Pastor Ham

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Tag: spiritual disciplines

The Perils of Thinking Well

In general, we humans loathe discipline. Especially, it seems to me, modern humans. Especially, it seems to me, when that discipline is imposed upon me from some self other than myself.

We may well be the most un-rigorous, flabby generation yet to walk the planet.

All disciplines suffer as a result, but one that is exceedingly obvious is the degradation of the art of disciplined thinking. Take Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, for example. If you’d like to see an unending parade of fools proudly flaunting their inability to think well, get a Twitter account and wait for a polarizing event like this to happen. The sheer volume of uninformed “bilge” (thanks to Carl Trueman for that fantastic term) and outright falsehood being spewed is overwhelming. I don’t yet consider myself to be a well-disciplined thinker, and it even makes me want to claw my eyes out (not literally, of course).

A favorite flab tactic is to play the emotion card. If I am too lazy to think well, but want to convince (or more likely, silence) my opponent, I’ll simply scream the loudest or cry the hardest. This particular type of flab is hanging off of just about every one of us to varying degrees and was clogging internet cables around the globe Monday.

One of the great ironies of the Monday assault on reason was the fact that the same mob who bungled their way through a so-called “defense of women” (as they disingenuously label their cause), is largely composed of the type of people who voraciously consume the on-screen rapes and murders of women in TV shows and movies, and the frequent, overt, shameless degradation of women through song (especially in the form called rap). UPDATE, JULY 5: The links in this paragraph are not graphic. They are links to tastefully written articles on these topics by Christian authors who strongly encourage the church to eliminate the consumption of sinful images, a needed admonition.

Of course, if you dare to interject a disciplined thought into the nonversation, watch out. You will instantly have an angry dozen or so of the bworst thinkers you’ve ever encountered rushing at you with handfuls of lard with which they intend to forcefully expand your own intellectual waistline, or if that won’t work, choke you with. It’s a rather grotesque experience, especially if you share my germaphobia.

In A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy (which is recommended reading for every Christian), he quotes from a Thomas Traherne book written in 1948: “As nothing is more easy than to think, so nothing is more difficult than to think well.”

Sixty-six years later it’s pretty obvious that he was right, and that we are lazy.

Proverbs 23:7 says of man that “as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (KJV) Do you think lazily? If so, you are lazy. Do you think foolishly? Then you are a fool. Do you think in a godly manner? This shows you to be godly. Interestingly, it seems these early verses of Proverbs 23 are set in the presence of a flabby ruler, providing an extra layer of pertinence to this discussion.

If you choose to exercise intellectually and cut the fat, you will begin to rise above the bulging mob. Go yet further and give voice to well-reasoned thinking, and sneering heads will swiftly begin to pop up all around the herd as greasy hands scramble for fistfuls of lard. You will pay a price for thinking lean, muscular thoughts.

However, to learn the discipline of thinking well, and to use this tool to ably espouse and defend biblical truth is an activity of eternal consequence and eternal reward. The Bible nowhere glorifies ignorance, but rather encourages the renewed mind, sound judgment, and wisdom. If our pursuit and execution of well-reasoned Scriptural thinking brings glory to our God (and it does), what higher motivation could we have to pursue it with all of the might and vigor with which He has endowed us and to utilize it for the sake of His name?

Jonathan Edwards and the Effort of Sanctification

At some point recently a switch got flipped inside my head and I began consuming large amounts of church history – both through books and audio lectures. This has been tremendously enjoyable, and a worthy exercise for anyone who knows little about the Christian past. While I’ve done reading and listening on various people and periods, one of my favorites so far has been Jonathan Edwards.

I’m currently preparing a Sunday School lesson for this weekend at Calvary Baptist Church of Wakefield, MI on the subject of Edwards’ 70 Resolutions (no, I’m not covering them all). Even being slightly familiar with Edwards prior to my recent study, I’d never heard of the resolutions. They’re worth a read, and a helpful primer on the topic is Steven J. Lawson’s The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards. I am using this work extensively in my Sunday School lesson prep, and want to share a bit of it here.

As an introduction, it’s helpful to note that I am coming at this from the perspective that our sanctification requires effort on our part. If you’re familiar with the recent dust-up over this subject in evangelicalism, you’ll note that not everyone agrees with this. But I believe the Bible clearly favors a fervent pursuit of personal holiness by those who are Christians, and Edwards certainly did as well. (See 2 Cor. 5:17; Matt. 7:21-23; John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6; Heb. 12:14; Rom. 6:1, 12:1; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 3:10-15)

Edwards’ Pursuit of Holiness

  • Edwards wrote 70 purpose statements for his life during the years 1722-23.
  • At the time he started them, he was not yet 20 years old and had been saved for only about one year.
  • If Edwards were alive today, he would not be Mr. Popular with many professing Christians. He’d be called a “Pharisee” or a “legalist” by some. He’d be a punchline on facebook. He’d be skewered on blogs. He’d hear “You’re such a Puritan!” Of course, that one was actually true.

Edwards’ Legacy

  • Contemporary of George Whitefield, though they only met once; evidently, Whitefield preached in Edwards’ pulpit, and Edwards sat on the front row and wept throughout the sermon
  • Leader of the Great Awakening in America
  • Likely would have become David Brainerd’s father-in-law had Brainerd lived past 29
  • Grandfather of Aaron Burr (who later killed Alexander Hamilton….I forgive him for this)
  • Originally horrified by the Doctrine of Election, though later called it “exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet”
  • Eventually fired by his church of more than 20 years for tightening up communion requirements to a more biblical level
  • His humility is apparent in that he stayed on for nearly a year helping them fill the pulpit until his replacement could be found
  • His humility was further displayed in his next step in life: taking over a mission work to Indians in a remote frontier settlement and preaching the Gospel at a 5th grade level
  • An early 20th century study of Edwards’ descendants found that just 150 years after his death, Edwards had the following distinguished branches shooting forth from his family tree: 300 clergymen, missionaries, and theological professors; 120 college professors; 110 lawyers; over 60 physicians; over 60 authors; 30 judges; 14 university presidents; multiple giants of American industry; 80 holders of major public office; 3 mayors of large cities; 3 state governors; 3 U.S. senators; a U.S. Senate chaplain; a comptroller of the U.S. Treasury; a Vice-President of the United States (Aaron Burr); and that study was done over 100 years ago! That list has surely multiplied repeatedly since.

Edwards’ Resolutions

  • Centered around six categories that Lawson has helpfully defined: Pursuing the Glory of God; Forsaking Sin; Making Proper Use of God-Allotted Time; Living with All His Being for the Lord; Pursuing Humility and Love; Making Frequent Self Examination
  • 70 total resolutions, written over an approximately 15-month period, and regularly reviewed throughout his life as a matter of spiritual discipline

Examples:

  • Excerpt from Resolution #1: “Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence….”
  • #4: “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.”
  • #6: “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.”
  • #7: “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.”
  • #10: “Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.”
  • #16: “Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.”
  • #25: “Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.”
  • #56: “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”

Edwards’ spiritual disciplines, and the aim of his life, were all pointed at the glory of God. Every thought. Every word. Every choice. Every undertaking. All must be for God’s glory. Let us beg God to give His Church a host of men and women who desire to be holy as He is holy; whose great love for God and passion for His glory results in a life consistent with the character and commands of God.

 

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