Posted on Friday, May 25, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
I love reading the Puritans. Often misunderstood in our own day, the Puritans have in recent years been rediscovered by historians who have found that their grim caricature bears little resemblance to the real men and women who made up this 17th century movement within Protestantism. In their day, the Puritans faced alternating periods of tolerance and persecution depending on whomever was ruling in England at the time. The Puritans were characterized by a zeal to see Scripture as the sole authority for the doctrine and practice of the church, which put them squarely at odds with the church of Rome. This was a dangerous position. The persecutions heaped upon them drove thousands from their pulpits forbidding them to preach under pain of imprisonment and even death. John Bunyan is one well known example of a Baptist Puritan who spent twelve years in Bedford jail for preaching the free grace of God in Jesus Christ. Eventually, Puritans would pursue religious freedom in places like the Netherlands and even the New World.

We are fortunate that a vast wealth of Puritan writings is available in our own day. Their books are Bible saturated. The Puritans had a knack for writing book-length treatments of single verses of Scripture. Also, more than any of their contemporaries the Puritans knew how to wed proper doctrine with proper practice. They knew that an insistence on theological precision was never at odds with a fervor for Christian charity and all its fruits. This is why reading the Puritans will enlighten the mind, challenge the will, and thrill the heart. Most helpfully, the Puritans never intended their sermons and books to be ends in themselves but rather to drive the reader back to the Scriptures.

One of the most beloved books of the Puritan era is The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (pronounced “Sibs”). It is an extended commentary and meditation on Isaiah’s messianic prophecy: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (42:1-3). Matthew’s gospel confirms that Jesus was the fulfillment of those words (12:18-20). What a tender image this is of Jesus and His ministry. Can you think of anything weaker than a bruised reed or faintly burning wick? While Jesus was known for dealing harshly with the self-righteous and those more offended by other people’s sins than their own, He was extraordinarily tender with those who were well aware of their sins and sickness. He made a place at the table for swindlers, lepers, and various people of ill repute. It is not that Jesus turned a blind eye to sin. But He did come to save sinners. This is good news for all of us who have at one time or another come to terms with our own desperately lost condition. Jesus is Lord and Savior of the bruised reeds. It is of this truth that Sibbes writes so beautifully.

Of The Bruised Reed, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the 20th century’s greatest Bible expositor, wrote, “I shall never cease to be grateful to…Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil…The Bruised Reed…quieted, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me.” Since its first publication in 1630 a long line of men and women have given similar testimony to Sibbes’ masterwork of pastoral exposition.

Sounding much like the apostle Paul in his second letter to the church at Corinth, Sibbes helps us understand that it pleases God to “bruise” His people that we might be humble. He writes:
This bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel
becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig-leaves of morality will do us
no good. And it makes us more thankful, and, from thankfulness, more
fruitful in our lives; for what makes many so cold and barren, but that
bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace to them? Likewise this
dealing of God establishes us the more in His ways, having had knocks
and bruisings in our own ways…After conversion we need bruising so
that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks. Even reeds
need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to
let us see that we live by mercy.

Beyond his keen insights into God’s ways of keeping us humble and tender, Sibbes also offers challenging instruction on how to care for the bruised reeds within the body of Christ. He does this first by reminding us of how Christ has treated us: “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us…Christ refuses none for weakness of parts, that none should be discouraged.” With the tender example of Jesus firmly established the author turns his attention to how we treat one another. He writes:
It would be a good contest amongst Christians, one to labor to give no offence,
and the other to labor to take none. The best men are severe to themselves,
tender over others…Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses
of others. We should labor rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to
incline our hearts to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God
will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure
nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the
infirmities of the weak.

The church today could learn a great deal from this man and his wonderful book. Sibbes does not uncover new truth. He simply shines a light upon the truth of God’s sweet mercy in Christ. It is a mercy that is often conspicuously absent in so many of our dealings with one another. How the world needs to see a church that is full of love for the weakest. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Sibbes never wastes a student’s time, he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.” This has certainly been my experience in reading The Bruised Reed. I trust you will find the time to take it up and read.

Posted on Friday, May 25, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The late Donald Grey Barnhouse once pondered what it would look like if Satan were to take over an entire city. His observation, made some fifty years ago, bears repeating in our own day. Dr. Barnhouse believed that a city where Satan truly ran the show would quite possibly be very moralistic. People would be nice to each other, stop using profanity, and the porn shops would be shut down. All of this would, or course, lead to a feeling of moral sufficiency. Such people would find it very difficult to consider themselves “sinners.” Most significantly, in the city where Satan was in charge the church would be filled on Sundays but Christ would not be preached.

Could it be that our own community is coming to resemble the one that Barnhouse envisioned? The problem in most churches is not a preoccupation with doing bad things. Rather the problem that we must constantly guard against is failing to do the necessary things. There is no doubt that many churches do many good things. But it is possible, indeed common to focus on such things as meaning in life, purpose, child-raising, and personal wholeness without seeing them as means to help us “fix our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfector of our faith” (Heb 12:2).

Recently, my wife and I were watching the hip pastor of a huge church in Dallas preach a message on what he called “the cantaloupe principles” (don’t ask). At the conclusion of the message he promised that if we will just apply these principles we will be living “in the zone” and “God will bless everything you touch.” Upon hearing this I turned to Karen and asked, “If you were a lost person or the average church attendee what did you just hear him say?” To which my wife replied something along the lines of “Apply these principles and you will have more money, better relationships, nicer kids, etc.” And this is why I say such preaching, rather than leading to genuine conversion actually turns people away happier pagans. It effectively inoculates them from the Gospel by giving them a weakened version of it.

The above mentioned church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. It is identified with Bible-believing mainstream conservative evangelicalism. Their highly influential pastor would certainly sign off on an orthodox confession of faith. The problem is that Jesus makes rather rare appearances in his preaching and when He does it is usually in the guise of one who will help you achieve what you want out of life. This is the Jesus that is occupying more and more evangelical pulpits. It is the magical Jesus and he bears little resemblance to the Savior Jesus. Can such a Jesus truly save?

Some of you may tire of my harping on this subject but the stakes are sky high. What lies in the balance truly is the salvation of men and women. Preaching that carefully removes Jesus as the main theme or excludes Him entirely does not produce converts but moral lost people. It provides them with the latest principles for success but not the Gospel which is still God’s power for salvation for all who believe. But how will they believe unless someone preaches to them? (Rom 10). A magical Jesus is a distorted Jesus. A “cross-less” gospel is no gospel at all.

Preaching that keeps Jesus and His atoning work at the center of our worship, our message, and our very lives will require that pastors lead their people into the wonderful but sometimes challenging depths of biblical doctrine. And how can pastors do any less than this? How can men entrusted with the responsibility to herald the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) give God’s precious people romantic superstitions, “cantaloupe principles”, and lessons on likeability? I think it has something to do with the fact that doctrine divides and “Jesus the Life Coach” unites. For a man seeking to build a mega-church this is a powerful reality. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” (Jer 23:16-17).

In a recent article theologian Michael Horton writes, “So it’s not surprising that the world would think that ‘all we need is love,’ and we can do without the doctrine, since the world thinks it can do without Christ. Doctrine is where the religions most obviously part ways. Doctrine is where things get interesting – and dangerous…Jesus was not revolutionary because He said we should love God and each other. Moses said that first. So did Buddha, Confucius, and countless other religious leaders we’ve never heard of. Madonna, Oprah, Dr. Phil, the Dali Lama, and probably a lot of Christian leaders will tell us that the point of religion is to get us to love each other. ‘God loves you’ doesn’t stir the world’s opposition. However, start talking about God’s absolute authority, holiness, wrath, and righteousness, original sin, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, justification apart from works, the necessity of the new birth, repentance, baptism, communion, and the future judgment, and the mood in the room changes considerably.”

You men who are called to be shepherds, God has not changed the call to that of church CEO or religious entrepreneur. Despite the words of some prominent pastors, God has not stopped calling pastors to be Christ’s under-shepherds. Neither is “shepherd” a culturally conditioned metaphor that no longer holds meaning for sophisticated 21st century Americans. A church CEO may have to manage growth and understand his “market niche” but he does not need to know the mysteries of the faith. He certainly does not need to feed God’s beloved sheep. Oh how the church needs more shepherds!

Posted on Friday, May 25, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I know the title of this article sounds a bit odd to modern American ears. A cordial refers to a sweet after dinner drink or a variety of chocolates that have a sweet liquid center. It was not unusual for the Puritans to refer to certain passages of Scripture as cordials from God or Divine cordials. This was the original title that Thomas Watson gave to a book that was later renamed All Things for Good.

Thomas Watson was pastor of St. Stephen’s Walbrook during the 17th century and a giant among the Puritans. Among his most important works are A Body of Divinity, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Ten Commandments which deserve a place in every Christian’s library. Watson believed that his work as a pastor involved two great goals. The first was to help unbelievers to be saddened by the reality of their sin so that they would recognize their need for Christ. The second was to help the believer respond joyfully to God’s grace. The second challenge he believed was found in the “cordial” of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” His book is an extended and glorious meditation on that single verse.

The book was published in 1663. This was a hard time to be a Puritan. It was usually hard to be a Puritan in England. The previous year was the time of The Great Expulsion. Some two thousand Puritan ministers, Watson among them, were removed from their churches. Along with the loss of income, many of them faced the confiscating of their homes and even imprisonment. Imagine a time when preachers and pastors were forbidden to preach, chased from their homes, and even thrown in jail for simply refusing to conform to the state-run church. The Church of England at that time was filled with clergy who were biblically illiterate and in many cases unregenerate. The Puritans were perceived as a threat to the status quo and indeed they were. For that they suffered greatly.

It was out of the fresh and brutal persecutions of 1662 that Thomas Watson’s heart overflowed into the pages of All Things for Good. It is the fruit of what happens when a man clings to the promises of God’s Word in the midst of troubled times. Indeed, it is in the midst of bitter trials when God’s promises taste most sweet. They truly become, as it were, a cordial from God. So Watson writes, “There is more in the promises to comfort than in the world to perplex.”

We can learn from men like Thomas Watson that our hearts and minds must be tethered to the Word of God. Without this tethering we should not be dismayed when our faith fails. Why is it that we walk so often through the desert of the soul and forsake the water of the Scriptures?

“Are we in great trouble? There is a promise that works for our good, ‘I will be with him in trouble’ (Ps. 91:15). God does not bring His people into troubles, and leave them there. He will stand by them; He will hold their heads and hearts when they are fainting. And there is another promise, ‘He is their strength in the time of trouble’ (Ps 37:39). ‘Oh,’ says the soul, ‘I shall faint in the day of trial.’ But God will be the strength of our hearts; He will join His forces with us. Either He will make His hand lighter, or our faith stronger” (p.16).

Ever the pastor, Watson strives for simplicity and clarity in his exposition of Scripture. He also writes in such a way that passion seems to drip from the pages. One other characteristic in Watson’s writing that was common among the Puritans is practicality. He works to apply well the Scriptures to the hearts of his hearers. So it is with his exposition of Romans 8:28. He takes each clause in the verse and magnifies it. He exposes us to every contour of the verse; every place where application might be derived. To every beam of light proceeding from the promise he seeks to direct our eyes. His explanation of how God uses even the worst experiences to further our good is deeply moving. He goes on to explain what it means to love God and to be among those “who are called according to His purpose.”

The heart soars with the reading of such sound and inspiring meditation upon the Scriptures. My friends, they don’t write ‘em like this any longer. I encourage you to take it up and read.

Posted on Friday, May 25, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The Bible, the whole thing, is a Christian book. The Old Testament is for Christians just as much as the New Testament. The division of the Bible into two testaments has often been misunderstood. It has allowed for a fractured view of the Bible to be enshrined in our thinking. We easily come to imagine there are two Bibles with the newer, improved testament replacing the older one. Much contemporary preaching has not helped the matter. And unfortunately, once the unity of the Scriptures has been lost it is not easy to regain it especially if that division has been drilled into us from our childhood.

This fracturing has produced a generation of Christians who have lost their grip on the Old Testament. As a result the church suffers from a tragic ignorance of an entire category of revelation concerning the nature and word of God. This matters because the all too common approach of interpreting and applying the great stories of the Old Testaments results, among other things, in the loss of Jesus and His gospel. We become like the religious experts in Jesus’ day who could not find Him in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Preachers commonly use the Old Testament, albeit unwittingly, to imprison their hearers behind the bars of moralistic legalism while depriving them of the liberating Gospel which boils with life just under the surface. In sermons, Sunday School literature and popular Christian books the Old Testament is routinely treated as a collection of helpful moral stories that are especially interesting for children. “Be like Abraham. Be like Ruth. Be like Daniel” becomes the supreme point of application for these great passages. Theologian Michael Horton calls this “the Grimm’s Fairy Tales method of biblical interpretation.” The Old Testament is gazed upon through a “moral of the story” interpretive grid. When a pastor wants to beat up his congregation, when a writer want to us the Bible as a “success-in-leadership” manual, or when the heretics of the prosperity “gospel” want helpful proof-texts they turn to the Old Testament.

How many times has God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his beloved and only son been turned into a generic challenge to “trust God”? If you are thinking, “Does this guy have a problem with challenging people to trust God?” I can only reply, “No, so long as that is what the particular text of Scripture is really doing.” The problem with the example that I mention is that the Gospel is lost as the real significance of the story is ignored: God’s coming redemption through the sacrifice of His beloved and only Son.

Another common error made with the Old Testament is the misappropriation of God’s promises. This is especially popular among the preachers of prosperity but it is also common in mainstream evangelicalism. We have a tendency to want to make the Bible all about us; therefore, we reason, each promise found in Scripture must be somehow applied to our own situation. But there are entire categories of promises in the Old Testament that were temporal blessings for the people of Israel. These promises served as shadows of things to come through God’s redemptive plan in Christ. Unfortunately, promises that God made to bring His people into the land and bless them are commonly taken out of context and made to read as if God is promising us more property, a better job, and healthy children. These errors arise from seeing the self as the interpretive key to Scripture rather than Jesus Christ.

The great Old Testament scholar John Bright likened the Bible to a two-act play. He pointed out that (a) the play is incomplete without both acts; (b) that each act has something unique to say; and (c) that neither act can stand alone. For example, there is a tension in the Old Testament as the sacrificial system unfolds. The prophet Isaiah discerned that ultimately only a person could adequately serve as a substitute for persons (Is. 53). So act one anticipates act two. Yet act two is required for act one to be properly understood. After all, it is act one that establishes the Divine pattern of the innocent being substituted for the guilty.

The stakes for rightly interpreting the Scriptures are high. In an increasingly pagan world and biblically illiterate church we cannot afford to replace the unfolding revelation of God’s redemptive plan through Jesus Christ with well-intended but ultimately futile, moralistic lessons that tend to produce narcissists or Pharisees rather than Christians. Work hard to read the Scriptures well. School yourself in the Bible. Above all, read the Bible with Christ in view. The whole book is a Christian book. There is a formula that will help us keep this in mind: the Old Testament is Jesus predicted; the Gospels are Jesus revealed; Acts is Jesus preached; the Epistles are Jesus explained; and the Revelation is Jesus anticipated.

Great books to help you understand and love the Old Testament:
God’s Big Picture by Vaughan RobertsThe Unfolding Mystery by Edmund ClowneyAccording to Plan by Graham Goldsworthy

Posted on Saturday, March 21, 1981 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

code for the body

Posted on Friday, March 21, 1980 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Thisis the body