a kind of natural way he repairs immediately to the covenant… If you find that your heart works in this way, immediately running to the covenant, it is an excellent sign of true grace.

Burroughs then goes on to consider the particular promises:

  • Psalm 91:1-2, He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence
  • Isaiah 43:2, When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers they will not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you.
  • Isaiah 54:17, No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
  • Joshua 1:5, I will not leave you or forsake you
  • Hebrews 13:5, Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
  • Psalm 34:10, The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
  • Psalm 37:5-6, Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
  • Isaiah 58:10, If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

But Burroughs reminds the Christian that when considering the promises of God, we should always “consider their connection to the root, the great covenant that God has made with them in Christ.” He reminds his reader, “Now if I had lived in the time of the law, perhaps I might have been somewhat more confident of the literal performance of the promise, than I can be now in the time of the gospel.” Or again, he says we “ought not to lay too much upon the literal sense,” but rather remember that “all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). In other words, we must be careful how we make use of the old covenant promises.

But they are nonetheless for us. “Every time a godly man reads Scripture (remember this when you are reading Scripture) and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it and say, This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live upon it. This will make you contented.”

By recalling the promises of God, connecting all the promises to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, and turning to these promises as our insurance policy in the midst of any affliction, we will grow in obtaining the rare jewel of Christian contentment.