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Review: When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (DVD Series) by Dave Harvey

When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (DVD Series)

David Harvey is senior pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church (Glen Mills, PA). He has previously written a volume by this same title, When Sinners Say “I Do”. The premise of this teaching series is solid. Even in the marriages of God’s holy people, we bring our remaining corruption with us into this gospel-mystery union. Sin’s power has been removed even though its effects remain. Referring to Christians as “sinners” is commonplace among evangelicals – even though this designation is theologically inaccurate and misleading. Nevertheless, corruption remains and must be taken account of in our marriages. Disagreements arise in Harvey’s treatment of grace and law but these will not be addressed in this review.

Harvey approaches his topic in eight messages: sin (two parts), design, contentment, mercy (two parts), sex, and grace. There is a logical order to this treatment this side of the fall, though perhaps beginning with “design” might have better facilitated Harvey’s goal in this series. Marriage – including its privilege as a gospel-mystery – predates sin. Design is more ultimate than what humanity has done to marriage through rebellion.

Interaction with Malachi 2:14-15 and the covenantal nature of marriage was lacking in this series. While sex is good and pleasing – and children are not its only end – God desires godly offspring from the marriage covenants of his holy people. Perhaps a separate session on children would have been beneficial to Harvey’s viewers. While parenting made a few appearances, not all marriages are blessed with children. Back-ending a session on parenting, applying the main themes of this series, would have strengthened that aspect – while enabling those without children to choose whether or not to hear another teacher miserably fail to address their particular situation. On the other hand, the nature of this sort of series makes application superficial at best.

The session on contentment is perhaps the most valuable contribution in this series. Contentment is a rare jewel that is too often absent from our lives. Yet discontent is a deadly poison that threatens to choke the life from all those who would privilege its succor over the sweetness of Gospel contentment. Discontent is the product of sin – of some sort – and we run to it for relief, but the only relief is found in the yoke of Christ’s sovereignty and grace (Ps. 2).

The production quality of this series is good, though messages delivered directly to a camera often lack something that can only be found in a live delivery. Positively, I did not get the feel that the speaker was reading directly from a prompt, even if there was a measure of artificiality – you can imagine that you are speaking to an audience but the effect will always be different from that captured with a present audience.

This teaching series will be useful, perhaps, as an aide to pre-marital counseling, or counseling with new believers who have been married for a time but without Christ. While the theology is mostly on point, those marriages that have weathered the years will find less to benefit.

I received an advanced review copy of this book from Shepherd Press. I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice

Tice, Rico. Honest Evangelism: How to Talk about Jesus Even When It’s Tough. The Good Book Company, 2015.honest evangelism

Obstacles to evangelism quickly multiply. There are internal and external barriers to sharing the faith with non-Christians. Internally, there may be fear or ignorance, and externally, the nations rage against God and Christ (Ps. 2). Maybe unbelievers aren’t hostile to the idea of God, or a god, but – unless the Spirit work together with the Word – they are hostile to the sovereign LORD.

Rico Tice’s Honest Evangelism is an accessible primer on evangelism. The language is winsome, the illustrations are useful, and the material covers a sufficient breadth. Tice gets off on the right foot. Evangelism, like all aspects of discipleship, requires a counting of the cost. Christians are called to give a defense, but that witness often comes at a price. Evangelism can hurt (for various reasons) but obedience to the risen Christ is sweeter than the pain that a hostile world can inflict.

Tice’s exploration of motivations for evangelism are worth meditating on – the glory of Jesus, the guarantee of the new creation, and the grim reality of death and hell. Motivation without shaming immediately puts Tice ahead of other teachings on evangelism. Evangelism needs a theological foundation for faithful practice. After laying that foundation, the work remains. Tice follows up with a few good insights in the practice of evangelism, from Scripture and from his ministry as an evangelist

Honest Evangelism excels in simplicity and accessibility. It will be a useful quick reference tool for teaching on this subject in the church, or for one-on-one discipleship.

I received an advanced review copy of this book from The Good Book Company. I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Prayer that God must Hear

Nobody likes a quitter. That’s an attitude that most of us probably share. Nothing like stopping when a job is only half-way done, or only playing half of a season. We love to cheer for those who persevere especially through difficult circumstances, or against overwhelming opponents. The Bible has plenty to say about perseverance, and it speaks against laziness with some pretty strong words. In God’s Word we are witness to many great acts of endurance. Great heroes of faith who were graced by God to withstand the flames, remain faithful in times of apostasy, and preach a hard message to a hardened people. These men and women are held up by the Scriptures as models for our instruction. But there is no greater model for discipleship in the Old Testament than King David. David was serious about following God, and when he sinned, he was serious about repentance. Many of the Psalms are attributed to David, and in them we learn the heart of true worship.

Our text for this post is from Psalm 17. The seventeenth Psalm is a prayer of David. In this Psalm, David sets us a model for true prayer. It is arranged by three petitions and three concerns. David defends his faithfulness, describes his enemies, and expresses his confidence. Over and over again, David’s concerns drive him back to petition. We call this tenacity. David is blameless and righteous before God. He knows this and holds fast to what is right. He persists in his plea.

Prayer that is excellent and pleasing to God is a prayer that just won’t quit. Or, as one friend put it, Prevailing prayer perseveres and pleases God. It’s an important truth from the life and worship of David, and it is an important ingredient to the worship of God’s people through all the ages. There are three uses that follow from this truth of God’s pleasure in persevering prayer. Three points of application,

  1. We must persistently pray in view of our integrity.
  2. We must persistently pray in view of our need.
  3. We must persistently pray in view of God’s glory.

We must persistently pray in view of our integrity. (Ps. 17:1-5)

Persistent prayer is the prayer of the blameless. David frequently refers to himself as blameless. He challenges God to search his heart, and he expresses confidence that God will find no secret sin. David is in a righteous position before the LORD, and David walks in righteousness before the LORD. This causes a challenge for many Christians today. How can a man, sinful in Adam, be blameless before God? We know that we are sinners. We know that a day does not go by where we do not break God’s law, either by failing to perform a duty that God has required of us, or intentionally breaking God’s law. And if we cannot recall anything in particular, we know that there are none righteous. We know that we need mercy.

What does it mean to be blameless? When David uses this kind of language, he is not referring to himself as sinless. Being blameless before the LORD does not mean achieving some kind of sinless perfection. David is claiming that he has no hidden sins, no hidden hypocrisy, and no public sins. David is a wise ruler and is careful to control his speech and to watch his words.

If blamelessness is not sinless perfection, then what does it mean to be blameless? Blamelessness is steadfastness and loyalty to your LORD. David is faithful and walks faithfully. He is in a righteous position, and he walks in the way of the righteous. In other words, David is consistent in the faith. But he is not consistent in his faith on account of his sheer will-power and self-determination. V. 4 tells us that it was by the “word of your lips.” David is blameless because the Word of God is in his heart and at work in his life. David is blameless because of the grace and power of God.

Those who stand and walk in righteousness are able to pray the prayers that God is pleased to hear. This might seem a little controversial, but what we make muddy Scripture speaks clearly:

Ps. 66:18, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

Prov. 28:9, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”

Isaiah 59:2, “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

John 9:31, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”

James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

All of this is to say that character matters. We are declared righteous in God’s holy Law-court on account of Christ’s righteousness alone, counted to us on the principle of faith alone. Scripture teaches these two great truths. That justification, being counted as righteous in Christ before a holy judge, is by faith alone… and that Saints only finally arrive at the Celestial city by walking along the narrow path.

Exodus by Grace and Law because of Life

These two truths are set in a tension that can be hard to live with from day to day. We are not ultimately saved by our good works but by Christ alone. But it also remains true that there are none saved who do not submit to Christ’s Lordship. Or, as David puts it in Ps. 2, we must all serve the Lord in fear, rejoice with trembling, and kiss the Son.

Israel gives us a picture of how these two truths work out in the lives of believers. Her salvation was by grace alone. It was by God’s mighty acts that Israel was brought out of her slavery in Egypt. Israel did not earn the exodus. God did not look into the future and see all the wonderful things that Israel would do for him, no, it was by grace alone that God brought Israel out of Egypt with his mighty right hand.

But what happened after God redeemed Israel out of bondage? He gave commandments and statutes. Israel was already God’s people. The giving of the Law was not for redemption but for life. The Law was to be the air that Israel breathed as she enjoyed the presence of her LORD. That’s why the Psalmist can say that it is a light to his path. That it is as sweet as honey. And that he meditates on it day and night.

When the Old Testament Saints walked along the righteous path they could pray with confidence. God loves a just cause, and he loves his people. But when God’s people act like pagans, their cause is not just. God has already told them what they need to do. Repent and believe.

There is another scene from the life of David, where he has an adulterous affair, has a man killed, and attempts to conceal his wicked deed. David is confronted by the prophet Nathan and he responds in deep repentance. He is broken and humbled before the LORD and confesses his wickedness. We see the response of David’s heart in Ps. 51. David cries out for mercy, and he receives mercy. That’s another kind of prayer that is pleasing to God. It is another prayer that is worthy of imitation.

The unrighteous prayer is the one that knows what it needs to do but goes to God in prayer as if God has never spoken. That prayer is not biblical prayer. It is not prayer in any meaningful sense.

Application

David’s prayers were powerful because David consistently walked in righteousness before the LORD. And when David failed to walk consistently, David repented deeply. He trusted in God’s righteousness when he had a just cause to take to the LORD, and he trusted in God’s grace and mercy when he stumbled.

The Psalmist teaches us that the prayer of the righteous are powerful, and that they are powerful because the righteous are able to pray the prayers that God is pleased to hear. This truth is taught explicitly in James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Follow the example of David and pray with a view to your integrity, because the LORD is righteous and he has a special hearing for the prayers of the righteous.

We must persistently pray in view of our need. (Ps. 17:6-12)

David’s prayer is urgent. His enemies are out for blood. They long to cast the people of God to the ground and to tear them apart like a lion lurking in ambush.

If you have never seen a lion on the hunt, it is intense. They are stealthy, moving slowly on their prey, invisible to the poor beast. You know that there is something out there sneaking up on you, but all you can do is sense its presence. When it finally gets up on you, it is too late. If you are in a group, maybe you’ll be able to get away, but someone is going to go down. And the ending is an explosive movement of claws and teeth.

This illustrates the character and intentions of David’s enemies. They are eager to destroy David. And they are waiting for that moment when they can devour him. But David is no fool, and he knows that enemies are present. Man after the fall is born for trouble. Eliphaz speaks truthfully when he says in Job 5:7 that man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward. In John 15:18, Jesus says, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hate me before it hated you.” Man is born for trouble, and so much more are all Christ’s Saints born for trouble.

David’s enemies want to bring him to complete ruin. This is often the situation of God’s people in the world. We remember the Syrian Christians. Thousands of Christians have had to abandon their homes because of so-called freedom fighters. We love the cause of the rebel, perhaps we can relate, but when the rebels are Muslim extremists, know that “freedom” will cost precious Saints their families, homes, and lives. We remember the 147 Christian students in Kenya who were recently murdered in cold blood. And just a few days ago, we remember the twelve Christian refugees who were drowned in the Mediterranean when they were thrown overboard by Muslim migrants.

David prays urgently because his need is urgent. The enemy is near, so David is driven to prayer. He cries for deliverance, because his cause is just. And the need of Christians around the world is also urgent. So we remember the persecuted Saints when we pray privately and as a church.

1 Peter 5:8 refers to our great enemy as prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Like David, we are called on by Peter to realize the danger and to resist the devil by being firm in our faith. Do you recognize sin for what it really is? That enticement is the weapon of the enemy to lure you to your death. Our need is urgent, even if we are not likely to be put to the sword, like the Egyptian martyrs, or shot down, like the Kenyan martyrs. But the need remains urgent. Be firm in the faith, and pray for deliverance from the devices of the devil. Because your situation is more urgent that you may know.

We must persistently pray in view of God’s glory. (Ps. 17:13-15)

David’s enemies are richly blessed in this life. God has filled their wombs with the treasure of children. Their business ventures are profitable and they have an over-abundance to leave to future generations. This is a visible demonstration of God’s grace to creation in general. The rain falls on the most advanced of the Saints and the most wicked of sinners. This is not a sign that we are so very great and deserving, but a sign that God is so good and merciful.

Like the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, David’s enemies have closed their hearts to pity. As with that wealthy man, there will come a day when the gifts that David’s enemies have received from the LORD will be evidence against them in judgment.

David has a different attitude. His heart is set in a different place. He loves God’s good gifts in creation, but he knows that the best thing of all is to behold the face of God in death. The wicked will have no more than what they had on earth, and when they die it will all be gone… and only God’s wrath will remain.

But David knows that when he awakes from the sleep of death he will awake to God’s glorious face, like what Moses saw in the tent, but so much greater. What Moses saw was nothing in comparison to what the Saints will see in the face of Christ. Glory means beauty, splendor, excellency, something that is attractive, something that draws us to it, something that is amazing, profound, and truly awesome. David knows that only this vision of glory will finally satisfy. This is what we were created for, and it is what Christ brings to perfection.

Money is temporary, but glory is eternal. Children are a joy, but there is no greater joy than to be eternally in God’s presence in heaven. It is a good thing to fill your bellies and raise your families, especially if you do so in the LORD, but there is no greater fullness than the fullness that you will enjoy at the resurrection. With David, and the Old Testament Saints, we seek an eternal and enduring city.

This expectation teaches us to pray with confidence that eternal things are of more worth than those things that dust and moth will destroy. God will deliver us when we awaken from this age in death, and he will deliver his church when Christ comes again to finally crush that ancient serpent. The world has enjoyed so much of God’s blessing, but unless it submit to Christ, the LORD will arise to judge.

Conclusion

Living as a Christian in this world means having godly concerns. God’s Word and Spirit teaches us these concerns and drives us to our Father in prayer. He is a good Father and will keep all of his promises. But so often it seems as if his promises are far away. So we are driven again to prayer. Just like David.

There is a great enemy that seeks to devour us, but Christ has conquered and will conquer fully and finally on that last day. The sting of death has been removed, and the lion has been declawed. What a joy it will be to awaken to the glory and beauty of the face of God in Christ. When we will forever enjoy that glory with all the Saints.

Susannah Spurgeon, the wife of that great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, beautifully said, “Tears may, and must come; but if they gather in eyes that are constantly looking up to [God] and heaven, they will glisten with the brightness of the coming glory.”

I close with a warning, encouragement, and blessing from 1 Peter 5:8-11

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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Book Review: God’s Battle Plan for the Mind by David Saxton

Saxton, David W. GodBook ‘s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation (RHB: Grand Rapids, 2015), $8.82.Product Details

Eastern forms of mysticism have found an eager audience in the West. Meditation is a practice very much in vogue. So it may surprise Reformed evangelicals – those that have yet to swallow the current empty-headed mysticism so popular even in historically Reformed circles – that meditation was a major staple of Puritan spirituality. Meditation on God’s two books – general revelation (creation and the image of God) and special revelation (the Bible) – was at the center of Puritan living and Puritan preaching.

David Saxton’s God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is a meditation on the primary sources of Puritan meditation. While his work is by no means non-academic, Saxton writes primarily to commend the Puritan approach to this spiritual discipline. The goal of biblical meditation is not the emptying of the mind. We do not seek to cultivate some inner-life force in order to attain to a particular transcendental state. Nor is the goal simply to relax and let off the accumulated steam from our commonly stress-filled lives. No, biblical meditation is best described as “chewing the cud.” It is pondering God’s word with the specific intent of putting-off sin and putting-on righteousness. The Puritan treatment on this biblical subject is intensely practical.

Think about the work of the chemist in his lab. He does not set out immediately into the lab, mixing together whatever substance is in reach. First he must consider his goal, chew on the available data, and formulate some sort of hypothesis. Only then does he begin to put that work to the test. As with the chemist, so with the Christian, divine meditation on holy Scripture is experimental. We pray for divine guidance, we read the Scriptures seeking understanding, then we especially fix our attention on some particular passage, driving into the heart God’s Word, and responding in repentance, gratitude, and praise.

While the volume is thin, the survey is sweeping. Saxton is an able guide through the sources on Puritan meditation. He arranges his findings in a manner that is easy to digest and to begin putting to work. This is not the sort of book that you read through in one sitting, put down, and then go about as you were before. This material demands application in your life.

The implanted word is able to save your soul (James 1:21). Do you believe that? This affirmation requires a particular attitude towards the Bible. It requires meekness and humility. If you would grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, then there is no other path than by divine meditation. It is a pleasure to commend God’s Battle Plan for the Mind to Christ’s Church.

I received an advanced review copy of this book from Reformation Heritage Books. I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney

Rigney, Joe, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Crossway, 2015), $12.86. The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts

Joe Rigney has written The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts as an advancement on John Piper’s Christian Hedonism project. Piper stresses death and dying. He emphasizes magnifying Christ in affliction. Rigney’s thesis is simple: Christ is also to be magnified in the enjoyment of creation and culture. He writes the other side of Piper’s warfare story. But both teachings are biblical though prone to distortion. Prosperity-lite has a home even in Reformed evangelical churches, when biblical teaching on lament and affliction is marginalized in favor of an singular focus on the goodness of creation. Similarly, distortion abounds when we tend towards a singular message on suffering. The answer is not found in the church’s balancing act but in holding the themes together in tension. This tension is what we refer to as the Christian life.

This book is a delight to the soul. Rigney’s interaction with the Bible and the Christian tradition sets a good example for those who would write on the Christian life. His worked is packed with biblical and devotional insights. As this book was received and appropriated with great joy, this review will mainly proceed as a survey of the main lines of his thought in an interpretive and applicational manner.

Rigney tackles his thesis through a popular-level (widely accessible) treatment on the doctrine of God, Christ, and creation. Following this treatment, he develops his thesis and applies it to various aspect of the Christian life.

God created the world to get a bride for his Son. God’s glorification of himself in creation means creaturely participation in the life of God. The good news is that the Son is welcoming us in as his Bride, the Father is embracing us as sons, and the Spirit is uniting us all together as one glorious family. All things were created for Christ. Creation is for Christ, and, ultimately, it is we who come into the world for the Bridegroom.

Creation is a self-communicating act from the Triune God. God’s communication in creation is the ad extra overflow of his Trinititarian fullness. This means that God’s revelation of himself does not remove the mystery of God’s being. Instead, God reveals himself according to his divine freedom and choice. God is not under compulsion to create, even though the creative act is reflective of the Father’s overflowing love towards the Son. (Rigney interacts well with the distinctively Trinitarian theology of Jonathan Edwards; see that section for a more thorough outworking of this paragraph)

God is the author of the story and God has become a character in that story. This observation highlights divine transcendence and divine activity in creation. Theologians have also referred to this as the Creator/creature distinction. The tension of this biblical idea runs through Scripture and climaxes in the Incarnation of the Son of God. In the Incarnation, the divine Son has become a human character in God’s epoch spanning narrative. As Rigney memorably puts it, “He is the bard and the hero. He authors the fairy tale and then comes to kill the dragon and get the girl.”

According to Scripture, creatures are finite, temporal, limited, and originally good. God meets the needs of his creatures immediately and through “the manifold gifts that he supplies.” God is infinite and our love to him out to be proportionate to his worth. But, because creatures are finite, we never do anything infinitely. That might seem to be bad news to some, but the truth is that creaturely love to God will expand into eternity. God has condescended in creation and redemption to accept the sincere and imperfect works of his creatures.

Creation is – in a sense – created shafts of divine glory. The pleasures of these created beams draw our eyes back to the source of all true delight. This does not mean that we are constantly looking through created goods in order to glorify God. God is also glorified in our enjoyment of his gifts. As we enjoy God’s gifts in themselves we glorify the giver of every good gift. This is true when the gifts are present, and this is true when those gifts are absent. Longing for good things also glorifies God, as long as the longing disciplined according to Scripture.

The restoration of creation means that restored creatures can rightly enjoy God’s good gifts. We renounce idolatry, but we do not throw out food and drink. God gives good gifts to his children, and it dishonors God’s gift to either abuse or reject that gift.

Joe Rigney has given a gift to the church. I am glad to commend the reading of this work to all the literate. Enjoy God in everything, enjoy God when “everything” feels to be absent, and enjoy God in a way that shows to the world the things of this earth truly do grow dim in the light of God’s glory and grace.

I received an advanced review copy of this book from Crossway. I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Divine Justice and the Imprecatory Psalms

As a divine person, only Jesus could experience the Father’s wrath to the last drop. The wrath of God is only known in its fullness by the Son of God. There was not “one square inch” of God’s wrath towards sin that went unexpressed at Golgotha. In those three hours, we witness God’s terrible wrath against the ungodly that have yet to kiss the Son (Ps. 2:12). This is the same wrath that Christ endured for the Saints; this is the same wrath that the ungodly will drink in unending drops.

But is it the case that these two revelations of God’s wrath – which are also one in the same – are the only revelation of wrath? The Bible speaks clearly: The wrath of God toward unrighteousness is expressed even in the present (Matt. 3:7; Luke 21:23; John 3:36; Ro. 1:18; 2:5; Eph. 2:3; 4:6; 1 Thess. 2:16).

Vengeance belongs to God and Christ alone (Ro. 12:9; Col. 3:8), and unrighteous anger does not produce the righteous life of God (James 1:19-21). Among sinful men, anger often threatens to overthrow reason and order. Fits of anger are strictly prohibited (Gal. 5:20), but anger itself is morally ambiguous and reflects – in some sense – the divine character.

Unlike the Homeric gods, the LORD is free from unworthy passions; unlike the gods of the Hellenistic philosophers, the LORD is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty…” (Num. 14:18). While decrying the unworthy gods of Homer, the early Christians continued to attribute anger to God. Why? Because anger is not unworthy of God. Incorruptible anger demonstrates God’s judicial sentiment and concern for human salvation. If God cannot be angry, then He cannot be just, merciful, or good. By analogy, if man cannot be angry, then he cannot imitate God in Christ (Mark 3:5). When it is properly qualified, we can see that there is an anger that belongs to the righteous life that God desires. It is an anger that imperfectly imitates the anger of the impassible God.

With that background in place, we turn to the question, “Is it time now to pray the imprecatory psalms?” Yes. But, more importantly, when did we stop?

Christians join with the Psalmist (and with Christ) to pray all of the psalms, regularly. Sinful anger is sinful. Righteous anger is righteous. The former is to be rejected; the latter is to be embraced. The book of Psalms forms the worship of Israel and of Christ. They are the inheritance of the Body of Christ. The Psalms take God’s people through the full range of Christ’s own righteous emotions. If the imprecatory Psalms are worthy of Christ, then how can His people refuse them?

Justice is not only for a future time. When temporal justice does appear – sincere though imperfect – we rejoice. God’s wrath remains on the ungodly. We know that His wrath is being stored up for a future time. And we know that his future wrath is revealed even in the present. The cry for justice is not at odds with the plea for the repentance and faith of the wicked. Repentance from sin and faith towards Christ does not remove the need for justice in our day, for justice is a cause worth taking up in prayer, not in general only, but also in particular.

There would seem to be places in Scripture that make a blanket prohibition against the cursing of our enemies, yet these cannot be pressed into service against the imprecatory psalms. Why? Because if we read the Bible like that, there are as many texts that would also seem to prohibit all anger (in an equally unqualified sense). On one hand, obedience to Romans 12:14 is among the marks of a true Christian, on the other, the Psalms belong to the worship of the Church. If the prohibition against cursing concerns the same subject as the imprecatory Psalms, then this creates the kind of problem that appeal to the particular and special situation of the Old Covenant Church simply cannot resolve. Some might even say this appeal leads to a schizophrenic spirituality for the faithful Israelite.

If Wynne’s hermeneutic is adequate for a Christian appropriation of the Psalms, then what other psalms are now inappropriate for the people of God?

A quick glance at the Reformed tradition charts a better path.

Jonathan Edwards:

Miscellany 600. “It was not a thing allowed of under the old testament, nor approved of by the old testament saints, to hate personal enemies […] except it was as prophets speaking in the name of the Lord. So that there is no inconsistence between the religion of the old testament and new in this respect.” Edwards points to the example of the apostle Paul (2 Tim 4:14). Revenge and its desire are forbidden by the Law of Moses (Lev. 19:18). More than merely prohibiting revenge, the love command is implicit in that Law (Exod. 23:4-5).

Edwards continues, “We can’t think that those imprecations we find in the Psalms and prophets were out of their own hearts, for cursing is spoken of as a very dreadful sin in the Old Testament.”

Miscellany 640. Edwards made seven observations concerning David’s imprecatory prayers:

1) Unless David is speaking in the name of the Lord, “he he is not to be understood as praying against any particular persons, that God would indeed execute vengeance on such and such men, or that he did not desire that they should repent.”

2) Imprecatory prayers are spoken by the innocent and blameless, against the bloodthirsty accursed.

3) David’s many enemies – insofar as they are his continuing enemies – are understood as “exceedingly hardened and very implacable.”

4) David prays against his enemies not as his enemies only but as God’s enemies (Ps. 21:8-13).

5) David prays  not merely as a private person but as head of the church.

6) David’s prayers are not petty but are “necessary for his own deliverance and safety, and the safety of God’s people, and of religion itself, and for the vindication of his and their cause, and also of God’s own cause. When they were unjustly judged and vilified, condemned and persecuted, he prays that God would, in his providence, show himself to be of their side; and he also prays for it as a testimony of the love and tenderness of God to him, according to his gracious promises to his people. It would be very suitable for the persecuted people of God now in like manner to pray against their persecutors. So also may a king pray for the destruction of his enemies whose destruction he seeks in war.”

7) “Tis questionable whether David ever prayed against his enemies, but as a prophet speaking in the name of the Lord.”

As long as the wicked are permitted to afflict the saints, God’s justice is called into question. David’s prayer is made from a righteous frame against the incurably wicked. His strong words are not merely for the achievement of his personal and private ends. He trusts that God is a just judge, and he knows that the wicked will not prosper forever. Through affliction, he cries out that God would be faithful to the covenant promises. Imprecation did not only concern the particularities of the theocratic kingdom, but was also wrapped up in divine justice and God’s covenant faithfulness.

Calvin’s comments on Ps. 137:7 are revealing,

“We know that God intended in this way to comfort and support the minds of the people under a calamity so very distressing, as that Jacob’s election might have seemed to be rendered frustrate, should his descendants be treated with impunity in such a barbarous manner, by the posterity of Esau. The Psalmist prays, under the inspiration of the Spirit, that God would practically demonstrate the truth of this prediction […]. To pray for vengeance would have been unwarrantable, had not God promised it, and had the party against whom it was sought not been reprobate and incurable; for as to others, even our greatest enemies, we should wish their amendment and reformation.”

The Psalmist understands that vengeance belongs to the LORD. These Psalms are not justification for personal vengeance but for the furtherance of God’s redemptive plan. The saints – throughout history – long for divine vengeance, even while they weep for the impenitent.

Calvin’s comments on Ps. 58:10 offer much wisdom,

“There is nothing absurd in supposing that believers, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Ghost, should rejoice in witnessing the execution of divine judgments. That cruel satisfaction which too many feel when they see their enemies destroyed, is the result of the unholy passions of hatred, anger, or impatience, inducing an inordinate desire of revenge. So far as corruption is suffered to operate in this manner, there can be no right or acceptable exercise. On the other hand, when one is led by a holy zeal to sympathize with the justness of that vengeance which God may have inflicted, his joy will be as pure in beholding the retribution of the wicked, as his desire for their conversion and salvation was strong and unfeigned.”

We await the prophetic fulfillment to the imprecatory psalms when Christ “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:11-16).” That is the eschatological hope that is expressed in biblical imprecations (Ps. 58:10-11). The saints will rejoice when God’s righteous justice is brought to bear on this world, when the wicked are destroyed and the righteous dwell in peace.

Christ has surely borne the fullness of God’s wrath. Our sincere prayers of imprecation are not perfect. Yet when they are formed by Word and Spirit, they are pleasing to God. The taking up of the language of these Psalms does not mean the putting away of forgiveness, mercy, and hope for conversion. When the church takes up imprecation it does so trusting that God has promised to put things right. Lament and imprecation express zeal for – and trust in – divine justice. Imprecation is the natural cry of God’s people when God’s faithfulness appears delayed. Despite all appearance to the contrary, we believe that God will be faithful to His Word.

Eschatological impatience is the fruit of hope in God’s covenant faithfulness. Eschatological impatience is on display in both the Old and New Testaments (1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20).

God’s inscrutable, wrath-filled providence in history was not only for the Canaanites. God has promised to reveal His wrath against ungodliness. The particularized complaint of the saints against injustice recognizes that God is faithful to His Word and will act according to it. So, pray for the conversion of your enemies, and for the destruction of the incurably wicked, whoever they may be (only God knows). Lord come quickly, and for some, sooner rather than later.

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Book Review: Discovering Delight by Glenda Mathes

Mathes, Glenda. Discovering Delight: 31 Mediations on Loving God’s Law (RHB: Grand Rapids, 2014), $8.82.

Isaiah 59:2, “… your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Consider how loving God’s law brings you nearer to Christ. Even in the Christian life, sin is an obstacle to knowing Christ. Christian, do you love God’s law? Is the law sweetness and light to you? For too many, these sentiments are referred to as legalism. The impression is given that if you love grace, then you can’t love God’s law. But gospel grace and gospel command are not so easy to separate. In fact, they are caught up in a tight embrace. God’s law sweetly complies with God’s gospel. For the Christian, the law is a rule of life. It is like signposts along the narrow road that leads home. In it we know the will of God and our duty to God and man. The law also discovers sinful pollution in the lives of God’s people, bringing a conviction of – and hatred toward – sin, and a clearer sight of the need of Christ and his perfections. The Christian use of the law is not “one more hoop to jump through” but the pleasure of knowing – and pressing closer into – Christ. No, the use of the law in the Christian life is not contrary to the grace of the Gospel. Because it is the Spirit of God that subdues the sinful nature, making the Christian willing to do freely, and cheerfully, that which God commands.

In Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law, Glenda Mathes takes the reader through guided meditations of several of the Psalms. The bulk of her reflection is given to Psalm 119. As she says in her preface, Mathes writes from the conviction that the Westminster Standards (The WCF and the Shorter and Larger Catechism) and the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort) correctly summarize the biblical understanding of God’s law. Mathes ably guides the reader to a delight in God’s law. This booklet is not a defense of that theology but an experimental application of that theology to the Christian heart.

I recommend this book to a wide readership, but particularly to those who find this concept of loving God’s law strange. If you desire to revel deeper in God’s grace, then taste the sweetness of God’s law. In the sweet embrace of law and grace, we are instructed more in the love and knowledge of Christ.

I received a review copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are those of a lover of God’s law. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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