Thursday, June 21, 2007

What are we to do when we find it difficult to discern God’s will?

he following includes excerpts from the book The Devoted Life, (ed. Kapic and Gleason, IVP, 2004). Dr. Sinclair Ferguson contributed a chapter to that collection on John Flavel’s (1628-1691) The Mystery of Providence. I had to consult Flavel for one chapter of my thesis, which I am writing on Stephen Charnock’s (1628-1680) doctrine of providence (a chapter on his full doctrine of God). I found Flavel’s instruction very interesting:

"If Scripture does not speak directly to our situation, our task is prayerfully to apply its general principles. Admittedly “God doth give men secret hints and intimations of his will by providence … but yet providences in themselves, are no stable rule of duty nor sufficient discovery of the will of God” (Flavel, pp. 469).

Here is Flavel’s counsel [Ferguson summarizing]:
"If therefore in doubtful cases, you would discover God’s will, govern yourself in your search after it by these rules: Pray for illumination and direction in the way you should go; beg the Lord to guide you in straits, and that he would not suffer you to fall into sin … And this being done, follow providence as far as it agrees with the word, and no further" (Flavel/Ferguson, pp. 220).

My comment: Do you always, without exception, follow this rule? I was reminded again of the simple but precious teaching that Scripture and prayer are always to be taken together for our spiritual life, and the balance between each one unbroken. To be sure, the doctrine you come to know from the interpretation of Scripture should be practiced in your life?

How to Fast

In his lengthy manual on the Christian life called Seven Treatises (1603), the early puritan Richard Rogers (1550/1-1618) gave instructions on various 'helps' that were to be used by Christians to fuel spiritual vigor. Today we call these 'spiritual disciplines' or 'means of grace'. I discussed his teaching on these in an earlier post.

Rogers ranked fasting as one of two 'extraordinary helps', along with the observation of special days of thanksgiving. These were to be employed under unique circumstances, unlike means used regularly such as prayer and meditation.

Since Rogers addressed these two disciplines simultaneously in his original text, I have taken some liberty in editing the material that follows, so that fasting is presented by itself. That said, I didn't change much, and the heart of his instructions remains intact. The subtitles are mine:

Fasting's Purpose
Fasting, joined with most fervent prayer, is a most earnest profession of deep humbling ourselves in abstinence, with confession of sins and supplications (for the greatest part of the day at the least) to God, to turn away some sore calamity from us, or for obtaining of some especial blessing. This description in few words I will lay open for their cause, who perhaps have not read nor heard much of this exercise of fasting, neither have books at hand to help them to the right use of it.

Instructions on Fasting
First, I say, we must be deeply humbled, and make earnest profession of it, more than in the ordinary abasing of ourselves. For though as oft as we do pray, and confess our sins, we ought to do them heartily and deeply; yet neither in the like continuance of time, nor in the same measure of fervency can they always be, as in this exercise of fasting they ought to be.

Secondly I add that with this profession of our humiliation, abstinence must be adjoined: I mean thereby, that we must deprive ourselves herein of the lawful pleasures and liberties of this life, as meats, drinks (more than necessary), costly apparel, earthly dealings (which are yet at other times free for us to enjoy), thereby declaring that we have by our sins made ourselves unworthy of them.

And thirdly, it must be done the most part of the day, that is, so that by this long time of our humiliation and abasement, our hearts may be more cast down and thoroughly touched with our distressed estate, than in a shorter time they are like to be.

Fourthly, supplications, which contain our suits and confession of sins, are added, to teach us that the chief part of this exercise consists therein.

Fruits of Fasting
Fifthly, this is done for the removing of some great calamity, that is, either of some sore affliction outwardly hanging over us, or the whole church, or already upon us, or for some grievous sin committed, or which long lay within us. When weaker means remove not these afflictions from us, fasting and prayer are enjoined of the Lord to deliver us from them, that we may rest ourselves on God, that his grace may be sufficient for us.

And here we must know, that we must use the benefit of Sermons, and fit Scriptures to stir us up hereunto, and meditate of the like Scriptures privately, for the well carrying of our selves through that so weighty business.

And let this be regarded, that we take this exercise not in hand, except we come in true and unfeigned repentance, which as surely as we bring thither, so sure we may be that God will be with us there, and hear us, which will make the whole action more savory, and the end of it to be with comfort, which is the right manner of taking it in hand.

As we began our fast with pensiveness, and hanging down of the head, as we saw we had good cause, the Lord having humbled us, and thereby sending us to testify our unfeigned grief by such kind of abasement; so we having sought and sued to his Majesty in such unfeigned repentance, to the which he promises his accepting of that our sacrifice most graciously, we may lift up ourselves again, and be comforted at the heart for the same.

Conclusion: 'A Means to Set us Forward in the Godly Life'
Now therefore the nature and quality of this exercise is in some sort laid out unto us. If we duly weigh the force and use of it – how it brings us low, our vileness more especially remembered, and how it does exceedingly draw our hearts in more love and obedience to God – who can deny, that in the time wherein it is used, and even a long time after, it is a most effectual means to set us forward in the godly life?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Back by popular demand: London Highlights, Pt. 3

am not a John Owen expert, nor the son of one (my dad being a retired civil engineer). I merely had my picture taken at the site of Owen's temporary repose, in Bunhill Fields Cemetery, London.

I asked Edwin and John, our resident Owenists, to provide me with some of their favorite quotes from or about the man, who we've recently come to learn was a very different sort of person from John Milton, thanks to Susan (see this post and this post). Without further ado –

Some of Edwin's favorite Owen quotes:

“This is the way whereby God will be glorified. This is the mystery of our religion, that we worship God according to the economy of his wisdom and grace, wherein he doth dispense of himself unto us, in the persons of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Otherwise he will not be honored or worshipped by us. And those who in their worship or invocation do attempt an approach unto the divine nature as absolutely considered, without respect unto the dispensation of God in the distinct persons of the holy Trinity, do reject the mystery of the Gospel, and all the benefits of it.”
- Christologia, IX

“The end, I say, why God communicates a spiritual, supernatural light unto the minds of believers, is that they may be able to discern the manifestation and revelation of his glory in Christ ... Want of a steady view of this glory of God, is that which exposeth us unto impressions from all our temptations.”
- Christologia, XIX

“One Scripture, in its own plainness and simplicity, will be of more use for the end I aim at than twenty scholastical arguments, pressed with never so much accurateness and subtilty.”
- The Doctrine of the Saint's Perseverance, I

A favorite quote of John's about Owen:

"I need not tell you of this who knew him, that it was his great design to promote holiness in the life and exercise of it among you ... He was a burning and a shining light, and you for a while rejoiced in his light. Alas! it was but for a while: and we may rejoice in it still."
- From the 1683 funeral sermon delivered by David Clarkson, Owen's assistant at Leadenhall Street in London

John was also kind enough to pass along Owen's epitaph (from this source), which, to my knowledge, is no longer visible on his sepulchre. It was written by Thomas Gilbert. First the original Latin, then the translation:


Agro Oxoniensi Oriundus;
Patte insigni Theologo Theologus ipse Insignior;
Et seculi hujus Insignissimis annumerandus:
Communibus Humaniorum Literarum Suppetiis,
Mensura pacum Communi, Instructus;
Omnibus, quasi bene Ordinata Ancillarum Serie,
Ab illo jussis suae Famulari Theologiae:
Theologiae Polemicae, Practicae, et quam vocant Casuum
(Harum enim Omnium, quae magis sua habenda erat, ambigitur)
In illa, Viribus plusquam Herculeis, serpentibus tribus,
Arminio, Socino, Cano, Venenosa Strinxit guttura:
In ista suo prior, ad verbi Amussim, Expertus Pectore,
Universam Sp. Scti. OEconomiam Aliis tradidit:
Et, missis Caeteris, Coluit ipse, Sensitque,
Beatam quam scripsit, cum Deo Communionem,
In terris Viator comprehensori in caelis proximus:
In Casuum Theologia, Singulis Oraculi instar habitus;
Quibus Opus erat, et copia, Consulendi;
Scriba ad Regnum Caelorum usquequoque institutus;
Multis privatos intra Parietes, a Suggesto Pluribus,
A Prelo omnibus, ad eundem scopum collineantibus,
Pura Doctrinae Evangelici Lampas Praeluxit;
Et sensim, non sine aliorum, suoque sensu,
Sic praelucendo Periit,
Assiduis Infirmitatibus Obsiti,
Morbis Creberrimis Impetiti,
Durisque Laboribus potissimum Attriti, Corporis,
(Fabricae, donec ita Quassatae, Spectabilis) Ruinas,
Deo ultra Fruendi Cupida, Deseruit;
Die, a Terrenis Potestatibus, Plurimis facto Fatali;
Illi, A Coelesti Numine, felici reddito;
Mensis Scilicet Augusti XXIV° Anno a Partu Virgineo.

John Owen, D.D. born in the county of Oxford, the son of an eminent Minister, himself more eminent, and worthy to be enrolled among the first Divines of the age. Furnished with human literature in all its kinds, and in all its degrees, he called forth all his knowledge in an orderly train to serve the interests of Religion, and minister in the Sanctuary of his God.

In Divinity, practical, polemical, and casuistical, he excelled others, and was in all equal to himself. The Arminian, Socinian, and Popish errors, those Hydras, whose contaminated breath, and deadly poison infested the church, he, with more than Herculean labour, repulsed, vanquished, and destroyed.

The whole economy of redeeming grace, revealed and applied by the Holy Spirit, he deeply investigated and communicated to others; having first felt its divine energy, according to its draught in the Holy Scriptures, transfused into his own bosom. Superior to all terrene pursuits, he constantly cherished, and largely experienced, that blissful communion with Deity, he so admirably describes in his writings.

While on the road to Heaven his elevated mind almost comprehended its full glories and joys. When he was consulted on cases of conscience his resolutions contained the wisdom of an Oracle. He was a scribe every way instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom of God.

In conversation, he held up to many, in his public discourses, to more, in his publications from the press, to all, who were set out for the celestial Zion, the effulgent lamp of evangelical truth to guide their steps to immortal glory.

While he was thus diffusing his divine light, with his own inward sensations, and the observations of his afflicted friends, his earthly tabernacle gradually decayed, till at length his deeply sanctified soul longing for the fruition of its God, quitted the body.

In younger age a most comely and majestic form; but in the latter stages of life, depressed by constant infirmities, emaciated with frequent diseases, and above all crushed under the weight of intense and unremitting studies, it became an incommodious mansion for the vigorous exertions of the spirit in the service of its God.

He left the world on a day, dreadful to the Church by the cruelties of men, but blissful to himself by the plaudits of his God, August 24, 1683, aged 67.

["The memory of the righteous is a blessing ..."
Proverbs 10:7
Praise God for the memory of such saints! - HCR]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

John Owen vs John Milton, Round 2

Here's the promised continuation of John Stoughton's comparison of Owen and Milton:

'And as they differed in their manner of thinking, so also they differed in their modes of feeling and in their habits of life; the religious sentiments of Milton being calm and pure, with something in their tone almost approaching to angelic elevation, bearing scarcely any marks of such struggles as beset most other Christians, and suggesting the idea that his chief conflicts of soul must have been with “spiritual wickedness in high places;” Owen, on the other hand, dwelling much upon “the mortification of sin in believers,” “the doctrine of justification,” “the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer,” and “the Glory of Christ,” and ever indicating the strongest faith and the intensest feeling upon those evangelical points respecting which some defect may be traced in the religion of Milton; and whilst Milton was solitary in his devotion, at least during the latter part of his life, and in this respect, as in others, was “like a star and dwelt apart,” Owen delighted in social worship.’

Stoughton, Ecclesiastical History, vol II, 432).


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