Thursday, May 7, 2009

Your True and Best Friend

I was forwarded an email the other day that focused upon one of the greatest issues in the Church much emphasis to give to the Third Use of the Law...the Use that informs Christians of what God means by calling us to an obedient and holy life. It is an important use of the law, for sure...but is THAT what is primarily wrong with the Church today...I personally do NOT think so.

What follows is a letter from Jack Miller, Westminster Seminary professor and founder of World Harvest Mission. It is found in a book of his letters, called Servant Leaders...pp 59-60. It is a letter from June of 1988 to a friend (named Richard) in which he (Dr. Jack Miller) was talking about how vital faith dried up in the English Puritan tradition...

"Your sharing about your (Richard's) burden for the church helps me (Dr. Miller) to pray for you. I'm glad for what God enabled you to emphasize - that God has a gracious heart toward us in our sins and that sanctification as well as justification is of grace. You would think that would be self-evident, wouldn't you? But obviously the response you received to your emphasis in the 'long-range plan (of the gospel)', indicates that something is awry in Reformed circles.

One irony that strikes me is that so often people who emphasize the third use of the law are really not great law-keepers themselves. For example, I have noted that sometimes church members given heavy doses of the third use of the law have little idea of the inner nature of the law as a delighting in God. I have also noted a tendency to exclude the tongue and a critical spirit from consideration as well, so that you can get the irony of believers defending the law with a harshness that itself breaks the law! What sinners we can be!

But I do think that the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession have an excellent emphasis on faith and sanctification. It is also interesting to see that (as best I can recall) the Larger Catechism (of the Westminster Confession) speaks of the third use of the law and relates its role to breaking us and driving us to Christ. Add that emphasis, and grace follows.

Anyway I suspect that Reformed people, especially in the English Puritan tradition, have been especially prone to nomism. You know, I have often wondered why English Presbyterianism died so quickly in the 17th century, and maybe this was a factor. I am thinking of excellent men like Richard Baxter (who wrote the Reformed Pastor). Baxter drifted in an Arminian and nomist direction in his later life.

For what it is worth, here is how I see the theological emphasis of English Puritanism. 1. Know your enemy - sin, the flesh, the devil; 2. Know your personal limitations - your own particular fleshly characteristics and habits; 3. Know your Friend - the grace of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Personally I cannot deny that sometimes churches need that order and such an emphasis has led to revival. Still, I find myself overwhelmed when I pick up a 320 page book by John Owen and find 308 pages devoted to points 1 and 2, and only 12 pages given to point 3, grace and gospel. Owen, of course, doesn't always do this, but it seems pretty typical.

My own heart likes this order better: 1. Know your Friend; 2. Know your enemy; 3. Know your personal limitations. And I would keep the controlling theme of point 1 even when talking about points 2 and 3.

At the same time I do not think that an emphasis on grace leads to a soft ministry on sin and the severe demands of the law. Actually, it seems to me that such grace teaching makes it possible for sinners like us to hear the hardest things said about our sin patterns, and that can lead into a healthy sorrow which then leads back to sanity, i.e., repentance."

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