Category Archives: Quotes

Quotes from Semester 2 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2017

Photo credit: SMBC

Year one is done. What an incredible year it has been to study at SMBC.

There are some things that words can’t adequately sum up. For example, the end-of-year dinner where the faculty (including the principal) served the pre-dinner nibbles to guests. Or the cumulative effect of praying for the nations on Mondays, listening to missionaries from around the world on Tuesdays, and hearing God’s Word preached on Wednesdays. Or the 1-to-1 and group conversations where you’re blown away by the sacrifices people have made to come to college, and astounded by their willingness to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the gospel. No soundbite can adequately capture those moments.

But for what it’s worth, here are some quotes of what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth retaining longer than the latest cricket and rugby scores. Most of these were from lectures and chapels; some were from conversations over lunch and dinner with staff and students; a few are quotes from other places. I hope some of these “proverbs” are helpful to you.


On Missions

“Our temptation is to cluster. 1 in 11 Australians live in Western Sydney, with immigrants from 170 different countries – it’s a mission field of breathtaking proportions. Yet the church in Sydney clusters from the Hills, the North Shore, to the Shire… the world is not to be won by quiet, ease-loving men and women.” – Stuart Coulton

“I’ve actually learned more about cross-cultural issues and worldviews while in parish ministry in Western Sydney than in Chile.” – Gary, CMS in Chile

“We’re not in competition with other colleges. We’re delighted you’re here, we really believe in what we do here. But we should be grateful that God is working through other theological colleges in Australia.” – S.C.

“Saying ‘Preach the word, if necessary use words’ is like saying ‘Give me your phone number, if necessary use numbers’. The gospel is a message: it needs to be said.” – Tim Silberman, Missions Perspectives

“Missions is God’s power at work in our weakness.” – Richard Hibbert

“It’s OK not to have a plan after college. Just serve God where you are; pour your heart and soul into what you’re doing here.” – Gary and Julie, CMS in Chile

“Even though I was not there to gathered my kids in my arms, God was there to shepherd them. ‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.'” – K., missionary in Cambodia hospitalised with a stroke

“It’s easy to be narrow and think ‘this in my ministry’. But our God is a global God. [Even when] I’m in Tanzania, I pray for China.” – Amy, missionary in Tanzania

“I always offend Muslims on the street – with the Gospel.” – D., street evangelist to Turkish Muslims in London


On Old and New Testament

“Let’s get into the Bible. That’s what we’re here for, right?” – Janson Condren

“The road of a prophet is a road of suffering. To accept God’s call is to accept the road of suffering.” – J.C. on Jeremiah

“A king can get the people out of Babylon, but he can’t get Babylon out of the people. It has to take a Servant to accomplish this.” – J.C. on Isaiah

“Good on-the-fly prayer grows out of intense, private prayer.” – J.C. on Nehemiah 2:4

“The greatest danger for the exiles is not annihilation but assimilation.” – J.C. on Daniel

“Every Psalm should be read in light of Psalm 1 and 2.” Kit Barker on the Psalter

“Some essays I call apocalyptic. Every sentence is a mystery.” – Alan Mugridge

“Group work. It’s pretty hip.” – A.M.


Church History 1550 to Present Day

“The role of church history is to help us live better for Jesus Christ.” – S.C.

“Henry VIII appointed Protestant Cranmer as tutor to his son, Edward. What you do with your kids reveals what you really believe.” – Rachel Ciano on the English Reformation

“One of our constant struggles is how to move what’s in the head to the heart. That’s why Puritans viewed theology as living well for the glory of God — they connected the two. That’s why reading the Puritans is helpful.” – R.C.

“We’re suckers for celebrity preachers, aren’t we?” – Ian Maddock on the response to George Whitefield’s preaching

“The key to local mission is cross-cultural mission, and the key to cross-cultural mission is the heart of the pastor.” – R.C. on Charles Simeon’s impact on world mission as a local pastor

“[First Fleet chaplain] Philip Johnson would leave at 4am by boat for a 9am service at Parramatta. You’ll never feel bad about an early start ever again!” – R.C. on early church services in Australia


Pastoral Theology

“Nothing brings delight in prayer other than prayer. Nothing robs you of joy in prayer other than prayerlessness.” – S.C., Pastoral Theology

“Prayer is an accurate reflection of how much I believe that the work of mission is the work of God. Look back on the last month of your prayers. Do you labour in prayer, long and hard?” – S.C.

“Reading will make you a better preacher and a better pastor. TV tells you what to think. Books invite you to make a judgement on the characters.” – S.C. on reading

“You’re only a hair’s breadth away from being a heretic!” – S.C.

“In vocational ministry, you will be paid to be holy. So your great temptation is that your holiness becomes a professional activity. There becomes a terrible disconnect between our beliefs and our actions.” – S.C.

“The opposite of laziness is not workaholism. So often we want to fix one mistake by creating another.” – S.C.

“Our greatest risk at college is that we will know everything and learn nothing. Do you know your brokenness before a Holy God?” – S.C.


 

Quotes from Semester 1 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2017

We’ve just finished our first semester here at Sydney Missionary Bible College, where I’m studying towards a Masters of Divinity.

It’s been exhausting on some fronts – adjusting to life in Australia with a young family, scrambling to build new friendships and relationships, grieving as NZ friends move on with their lives. I don’t think we’ve ever been as sick with colds and flus as this past 6 months.

It’s been enriching on many fronts – drinking from multiple fire hoses gushing with theology, observing examples of godliness, and catching the passion to bring Christ to all the nations – literally. What a special place this is to be prepared for a lifetime of gospel ministry in NZ.

I’ve noted down for posterity what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth retaining longer than all my ephemeral InstaFaceTweets combined. Most of these were from lectures and chapels; some were from conversations over lunch and dinner with staff and students; a few are quotes from other places. I hope some of them are helpful to you.


Church History: Early Church to 476

“If learning church history doesn’t contribute to your godliness and discipleship, then it hasn’t done its job.” – Stuart Coulton

“The Crusades. Nazi Germany. How could ‘Christians’ do such evil things? They were Christians who failed to critique the values of the world around them.” – S.C.

“We carpet bomb a city to save democracy [Dresden]. Should we kill a man for denying the Trinity [cf. Calvin and Servetus]? Church history gives us provocation and tools to wrestle with these propositions.” – S.C.

“What and where it happened is not as important as why it happened.” – S.C.

“Early Christianity stood out by its holiness. Is our church today known for its quality of life? What difference has Christ made to me?” – S.C.

“You work out what the error is by the way the truth is articulated.” – S.C.

“The difference between an ascetic and and aesthetic comes down to chocolate. The ascetic says no. The aesthetic says, ‘Only Lindt will do.'” – S.C.

“The church sometimes stops at bishops and creeds, but pays lip service to Scripture.” – S.C.

“The church has a need for many things, but what it really needs is good doctrine. We live in a world where pragmatism is the most popular authority. So assume nothing. Go back to Scripture and ask: is this truth biblical?” – S.C.

“Christians in the West treat Revelation in ways that John would be horrified. Does reading Revelation move you to pray for the persecuted church? If not perhaps we’ve missed John’s purpose for the letter.” – Rachel Ciano, Persecution and Apologists

“Fast growth in the early church meant nominal Christians with shallow roots. Christians lived in a time of peace, so were unprepared; many gave themselves up. May it be a lesson to us not to be caught unprepared.” – R.C. on the Edict of 250 AD requiring Christians worship the Roman Emperor.

“‘For the church to be marginalised is not a bad thing. It has better eyes to see from the edges.'” – R.C. paraphrasing Miroslav Volf

“If you’ve found something new that no one has ever thought of before, be careful. People have been thinking about things longer than you.” – R.C.

“One of the greatest things about church history is that you’ll never hero worship anyone. You see their black spots; everyone has feet of clay.” – S.C.

“Don’t write these guys off [early monastics]. Otherwise we’ll have nothing to learn. These monks asked: what does it look like to seriously follow Jesus? Part of me is provoked… How much am I prepared to follow Jesus?” – S.C.

“FF Bruce suggests that the Reformation is all about Augustine’s doctrine of the church colliding with his doctrine of salvation.” – S.C.

“If you find yourself separated from the majority of the church, then show some humility.” – S.C. summarising Augustine’s argument about the church

 

Church History: Middle Ages to Pre-Reformation

“Augustine’s view is that we are dead in our transgressions. Pelagius’s view is that we are not dead in our trangressions. The Bible teaches that you’re a prince [in Christ] and a worm. You’re totally depraved and you’re touched by grace.” – S.C.

“Herulean Oduvacar is the perfect name to drop into a dinner party conversation. He was the first non-Roman to sit on the throne. You think Donald Trump is shocking!” – S.C.

“In the Middle Ages, nobody believed in the separation of church and state. The issue at this time is which side is in charge.” – S.C.

“Don’t defend the Crusades. They are a complete blot on the Christian church.” – S.C.

“We are tempted to promote the cause of Christ using instruments of the world. But Zechariah 4:6 reminds us that it’s ‘not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit.'” – S.C.

“The real outrage with Luther was not that he had beer, but that he got married.” – S.C.

“The priesthood of all believers has politically explosive implications.” – S.C.

“One of the temptations for us is to lack confidence in the power of God’s Word. ‘You need topical. You need something else.’ No – it is the means by which salvation is accomplished.” – S.C.

“Lutheranism today is different to Lutheranism 500 years ago. Calvinism remains influential over the years, perhaps because it left a more systematised doctrine.” – S.C.

“Luther is all about stuffing the ark – ‘get them in’. Calvin wants to transform the ark – ‘sanctify them'”. – R.C., on the difference between Luther and Calvin

“One reason laments have lost their place in today’s worship is that we have a problem with saying ‘God, you did it.’ Withhold nothing from the sovereignty of God.” – R.C.

“Your church building says a lot about your theology.” – R.C. on church architecture

“Most of South America is Roman Catholic because of the Jesuits. While Protestants were infighting, they became a worldwide RCC. Parochialism is the enemy of the gospel. Don’t debate each other at the expense of gospel proclamation.” – R.C. on the Catholic counter-reformation

 

 

Pastoral Theology

“To pray for God to be glorified in your life is a dangerous prayer.” – Stuart Coulton, Pastoral Theology

“Beware the disjunct between the handling of God’s word for others, and practising God’s word for yourself.” – S.C.

“Small talk is addressing the 95% of a person’s life. If you are disinterested in 95% of a person’s life, then continue to hate small talk.” – S.C.

“What God does in you will shape what He does through you.” – S.C.

“[I] didn’t realise how dangerous Stuart’s prayer was until later in the year.” – student in the valley.

 

Biblical Theology

“In my class, the answer is usually Jesus, or context.” – Alan Thompson

“Here’s four approaches to the Bible:
1. Exegesis – what’s in the line?
2. Biblical Theology – what’s the timeline?
3. Systematic Theology – what’s the bottom line?
4. Historical Theology – what’s the church’s line?”

– adapted from A.T. explaining the role of biblical theology

New Testament Greek

“Learning Greek shouldn’t make you proud, but make you humble.” – Janet Riley

“Learning Greek is like Jacob wrestling with the angel. You need to hold on to that word and say: ‘I will not let you go until you bless me!'” – Rob Plummer on dailydoseofgreek.com

 

 

 

Old Testament Foundations

“We’re going to look at some of the greatest literature ever written.” – Kit Barker

“In time you’ll learn to use dictionaries, commentaries and journals. But nothing replaces a careful, repeated reflection of the text. Keep asking: what is God doing with this text then and now?” – K.B.

“The Pentateuch is meant to persuade you to obey – it’s not to be held at arm’s length. It’s meant to shape us, transform us into better men and women than we were.” – Geoff Harper

“Genesis records history, but it also critiques our own hearts. It’s less about what the sun is made of, but why it is there.” – G.H.

“There’s a diversity of views out there [on Genesis 1-2], but we are Christian. It’s very unwise to die on this hill. We need to love people who are different.” – G.H.

“To help us understand the literary artistry in the Tower of Babel story, let’s read The Gruffalo and see if you can spot any artistic devices.” – G.H.

“[In the Joseph story] Judah’s repentance is real. He’s willing to be Benjamin’s substitute, to be a slave so Benjamin can go free. We see the necessity for repentance to precede forgiveness. If we repent, we’ll get reconciliation.” – G.H.

“As Christians we need to be careful not to have an Islamic [i.e. dictated] view of Scripture. It’s OK if divine inspiration is more complex than we thought. We have a God who stands behind it.” – G.H.

“Let me make some bold statements: Leviticus is not just a relic of Israel’s history; it’s your history. It’s not redundant, but essential. You can’t understand Jesus unless you understand what’s in Leviticus: atonement, forgiveness, care for the foreigner, blood, sacrifice, holiness. So study Levicitus to understand Christ better.” – G.H.

“Leviticus is a wonderful evangelistic text. Lots of people are terrified about being unclean before a Holy God. Jesus is the one who makes us clean. Leviticus pushes us to talk about this.” – G.H.

“To remove wrath from the cross is foolishness. What then did he die for? Then there’s no sense in which God demonstrates his love.” – K.B.

“[The wrath of God] is not just an Old Testament problem. In fact, the NT is far more violent — in both the crucifixion [of Jesus] and in the unleashing of God’s fury on all who reject him.” – K.B.

“The more we understand and accept God’s wrath against rebellion, the more we appreciate the love of God and what Christ suffered.” – K.B.

“One generation is all it takes to lose the nation – to be worse than the culture you’re in. So we must pass on the life-giving words to the next generation.” – K.B. on Judges

 

Preaching Class, Principal’s Hour, Student Chapels

“The goal of preaching is not just to make smarter sinners. That’s what’s called dump truck preaching. The goal of preaching is to give God’s Word, to point people to their saviour, and live for his glory.” – Malcolm Gill

“It’s easy to do dump truck preaching. It’s much harder to be simple.” – M.G.

“‘My son’s birthday party’ – could be kids with party hats, or as it turns out, an adult son released from prison. Find out who you’re speaking to!” – M.G. on evaluating your audience

“In preaching you bring a meal out from the kitchen. You don’t take them into the kitchen and show them all the ingredients.” – M.G.

“If you’ve come to bible college, there probably is a Messiah complex about you. But our effectiveness in ministry is solely by God’s grace. The gospel gives us both confidence and humility in gospel ministry.” – Mark Adams, on 1 Cor 15

“Genesis 38 pictures a man in the midst of rebellion, confronted with his deception, then immediately acknowledging this wrongdoing, who becomes a new person. God transforms the hardest of hearts.” – Kit Barker

“People have a right to see in us a radical reflection of Jesus.” – S.C., on Matthew 5

“Jesus had nothing to add to the commandments except one thing: he kept them.” – S.C. quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The Old Testament is the gospel in bud; the New Testament is the gospel in flower.” – S.C. quoting JC Ryle

“As Bob Dylan sang, ‘You’re going to have to serve somebody.’ The question is, who? Who will you give your heart to?” – S.C., Matt 6:19-34

“There is a difference between having strong convictions and lacking respect for others with whom we disagree.” – S.C., on Matt 7:1-6

“One of the dangers of college is that our skillset outstrips our character. So begin with a command like this: don’t judge.” – S.C.

“Some advice for bible college graduates – don’t whine, don’t shine, and don’t recline.” – from an OT lecturer at Moore College

 

Other quotables

“Competence without character in Christian service is not just unattractive, but incredibly dangerous.” – S.C.

“Ministry Matters [hearing from missionaries every week] will help us lift our eyes away from parochialism and our tendency to only look locally.” – S.C.

“Some cultures don’t even have a word for guilt in their language. How do you explain Romans 3 to them?” – Richard Hibbert, on cross-cultural communication

“[Why are we missionaries in an unsafe country?] Safe is relative. You could be in Australia and get hit by a car. Is Christ worthy for West Asians to praise? If so then it is worth being here for the sake of the gospel.” – X+X, missionary family with young children

 

 

The best 1600 words on church history I’ve read

I’ve just read a breathtaking summary of 2000 years of church history by Bruce Shelley. It’s from his Epilogue to “Church History in Plain Language”. The way the author flows through the warp and weft of two millennia of Christianity is a sheer masterclass of writing.

I can’t share the whole epilogue here – for that you really should buy the book. It flies through early persecution and heresy, the Imperial age from Constantine, councils and hermits, Eastern Orthodoxy, the fall of Rome, the reconversion of Europe, Charlemagne and Cluny, the church as empire, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment and Evangelical Awakening, the Age of Ideologies – all in the space of 1600 words.

But here is how it ends (emphasis mine):

“Christians can hope because faith always reaches beyond earthly circumstances. Its confidence is in a person. And no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ. The shades and tones of his image seem to shift with the needs of men: the Jewish Messiah of the believing remnant, the Wisdom of the Greek apologist, the Cosmic King of the Imperial Church, the Heavenly Logos of the orthodox councils, the World Ruler of the papal courts, the monastic Model of apostolic poverty, the personal Saviour of evangelical revivalists. Truly, he is a man for all time. In a day when many regard him as irrelevant, a relic of a quickly discarded past, church history provides a quiet testimony that Jesus Christ will not disappear from the scene. His title may change, but his truth endures for all generations.” – Bruce Shelley

Truly inspiring.

The best contents page I’ve ever read – Thomas Brooks, Precious remedies against Satan’s devices

Our church has been going through the book of Ephesians. We’re at the part where the Apostle Paul gives final instructions (more like marching orders) to his readers:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil…” (Eph. 6:10-11)

Paul calls us to know the opposition, and then stand firm against his scheme. And so during my reading this week, I worked through the contents page of a helpful book on the topic of spiritual warfare called “Precious remedies against Satan’s devices” by Thomas Brooks. I found it incredibly helpful. Have a look for yourself (I’ve marked in red the ones I found particularly helpful in my own walk):

SATAN’S DEVICES TO DRAW THE SOUL TO SIN [12 devices and their remedies]

  1. By presenting the bait and hiding the hook: For remedies, consider that
    • we ought to keep at the greatest distance from sin and from playing with the bait
    • sin is but a bitter sweet
    • sin will usher in the greatest and the saddest losses
    • sin is very deceitful and bewitching

  2. By painting sin with virtue’s colours: For remedies, consider that
    • sin is never the less vile by being so painted
    • the more sin is so painted the more dangerous it is
    • we ought to look on sin with that eye with which within a few hours we shall see it
    • sin cost the life-blood of the Lord Jesus

  3. By the extenuating and lessening of sin: For remedies, consider that
    • sin which men account small brings God’s great wrath on men
    • the giving way to a less sin makes way for the committing of a greater
    • it is sad to stand with God for a trifle
    • often there is most danger in the smallest sins
    • the saints have chosen to suffer greatly rather than commit the least sin
    • the soul can never stand under the guilt and weight of sin when God sets it home upon the soul
    • there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction

  4. By showing to the soul the best men’s sins and by hiding from the soul their virtues, their sorrows, and their repentance: For remedies, consider that
    • the Spirit of God records not only the sins of the saints, but also their repentance
    • these saints did not make a trade of sin
    • though God does not disinherit his sinning people, He punishes them severely
    • God has two main ends in recording the falls of His saints

  5. By presenting God to the soul as One made up all of mercy: For remedies, consider
    • It is the sorest of judgements to be left to sin upon any pretense whatever
    • God is as just as He is merciful
    • sins against mercy will bring the greatest and sorest judgements on men
    • though God’s general mercy is over all His works, yet His special mercy is confined to those that are divinely qualified
    • the saints now glorified regarded God’s mercy as a most powerful argument against, and not for, sin

  6. By persuading the soul that repentance is easy and that therefore the soul need not scruple about sinning: For remedies, consider that
    • repentance is a difficult work above our own power
    • repentance changes and converts the whole man from sin to God
    • repentance is a continued act
    • if repentance were easy, the lack of it would not strike millions with terror and drive them to hell
    • to repent of sin is as great a mark of grace as not to sin
    • Satan now suggests that repentance is easy, but shortly he will drive his dupes to despair by presenting it as the hardest work in the world



  7. By making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin: For remedies, consider
    • certain scriptures expressly command us to avoid occasions of sin and the least appearance of evil
    • there is no conquest over sin unless the soul turns from the occasions of sin
    • saints now glorified have turned from the occasions of sin as from hell itself
    • to avoid the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace



  8. By representing to the soul the outward mercies enjoyed by men walking in sin, and their freedom from outward miseries: For remedies, consider that
    • we cannot judge of how the heart of God stands towards a man by the acts of His providence
    • nothing provokes God’s wrath so much as men’s abuse of His goodness and mercy
    • there is no greater curse or affliction in this life than not to be in misery or affliction
    • the wants of evil men are far greater than their outward blessings
    • outward things are not as they seem, nor as they are esteemed
    • God has ends and designs in giving evil men outward mercies and present rest from sorrows and sufferings that cause saints to sigh
    • God often plagues and punishes those whom others think He most spares and loves
    • God will call evil men to a strict account for all the outward good that they have enjoyed

  9. By presenting to the soul the crosses, losses, sorrows and sufferings that daily attend those who walk in the ways of holiness: For remedies, consider that
    • all afflictions suffered by Christians turn to their profit
    • all such afflictions only reach their worst, not their best, part
    • all such afflictions are short and momentary
    • all such afflictions proceed from God’s dearest love
    • it is our duty and glory to measure afflictions not by the smart but by the end
    • God’s design in saints’ afflictions is to try, not to ruin, their souls
    • the afflictions, wrath and misery consequent upon wickedness are far worse than those linked with holiness

  10. By causing saints to compare themselves and their ways with those reputed to be worse than themselves: For remedies, consider that
    • to be quick-sighted abroad and blind at home proves a man a hypocrite
    • it is far better to compare our internal and external actions with the Word than to compare ourselves with others worse than ourselves
    • though our sins may not appear as great as those of others, yet without repentance responding to mercy, we shall be as certainly damned as others



  11. By polluting the souls and judgements of men with dangerous errors that lead to looseness and wickedness: For remedies, consider that
    • an erroneous vain mind is as odious to God as a wicked life
    • it is needful to receive the truth affectionately and plenteously
    • error makes its owner suffer loss
    • it is needful to hate and reject all doctrines that are contrary to godliness, that lead to self-righteousness, and that make good works co-partners with Christ
    • it is needful to hold fast the truth
    • it is needful to keep humble
    • errors have been productive of great evils

  12. By leading men to choose wicked company: For remedies, consider that
    • there are express commands of God to shun such company
    • wicked company is infectious and dangerous
    • it is needful to look upon the wicked in such terms as Scripture describes them
    • the company of wicked men was once a grief and burden also to saints now glorified

 

III. SATAN’S DEVICES TO KEEP SOULS FROM HOLY DUTIES, TO HINDER SOULS IN HOLY SERVICES, TO KEEP THEM OFF FROM RELIGIOUS PERFORMANCES [8 devices and their remedies]

  1. By presenting the world in such a garb as to ensnare the soul: For remedies, consider that
    • all things here below are impotent and weak
    • they are also full of vanity
    • all things under the sun are uncertain and mutable
    • the great things of the world are hurtful to men owing to the corruption of their hearts
    • all the felicity [happiness] of this world is mixed
    • it is needful to get better acquainted with, and assurance of, more blessed and glorious things
    • true happiness and satisfaction does not arise from worldly good
    • the value and dignity of the soul is to be a subject of contemplation

  2. By presenting to the soul the dangers, losses and sufferings that accompany the performance of certain religious duties: For remedies, consider that
    • all such troubles cannot harm the true Christian
    • saints now glorified encountered such dangers, but persevered to the end
    • all such dangers are but for a moment, whereas the neglect of the service of God lays the Christian open to spiritual and eternal dangers
    • God knows how to deliver from troubles by troubles, from dangers by dangers
    • In the service of God, despite troubles and afflictions, the gains outweigh the losses

       

  3. By presenting to the soul the difficulty of performing religious duties: For remedies, consider that
    • it is better to regard the necessity of the duty than the difficulty of it
    • the Lord Jesus will reveal Himself to the obedient soul and thus make the service easy
    • the Lord Jesus has Himself engaged in hard service and in suffering for your temporal and eternal good
    • religious duties are only difficult to the worse, not to the more noble part of a saint
    • a glorious recompense awaits saints who serve the Lord in the face of difficulties and discouragements

  4. By causing saints to draw false inferences from the blessed and glorious things that Christ has done: For remedies, consider that
    • it is as needful to dwell as much upon scriptures that state Christian duty as upon those that speak of the glorious things that Christ has done for us
    • the glorious things that Christ has done and is now doing for us should be our strongest motives and encouragements for the performance of our duties
    • other precious souls who have rested on Christ’s work have been very active and lively in religious duties
    • those who do not walk in God’s ways cannot have such evidence of their righteousness before God as can those who rejoice in the service of the Lord
    • duties are to be esteemed not by their acts but by their ends



  5. By presenting to view the fewness and poverty of those who hold to religious practices: For remedies, consider that
    • though saints are outwardly poor, they are inwardly rich
    • in all ages God has had some that have been rich, wise and honourable
    • spiritual riches infinitely transcend temporal riches, and satisfy the poorest saints
    • saints now appear to be ‘a little flock’, but they belong to a company that cannot be numbered
    • it is but as a day before these despised saints will shine brighter than the sun
    • the time will come even in this life when God will take away the reproach and contempt of His people, and make those the ‘head’ who have been the ‘tail’

  6. By showing saints that the majority of men make light of God’s ways and walk in the ways of their own hearts: For remedies, consider that
    • certain scriptures warn against following the sinful examples of men
    • those who sin with the multitude will suffer with the multitude
    • the soul of a man is of more worth than heaven and earth

  7. By casting in vain thoughts while the soul is seeking God or waiting on God: For remedies, consider that
    • the God with whom we have to do is great, holy, majestic and glorious
    • despite wandering thoughts it is needful to be resolute in religious service
    • vain and trifling thoughts that Satan casts into our souls are not sins if they are abhorred, resisted and disclaimed
    • watching against, resisting and lamenting sinful thoughts evidences grace and the sincerity of our hearts
    • we must labour to be filled with the fullness of God and enriched with all spiritual blessings
    • we must labour to keep up holy and spiritual affections
    • we must labor to avoid multiplicity of worldly business

       

  8. By tempting Christians to rest in their performances: For remedies, consider that
    • our choicest services have their imperfection and weaknesses
    • our choicest services are unable to minister comfort and aid in days of trouble
    • good works, if rested upon, will as certainly destroy us as the greatest sins that we commit
    • God has met our need of a resting place in Christ Himself


       

       

IV. SATAN’S DEVICES TO KEEP SAINTS IN A SAD, DOUBTING, QUESTIONING AND UNCOMFORTABLE CONDITION [8 devices and their remedies]

  1. By causing saints to remember their sins more than their Saviour, yes, even to forget and neglect their Saviour: For remedies, consider that
    • though Jesus Christ has not freed believers from sin’s presence, He has freed them from its damnatory power
    • though Jesus Christ has not freed believers from the vexing and molesting power of sin, He has freed them from the reign and dominion of sin
    • it is needful to keep one eye on the promise of remission of sin, and the other eye on the inward operations of sin
    • believers’ sins have been charged to the account of Christ as debts which He has fully satisfied
    • the Lord has good reasons for allowing His people to be troubled with sinful corruption
    • believers must repent of their being discouraged by their sins

  2. By causing saints to make false definitions of their graces: For remedies, consider
    • there may be true faith, even great faith, where there is no assurance
    • the Scriptures define faith other than Satan tempts the saints to define it
    • there may be true faith where there is much doubting
    • assurance is an effect of faith, not faith itself

  3. By causing saints to make false inferences from the cross actings of Providence: For remedies, consider that
    • many things, though contrary to our desires, are not contrary to our good
    • God’s hand may be against a man when His love and His heart are set upon him
    • Cross providences are sent by God to work some noble good for saints
    • all the strange and deep providences that believers meet with further them in their way to heaven

  4. By suggesting to saints that their graces are not true, but counterfeit: For remedies, consider that
    • grace may mean either the good will and favour of God, or the gifts of grace
    • there are differences between renewing grace and restraining grace, between sanctifying and temporary grace (to particulars given)

  5. By suggesting to saints that the conflict that is in them is found also in hypocrites and profane souls: For remedies, consider that
    • the whole frame of a believer’s soul is against sin
    • a saint conflicts against sin universally, the least sin as well as the greatest
    • the conflict in a saint is maintained for several reasons
    • the saint’s conflict is constant
    • the saint’s conflict is within the same faculties
    • the saint’s conflict is blessed, successful and prevailing

  6. By suggesting to the saint who has lost joy and comfort that his state is not good: For remedies, consider that
    • the loss of comfort is a separable adjunct from grace
    • the precious things still enjoyed are far better than the joys and comforts lost
    • the glorified saints were once in the same condition
    • the causes of joy and comfort are not always the same
    • God will restore the comforts of His people

  7. By reminding the saint of his frequent relapses into sin formerly repented of and prayed against: For remedies, consider that
    • many scriptures show that such relapses have troubled saints
    • God nowhere promises that such relapses will not happen
    • the most renowned of glorified saints have, on earth, experienced such relapses
    • relapses into enormities must be distinguished from relapses into infirmities
    • involuntary and voluntary relapses must be distinguished
    • no experience of the soul, however deep or high, can in itself secure the soul against relapses

  8. By persuading saints that their state is not good nor their graces sound: For remedies, consider that
    • the best of Christians have been most tempted by Satan
    • all the saints’ temptations are sanctified to them by a hand of love
    • temptations cannot harm the saints as long as they are resisted by them

SATAN’S DEVICES TO DESTROY AND ENSNARE ALL SORTS AND RANKS OF MEN IN THE WORLD [5 devices and their remedies]

I. DEVICES AGAINST THE GREAT AND HONOURABLE OF THE EARTH

  1. By causing them to seek greatness, position, riches and security: For remedies, consider that
    • self-seeking sets men upon sins against the law, the Gospel, and Nature itself
    • self-seeking exceedingly abases a man
    • the Word pronounces curses and woes against self-seekers
    • self-seekers are self-losers and self-destroyers
    • saints have denied self and set public good above personal advantage
    • self hinders the sight of divine things: hence prophets and apostles, when seeing visions, were carried out of themselves

  2. By causing them to act against the people of the Most High: For remedies, consider that
    • all who have acted against the saints have been ruined by the God of saints
    • the Scriptures show that God gives victory to His people against their enemies
    • to fight against the people of God is to fight against God Himself
    • men of the world owe their preservation from instant ruin, under God, to the saints

II. DEVICE AGAINST THE LEARNED AND THE WISE

  1. By moving them to pride themselves on their parts and abilities, and to despise men of greater grace but inferior abilities: For remedies, consider that
    • men have nothing but what they have received, gifts as well as saving grace coming alike from Christ
    • men’s trusting to their parts and abilities has been their utter ruin
    • you do not transcend others more in parts and abilities than they do you in grace and holiness
    • men who pride themselves on their gifts and set themselves against the saints will find that God blasts and withers their gifts

III. DEVICE AGAINST THE SAINTS

  1. By dividing them and causing them to ‘bite and devour one another.’ For remedies, consider that
    • it is better to dwell on the saints’ graces rather than on their weaknesses and infirmities
    • love and union best promote safety and security
    • God commands and requires the saints to love one another
    • it is better to eye the things in which saints agree rather than those things wherein they differ
    • God is the God of peace, Christ the Prince of peace, and the Spirit the Spirit of peace
    • it is needful for the saints to make more care and conscience of maintaining their peace with God
    • it is needful to dwell much upon the relationship and union of the people of God
    • discord is productive of miseries
    • it is good and honorable to be the first in seeking peace and reconcilement
    • saints should agree well together, making the Word the only touchstone and judge of their words and actions
    • saints should be much in self-judging
    • saints should labor to be clothed with humility

IV. DEVICE AGAINST POOR AND IGNORANT SOULS

  1. By causing them to affect ignorance and to neglect and despise the means of knowledge: For remedies, consider that
    • an ignorant heart is an evil heart
    • ignorance is the deformity of the soul
    • ignorance makes men objects of God’s hatred and wrath
    • ignorance is a sin that leads to all sins

 


You can read the whole book here.

Film Review: Risen

risen_poster

I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to “Christian” or faith-based movies. Perhaps it’s the need for mass-market appeal, or the pressures of getting a box office success. But not only are most faith-based movies not that good artistically, they’re often theologically suspect. The Prince of Egypt calls the viewer to a vacuous “there can be miracles if you believe” (in what? yourself?). The Passion of the Christ’s main inspiration is from a Catholic mystic’s fanciful dreams and meditations. Then there are the flat-out untrue depictions of biblical stories and characters on the big screen – Russell Crowe as Noah the eco-terrorist, Christian Bale as Moses the schizophrenic barbarian, and the myriad of actors as shampoo-commercial Jesus. While the power of film make these portrayals emotionally compelling, I find it hard to get excited about them.

Risen – directed by Kevin Reynolds has just been released in time for Easter. It’s a novel premise – Roman soldier Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is a battle-hardened veteran fighting to keep the peace in Roman-occupied Judea. He witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus, but three days later is tasked  by Pilate with job of detective: finding out why Jesus’s body is missing from the tomb. It’s cleverly written in that this skeptical Roman soldier is woven into many familiar Biblical narratives of Jesus’s death and post-resurrection appearances, and meets many of the same characters in these eyewitness accounts (e.g. the centurion, Barabbas, the Romans guarding the tomb, Pilate, Jesus’s disciples, and eventually Jesus himself) Spoiler alert: Jesus is alive!

After watching it yesterday morning with low expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. In summary, while it’s not for everyone, it’s a pretty good film and a great conversation starter for both Christians and skeptics alike.

There are already some thoughtful reviews from Christians (here and here), but here are some of my own specific observations.

  • For a $20 million budget, Risen came across as well-produced, with a high-calibre cast and crew. The Roman characters in particular were well cast and portrayed convincingly. There’s a good battle scene, and some nice special effects, and moments of breath-taking cinematography. It didn’t look and feel like a cheesy Christian movie, except at a few points (usually when Jesus and the disciples showed up).
  • It wasn’t too long – I thought it was going to be 147 minutes but it was only 107 minutes. Great.
  • The script had some great questions (all posed by the skeptical Romans). Clavius is the character you identify with the most. He asks the questions that we would ask ourselves about the resurrection story (is it true? how do you reconcile the facts? what does it mean?). He expresses hopes and dreams that all of us harbour. And he has my favourite line of the film: “What is it you seek Clavius?” “Peace. Certainty. A day without death.” All hopes that we have, whatever our backgrounds. And all hopes that the Christian gospel gives a satisfying answer to.
  • The plot weaves in all the different possibilities and explanations that were given for the tomb being empty (e.g. disciples stole the body), and how Clavius investigates each one and finds them to not to be true. These are great conversation starters.

Some cringe moments or things to be cautious of:

  • The portrayal of the disciples was pretty mediocre. You’d think after having the Scriptures opened up to them they’d have understood that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus’s] name to all nations…” (Luke 24:36-47) But they don’t mention any of that. Instead, there’s vague talk about becoming more loving and peaceful. The movie depicts one of the disciples in particular as becoming changed, yes – but changed into a crazy, Ned Flanders-type Christian, just a little bit too unhinged to be convincing. And for someone who was the first to see the risen Jesus, Mary Magdalene just seemed to be away with the fairies.
  • Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is in the movie. He even seemed like petulant Draco. I guess you can’t leave some characters behind.
  • It was a bit weird seeing Jesus portrayed by Cliff Curtis from Once Were Warriors (and now the first Nuzilund Jesus it seems). This would also an issue if you believe the portrayal goes against the 2nd commandment (not to make a graven image of God).
  • The crucifixion scene is portrayed in the first 15 minutes, and it’s gruesome (though thankfully it’s not as gratuitous as the Passion of the Christ)
  • There’s a bit of war violence and scenes with dead bodies being dug up (no zombies though)

I think Risen is good enough to watch, whether with Christians or non-Christians. It’s a great starting point for a further conversation or exploration of the historicity of the biblical accounts, but also the spiritual significance of these events. Perhaps after the movie, you’d want to affirm people’s deep desires, and wrestle with the evidence that Jesus did rise. But ultimately, this movie (or any movie) can’t do the job of answering the question of why the resurrection matters. For that, you’d need to do what Jesus did:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27

Risen is a film that poses great questions about the historicity and significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection – timely as we approach public holidays in his honour. But only the good news of Jesus, explained in the Bible, can provide the best answers to these questions, and satisfy our longings for peace, certainty, and a day without death.