Saturday, August 28, 2010

For Such a Worm as I...Isaac Watts

“Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed”, or “At the Cross”

(Words by Isaac Watts, 1674 – 1748)
Remember that Glorious old hymn? One line was as follows:

''Alas! and did my Saviour bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred Head
For such a worm as I?''

In today's hymnals, it reads "For Sinners such as I"

Wonder why it was changed?

I remember singing this hymn as a child, with the original word “worm” in it. This was one of my favorite hymns. I still have a clear mental image of the exact placement of each line, each word, the notes, bars, etc. on the page in the old Baptist Hymnal. I also recall on the opposite page was the hymn "At Calvary". When we had Sunday night Hymn requests, I would raise my hand and request one of these two hymns.

I remember once, when the church ordered new hymnals, Bro. Benny discovered that “worm” had been changed to “sinners”.
I distinctly remember like it was yesterday when my Pastor of 17 years, Bro. Benny, a very Godly preacher, with a heart for the LORD, Truth, His Word, and a love for His people, stopped the minister of music in the middle of the hymn. All became silent as he approached the pulpit, where the minister of music stood as he led the congregation in praise to God through the singing of hymns, and motioned for the pianist and organist to stop playing, and the choir & congregation to stop singing.

Bro. Benny told everyone in the congregation to look at that line in the newer hymnal, and he explained to us the watering down and subtlety of the editors in replacing the original, harsh/humbling word with a weaker/more palatable substitute. (I believe some hymnals today have watered it down even further, and put "for such a one as I", and even left off "sinner". The image intended by Isaac Watts was not meant to be a pleasant image, but to paint a contrast of the depths of our sinfulness with "That Sacred Head", Jesus Christ.) Brother Benny used this as a “teachable moment”, and then asked us all to take a pen or pencil, and cross out “sinner”, and write back in “worm”. He took his role as the shepherd of his flock very seriously, and was always conscious of his responsibility to lead us into all Truth, and protect us from any error or watering down of the Truth. We then proceeded to sing the hymn as it was originally intended by its author, and for years, every time this hymn was sung, those of us who were present that day remembered the time Bro. Benny interrupted the service and addressed this. This had a huge impact on me, which I will never forget. I realized then how much TRUTH MATTERS!

Bro. Benny did this on more than one occasion. Once we were singing the hymn "Grace Greater than Our Sin", and came to the line “where the blood of the lamb was spilt

"Grace Greater Than Our Sin"

written by Julia Harriet Johnston, born in1849

"Marvelous love of our loving Lord,

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt

Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured

There where the blood of the lamb was spilt

Bro. Benny did the same thing again. He approached the pulpit while the minister of music led the congregational singing, and stopped us. Once again, he asked us to get our pens or pencils out and mark through "spilt", and replace it with "shed". He told us that to him, "spilt" seemed more like an accident, like "spilled-milk" or something, and "shed" seemed more intentional. He took a few minutes to expound how Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was no accident, but intentional, and was planned by Jesus and the Father, the Lamb slain before the Foundations of the world! Jesus willingly shed His Blood for our sins. My family and I agreed wholeheartedly with Bro. Benny's theological reasoning for changing these words, but even if someone didn't, they had to admire him for his strong conviction, and taking a stand to protect his flock from anything that could even be perceived as less than accurate.

This blog wasn't intend to be as much about those hymns, as it was a tribute to my Pastor Bro. Benny, that great man of God, and his strong convictions, which on occasion led him to even interrupt the Baptist order-of-worship services (nearly unheard of back then) to address what was on his heart, and to stand for the Truth.

Thanks, Brother Benny for the impact you had (& still have) on my Christian life!

For more on the word "worm", click here to see my earlier post on William Carey, Missionary to India, a man who knew his place before a "Thrice Holy God", who had put on his tombstone,

William Carey
Born, August 17, 1761
Died, June 9, 1834
“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm,
On Thy kind arms I fall.”

Additional Scriptures:
Psalm 22:6(ESV) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
Isaiah 41:14(ESV)Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
John 3:30(ESV)He must increase, but I must decrease.

Friday, August 20, 2010

John Flavel's quotes on God's Providence

John Flavel (1627–1691) was an English Presbyterian clergyman. I've heard several of my favorite preachers whom I routinely download sermons from, like Alistair Begg, R.C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, etc. quote John Flavel lately. My interest was aroused and I've been reading some of his works online.

Here are a few excellent quotes of his that I found to be most helpful. May God be Glorified.
When our needs are permitted to grow to an extremity, and all visible hopes fail, then to have relief given wonderfully enhances the price of such a mercy (Isa. 41:17-18).

You may look upon some providences once and again, and see little or nothing in them, but look "seven times," that is, meditate often upon them, and you will see their increasing glory, like that increasing cloud (1 Kings 18:44).

All the dark, intricate, puzzling providences at which we were sometimes so offended...we shall [one day] see to be to us, as the difficult passage through the wilderness was to Israel, "the right way to the city of habitation".

Whatsoever we have over-loved, idolized, and leaned upon, God has from time to time broken it, and made us to see the vanity of it; so that we find the readiest course to be rid our comforts is to set our hearts inordinately or immoderately upon them.

—John Flavel

(I want to order one of Flavel's books,
"Mystery of Providence"
soon, but I've ordered too many books lately and need to catch up on reading the ones I already have. It will likely be next in line, though.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Charles Simeon meets John Wesley (a "delightful" conversation on Dec. 20, 1748)

According to a book I'm reading by Warren Wiersbe, "50 People Every Christian Should Know-Learning From Spiritual Giants of the Faith", Charles Simeon wrote,
"My endeavor is to bring out of scripture what is there, and not to trust in what I think might be there...Take the Word as little children without enquiring what human system it appears to favor."..."Be a Bible Christian and not a system Christian," he advised his students.
Simeon once had a "delightful personal meeting with Wesley"
Wesley recorded briefly in his journal later:
"I went to Hinxworth, where I had the satisfaction of meeting Mr. Simeon...He gave me pleasing information..."
Simeon left a more complete record of the conversation as recorded below.

the following is from:
Charles Simeon (1759-1836) was an Anglican who served Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years. The story of his life and ministry are fascinating and challenging to modern pastors who tend to be soft and too quick to retreat in the face of opposition and trial.
Simeon tells the following story from his early years of a meeting that he had with the venerable John Wesley. A young, largely unproven Calvinist engages an older, much revered Arminian.
The conversation--and heart behind it--is instructive for us today as we contemplate how brothers should relate to those with whom we disagree on important doctrinal points. Too often we allow our disagreements to eclipse completely the fundamental beliefs that we hold in common.

Now let's allow Charles Simeon join the conversation (he writes about his experience in the third person perspective). He has something to teach us. May the Lord grant us a double portion of his spirit today.

A young Minister (Charles Simeon), about three or four years after he was ordained, had an opportunity of conversing familiarly with the great and venerable leader of the Arminians(John Wesley) in this kingdom; and, wishing to improve the occasion to the uttermost, he addressed him nearly in the following words:

--"Sir, I (Simeon) understand that you (Wesley)are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not from impertinent curiosity, but for real instruction."
Permission being very readily and kindly granted, the young Minister proceeded to ask,
--"Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved, that you would never have thought of turning unto God, if God had not first put [it] into your heart?
--"Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed."
--"And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by any thing that you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?"
--"Yes, solely through Christ."
--"But, Sir, supposing you were first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?"
--"No; I must be saved by Christ from first to last."
--"Allowing then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?"
--"What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?"
--"Yes; altogether."
--"And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?"
--"Yes; I have no hope, but in him."
--"Then, Sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is, in substance, all that I hold, and as I hold it: and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."

The Arminian leader was so pleased with the conversation, that he made particular mention of it in his journals; notwithstanding there never afterwards was any connexion between the parties, he retained an unfeigned regard for his young inquirer to the hour of his death.

(Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1: Genesis-Leviticus Preface, pp. xvii-xviii)

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Be a Bible Christian and not a System Christian"...Charles Simeon

I'm currently reading Wayne Grudem's excellent textbook, "Systematic Theology", and listening to him teach the book on MP3.
Systematic theology
is a discipline which addresses theological topics one by one and attempts to summarize all the Biblical teaching on each particular subject. Its goal is to present the major themes (or teachings or doctrines) of the Christian faith in an organized and ordered overview that remains faithful to the Biblical witness. Its main goal is to draw a clear description of what the Bible teaches about a particular doctrine.
(definition of systematic theology taken and partly summarized from Theopedia-I know, not the best theological source, forgive my laziness)

(Now before getting upset with me about things we may disagree on in the next few paragraphs, go to the bottom of this post to see what Charles Simeon said, which is actually the whole point of this post.)

On Soteriology - the study of Salvation, I have no tolerance for other views. I believe Jesus was narrow and intolerant when He said in John 14:6 "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me."
On Ecclesiology - the study of the Church, I have strong views on what I feel the Bible teaches on Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Church Government, etc., and have aligned my family and myself with the Church closest to my views on these, but have respect for other views.
On Eschatology - the study of last things or end times, I part with my "Reformed" brethren here. I believe Jesus will rapture His church, there will be a "time of Jacob's trouble such as the world has never known", i.e. the "Great Tribulation Period", and that Jesus will physically return afterward and rule and reign on the Throne of David for 1000 years on earth, which I think is consistent with my view of the Church and Israel, but give room to other views, and constantly ask God to show me if and where I'm wrong. I don't believe every single promise to the nation Israel can be spiritualized to the Church today. I don't believe the Bible teaches "replacement theology". I believe God is still going to fulfill numerous yet unfilled promises to Israel, and I believe Scripture teaches this plainly in Romans 11, and elsewhere. But I know of many learned and scholarly "Reformed" giants in the faith, past and present who disagree with me, and who knows? They may be right (but I don't presently think so). I do, however, ask God to show me when and where I am wrong, and hope I have the discernment to know when the Holy Spirit is convicting me to change errant views in light of Scriptural Truths.

I believe that correct Doctrine (teaching) is essential, and that Systematic Theology is a much needed discipline among Christian believers. But I see and hear of so much non-productive bickering and arguing among Christians today about "systems", such as:
Calvinism vs. Arminianism; (Can you guess which view I hold to? But there are
certainly many other things Calvin taught, believed, and did that I'm not in
agreement with)
Augustinian vs. Pelagian teachings on original sin (Pelagius was labeled a heretic, by
the way)
Sovereignty of God in Salvation vs. Semi-Pelagianism (also a heresy in my
Divine Grace vs. Free Will (now I'm not saying we don't make choices every day,
nor am I denying human responsibility)
Dispensationalism vs. Covenant Theology; (I lean toward one over the other,
but not fully in all details)
Cessasionist vs. Non-Cessasionist views on spiritual gifts; (not gonna go there
right now)
Historic Pre-Millenialism vs. Dispensational Pre-Millienialism vs. Amillenialism vs. Postmillenialism views on the 1000 year reign of Jesus
Christ on Earth.
Pre-Trib vs. Mid-Trib vs. Post-Trib views on the rapture
Preterist, Partial Preterist vs. all the above (I think the Preterist view is ridiculous by the way, just sayin)
Believer's Baptism vs. Infant Baptism
Now please don't misunderstand me here. These lists are nowhere near all-inclusive areas of disagreement, but just a small sample. These are all important areas of discussion, some more than others, and I have convictions on each one of these. Some I view as critical. Some I view as heretical. Some I view as gray-areas, or non-essentials.

I also know there's a time and place for apologetics and "contending for the faith", as well as "intelligent Christian conversation on issues that matter", as Albert Mohler puts it. I'm not at all suggesting we compromise on any essential Truths of the Christian faith. And I am in no way endorsing Ecumenicalism. There are some things we can't come together on without compromising our Faith.

However, I am grieved in my spirit when I hear arguments about "systems", where the person(s) is so caught up with defending his particular "system", rather than the Gospel. I often hear people go at each other tearing down or defending John Calvin or Jacobus Arminius (mostly Calvin-I hear very few people, even anti-Calvinists even attempting to defend Arminius). Seldom do you hear them mentioning what Jesus said, or what the Apostle Paul said, or what Moses, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, or Isaiah penned. Or how isolated passages they love to quote (sometimes taken out of context) actually fit with the rest of Scripture.

Rarely do I see these disputes lead to the parties opening the Bible and seeing what "thus saith the LORD". They have pre-conceived ideas, and seem to be all about "what I think" or "what I feel", rather than what the Word says.

According to a book I read recently by Warren Wiersbe, "50 People Every Christian Should Know-Learning From Spiritual Giants of the Faith",

Charles Simeon(1759-1836), an English Evangelical clergyman, once told his students,
"My endeavor is to bring out of scripture what is there, and not to trust in what I think might be there...Take the Word as little children without enquiring what human system it appears to favor."..."Be a Bible Christian and not a system Christian," he advised his students.

And so I pray that I can, along with Charles Simeon,

"Be a Bible Christian and not a System Christian".

And I hope and pray that I can always say, as Simeon did:

"My endeavor is to bring out of scripture what is there, and not to trust in what I think might be there...