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Some Thoughts on Life–What We Are and What We Were

Jul 30, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

What shall we call the unborn in the womb?

If the entity is a living thing, is it not a life? If your person began as a single cell, how can that fertilized egg be something other than a human being? Isn’t it more accurate to say you were an embryo than that you simply came from one?

So when does a human being have a right to life?

Shall we say size matters? Is the unborn child too small to deserve our protection? Are big people more valuable than little people? Are men more human than woman? Do offensive linemen have more rights than jockeys? Is the life in the womb of no account because you can’t hold him in our arms, or put him in your hands, or because you can only see her on a screen?

Shall we make intellectual development and mental capacity the measure of our worth? Are three year-old children less valuable than thirteen year olds? Is the unborn child less than fully human because he cannot speak or count or be self-aware? Does the cooing infant in the crib have to smile or shake your hand or recite the alphabet before she deserves another day? If an expression of basic mental acuity is necessary to be a full-fledged member of the human community, what shall we do with the comatose, the very old, the severally mentally impaired, or the fifty year-old mom with Alzheimer’s? And what about all of us who sleep?

Shall we deny the unborn child’s right to life because of where he lives? Does environment give us value or take it away? Are we worth less inside than outside? Can we be justly killed when we swim under water? Does where we are determine who we are? Does the eight inch journey down the birth canal make us human? Does this change of scenery turn “its” into persons? Is love a condition of location?

Shall we reserve human dignity only for those humans who are not dependent on others? Do we deserve to live only when we can live on our own? Is the four-month old fetus less than human because she needs her mom for life? Is the four-month old infant less than human when she still needs that same mom for life? What if you depend on dialysis or insulin or a breathing apparatus? Is value a product of fully-functioning vitality? Is independence a prerequisite for human identity? Are we worth only what we can think, accomplish, and do on our own?

If the unborn life is human life, what can justify snuffing it out? Would it be right to take the life of your child on his first birthday because he came to you through sad and tragic circumstances? Would you push an 18 month old into traffic because she makes our life difficult? Does a three year-old deserve to die because we think we deserve a choice?

What do you deserve now? What are your rights as a human person? Did you have those same rights five years ago? What about before you could drive? Or when you used training wheels? Were you less than fully human when you played in the sandbox? When you wore a bib? When you nursed at your mother’s breast? When your dad cut your cord? When you tumbled in that watery mess and kicked against that funny wall? When your heart pounded on the monitor for the first time? When you grew your first fingernails? When you grew your first cells?

What shall we call the child in the womb? A fetus? A mystery? A mistake? A potential sale? What if science and Scripture and commonsense would have us call it a person? What if the unborn child, the messy infant, the wobbly toddler, the rambunctious teenager, the college freshman, the blushing bride, the first-time mother, the working woman, the proud grammy, and the demented old friend differ not in kind but only in degree? Where in the progression does our humanity begin and end? Where does life become valuable? When are we worth something? When do human rights become our rights? What if the famous Dr. was right and a person’s a person no matter how small?

Why celebrate the right to kill what you used to be?

How can we tear apart the life of the little one who is what we all were?

Note: I posted a version of this piece several years ago. In light of the recent revelations regarding Planned Parenthood’s practice of selling “fetal tissue,” I thought the article might be worth another look.

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One Simple Way to Encourage Your Pastor

Jul 28, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

discouraged-pastor-500x337I decided to write this post now, while I still have four weeks left in my summer study leave, so that it can be seen that I am making general comments about pastoral ministry and not scheming for more compliments from my people. I serve a great church, and nothing in this short piece should be read as a surreptitious complaint.

Caveats in place, here is one simple and very important thing you can do to encourage your pastor: tell him you are grateful for his preaching.

I’m not talking about stroking your pastor’s ego just to make him (or you) feel good. I’m not talking about perfunctory praise. And I’m not talking about idle flattery. Don’t tell your pastor anything you don’t really mean.

But if your pastor’s sermon helped you see more of Jesus, or helped you turn from sin, or helped you understand the Bible better, or helped you be a better spouse, or helped you trust God in the midst of suffering, or stirred your affections for the things of glory, tell him. It doesn’t have to be every week or even every month. But when appropriate, and when legitimate, tell him. It can be a short as a two sentence email or a ten second conversation at the door. Just say something like, “I continue to grow as a Christian because of your preaching.” Or, “Last week’s message really spoke to me.” Or, “I’ve learned so much about the Bible during this last sermon series.” A little bit of encouragement will go a lot farther than you think.

I don’t say this because pastors have the hardest job on the planet. In a lot of ways, it’s the most privileged job on the planet. We get paid (most of us) to study the Bible, tell people about Jesus, pray with people in difficult situations, and, in general, do the kinds of things other Christians try to do when they aren’t working a normal job. But being a pastor is unique in that every week our work–and really our heart and soul–is put on display for everyone to see, savor, or sleep through. It’s natural that a pastor would wonder from time to time (and more so as time goes on), “How am I doing?”

Most often, I don’t think the question rattles around the pastor’s head because of narcissism, low self-esteem, or selfish ambition. I think most pastors genuinely have no idea if they are making any difference in the lives of their people. Sure, there are dramatic conversions here or there, and certain members are persistently cheerful and encouraging. But overall, I think ministers spend a lot of time quietly wondering if they are just whistling in the dark.

Maybe some of them (some of us) are. No doubt, there are men in the ministry who could better serve the kingdom doing something else. And yet, I imagine the majority of pastors shouldn’t leave the pastorate. They are working hard. They are using whatever two or five or ten talents they’ve been given. They still love God, love his people, and love the Bible. But they aren’t sure they are really making a difference. That’s why I think so many pastors look at budgets and buildings and bums in the pew. It’s quantifiable. It’s measurable. It’s something to reassure the wavering pastoral heart: “Look, you are not wasting your time (and theirs!).”

So sometime this month–if there is something worth commending in your pastor’s sermon–go ahead and commend it.

To him. Personally. Gladly. From your heart.

Don’t worry about his head getting too big. The Lord knows how to keep his pastors humble so you can worry about keeping your pastor going. Who knows what season of doubt your minister may be enduring? Who knows what discouragement constantly plagues him? Who knows how close he may be to leaving the ministry (by quiet resignation or by public scandal)?

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, thinking about these things” (Phil. 3:8). And if your pastor’s sermon–even once in a great while–falls into the category of “these things,” give thanks to God. And consider letting your pastor know that you did.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 27, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Consistently makes my whole family laugh, even if we’ve seen it a hundred times.

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Ten Proposed Commandments for Christian Parenting

Jul 24, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Parenting is one of the greatest joys and responsibilities in this life. Few things produce greater humility or furnish greater rewards. Though I feel inadequate for the task, I love being a Daddy (I am hoping they never get too “grownup” for Daddy and start calling me Dad or Father)! I continue to receive “on the job training,” but here are a few commandments I long to live by as I continue to labor in this wonderful vineyard called Christian parenting (maybe you would have some “commandments” to add below).

1. Thou shall not worship thy children or their future

                We live for the glory of God and seek to parent in light of our highest calling. As much as we love our children, we do not live for them.

2. Thou shall not expect or portray thyself as a perfect Christian family

                We and our children are sinners in need of grace. We do not expect perfection from ourselves, we dare not expect it from our children.

3. Thou shall not exchange the Christian faith for mere moralism in thy children

                We desire children living moral lives, but not by a bare morality. We labor and pray to see their lives reflecting a heart renewed by the love of Christ.

4. Thou shall not be impatient with thy sons and daughters (or even their teenage friends)

                We want to show the same long-suffering and patience to our children the Lord graciously extends to us (as much as we can). Irritation, anger, and a quick temper crouch at our door and we endeavor to keep them at bay.

5. Thou shall lead thy children in regular family worship and journey to the house of the Lord weekly

                We are Christian parents and worship is the heartbeat of the Christian. Thus, worship occupies a central place in our Christian parenting. Day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out, we aspire to place our children in the way of the means of grace (Word, sacraments, and prayer) and involve them in the greatest of all earthly (and heavenly) pleasures: worshiping the Triune God of the universe.

6. Thou shall enjoy thy children and be demonstrative in showing affectionate love to them

                We desire that our children always know the treasure they are and are at rest in the assurance of our love. They are a gift from above (James 1:17) and we rejoice in thanksgiving for them.

7. Thou shall nurture thy marriage for the good of thy children     

                (For those parents who are married) We know our marriage serves as the cornerstone of our Christian family. We dare not see it askew, failing, or lacking vitality, for its health or sickness will be reflected in our parenting.

8. Thou shall seek the Lord with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength knowing it is the foundation of Christian parenting

                We recognize that Christian parenting cannot be separated from our life in Christ. The overflow of a filled cup benefits what is below.

9. Thou shall not depend upon thy own strength, but that of Christ’s in parenting

                We believe that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15). We desire to sow seeds bearing eternal fruit and so must rely upon the Eternal Gardner.

10. Thou shall ultimately entrust thy children to the care of thy Heavenly Father

                We love our children and desire their good, but have not the power to secure it. But we know One who does and He is our Father, who loves us and desires our good. And we can trust Him; He knows how to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7).

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The Pastor’s Personal Holiness

Jul 23, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Robert Murray McCheyne famously said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”

Now, before the critiques are lobbed at McCheyne for having too-high a view of pastors, let’s be clear, McCheyne is not implying he is more important than Christ. This is the same man who said, “Our soul should be a mirror of Christ; we should reflect every feature: for every grace in Christ there should be a counterpart in us” and “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” Rather, by stating the importance of the pastor’s personal holiness, he is echoing Paul in 1 Timothy 4 when he says, “Keep a close watch on your life and doctrine. Persist in this, for so by doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Needed words for the pastor in our day. Needed words for the pastor in every age. Nothing is more essential to a pastor’s calling or the ministry he extends to others than his own personal holiness.

As I reflect over the past decade of watching fellow brothers in the pastorate fail morally, the threats seem to come in four primary categories. Dear pastor, be on-guard against each.

Neglect of the Calling: The pastorate is not an occupation; it is a calling—a calling to serve the Lord by serving His people. As John Piper helpfully said, “Brothers, we are not professionals.” In fact, the pastor serves as the chief-servant of his little flock. He may receive a salary from the church, but He is employed from above. His calling is not primarily a job meant to secure income. He does not labor, so he may receive. Rather, the pastor’s calling is one of giving–a life poured out as a drink offering for the sake of others (2 Timothy 4:6). He does not angle for advancement. He does not perform. He does not simply aim to produce. Rather, he seeks by his whole life to serve and love others in the name of Christ. Such service requires heart, mind, and soul engagement. Therefore, he guards against going through the motions whether in worship, counseling, teaching, or even administration. Pastors, you may never just punch the time clock. Every service we render is to be motivated by love for His people. Be happy to decrease that He might increase (John 3:30). Seek to serve and not be served (Matthew 20:28) for the good of the church and the glory of Christ. Seek to be a pastor pursuing holiness by refusing to become a professional.

Neglect of the Body: The pastorate demands all of a man. I have watched a myriad of men leave the pastorate not for a want of love for the people or adequate gifting but out of sheer exhaustion. The conflicts took their toll, the hours became too much, the pressures too great. And when the body is tired, whether physically or emotionally, it is a ready playing field for sin. Our body and soul are united; neither should be neglected. Pastors, observe the Sabbath, take all your vacation days, and ask your elders for an annual study leave. Take regular prayer retreats. Keep stoking the fires of your own affections for Christ as you grant your body adequate rest. Find a friend to confide in and to wrestle through pastorally emotional things. Seek to be a pastor pursuing holiness by combating exhaustion and erecting a double-guard when exhaustion does indeed descend.

Neglect of the Family: The pastorate can be a blessing and a trial for the average family. There are many benefits for our wives and children. There are also some hardships, which too often the pastor multiplies. Let us be clear, the pastorate does not provide an excuse for the man neglecting his family. Rather, the pastorate reinforces the need for him to adequately love and care for his family. The demands of being a pastor never outweigh the demands of the pastor’s wife and children. Their bodies, hearts, and souls persist as his first charge. Pastors, be home most nights of the week. Play catch in the backyard. Eat dinner together. Lead your wife and children in family worship (How can one expect to lead the family of God in worship if he doesn’t lead his own home in worship?). Listen to them and seek to shepherd their hearts. Tend to their needs and struggles. Cry with them. Laugh with them. How sad it is when a pastor’s family becomes disillusioned with the church, because he was too enamored with it. Seek to be a pastor pursuing holiness by tending to your family with diligence and love.

Neglect of the Soul: Neglecting to tend the garden of his own soul threatens the pastor’s personal holiness more than anything else. He busies himself with planting the Word and pruning weeds in the lives of others, but his own soul receives little care. He is too busy. The work is too hard. Others are worse off. And in his own heart, worldliness creeps in, pride pitches its tent, lust grabs a hold, and righteousness flees. The small sins which once had a foothold, now control. His sermon preparation no longer stirs him, his sermons become performances, his ministry becomes sheer duty, and his life begins to disintegrate. Oh dear pastors, examine your heart daily. Seek to root out sin and fan the flames of righteousness. Never teach or preach anything that does not first move your heart. Seek out brothers in the Lord who, like Philemon, refresh your soul (Philemon 1:7). Find authors who stir your mind. Practice daily prayer, Scripture reading, and memorization for your own personal life in Christ. Pray that the Lord would give you a true view of self, so pride would have no seat, lust would have no allure, greed would find no ground, and slothfulness cannot lounge. Even as you seek to see others conformed to the image of Christ more and more, so you must labor to see it realized in your own life as well. Seek to be a pastor pursuing holiness by tending to the garden of your own soul.

Pastors, our need for personal holiness cannot be overestimated. You have a holy calling, to perform a holy service, to the holy bride of Christ, for the glory of a holy God. Pursue holiness. “Toil” and “struggle” to do so, “with all his energy that he powerfully works within” you (Colossians 1:29). In so doing, “you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

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The Happy Man

Jul 22, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t want to be happy. In fact, most people would readily admit this desire as the supreme goal and aim of their life. Do you know how to find happiness? What does the happy man actually look like? Do your family members know? Co-workers? Neighbors? Friends? Maybe no better words were ever penned to answer this question than those written by the early 20th century Scottish Highland’s minister Lauchlan Mackenzie. Rev. Mackenzie helpfully and poetically detailed the life of the happy man:

The happy man was born in the city of Regeneration in the parish of Repentance unto life. He was educated at the school of Obedience. He has a large estate in the county of Christian Contentment, and many times does jobs of self-denial, wears the garment of Humility, and has another suit to put on when he goes to Court, called the Robe of Christ’s Righteousness. He often walks in the valley of Self-Abasement, and sometimes climbs the mountains of Heavenly-mindedness. He breakfasts every morning on Spiritual Prayer, and sups every evening on the same. He has meat to eat that the world knows not of, and his drink is the sincere milk of the Word of God. Thus happy he lives, and happy he dies. Happy is he who has Gospel submission in his will, due order in affections, sound peace in his conscience, real Divinity in his breast; the Redeemer’s yoke on his neck, a vain world under his feet, and a crown of glory over his head. Happy is the life of that man who believes firmly, prays fervently, walks patiently, works abundantly, lives holy, dies daily, watches his heart, guides his senses, redeems his time, loves Christ and longs for glory. He is necessitated to take the world on his way to heaven, but he walks through it as fast as he can, and all his business by the way is to make himself and others happy. Take him all in all, in two words, he is a Man and a Christian.

Who isn’t looking for happiness? Do you know the way? Do your friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors? The Christian life alone is the way of happiness now and forever.

 

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The Sunday Worship Killer

Jul 21, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Few things harden the soul, deaden the heart, close the ears, and chill the affections more. It serves as one of the greatest weapons of our adversary, though few recognize it. One would expect such a foe to be obvious, but it often chooses to operate subtly in the shadows of the mind and the private ruminations of the heart. It has the added deadliness of feigning holiness while encouraging pride with the false assumption we are more holy than others due to our greater “discernment.” Donning the robes of the critic maims and kills many would-be worshipers in churches every single Sunday morning.

In all honesty, very few of us knowingly enter church with such a motivation. How silly it would be for us to rise early on Sundays to play the role of the critic. But as we take our seat in the church pew, our focus and motivation cowers to the voice crying out within, “they are not doing this right,” “they are not doing this well,” “they are not doing this as I would do it.” And in the midst of it all, we move from worshipper to critic. No doubt, the Christian is called to be discerning and discriminating in worship. All that passes for worship these days should not receive our approval. Paul has no qualms identifying wrong practices in the worship of the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 11-14), Jesus is clear about worthy and non-worthy worship (John 4), and God’s seriousness about the manner and means by which we worship cannot be overestimated (Leviticus 10). Yet, there is a temptation to spend more time at church critiquing than confessing, judging than rejoicing, criticizing than praising, and challenging than receiving when there is very little reason to do so.

This trap is great and our adversary is pleased with the results. The Christian leaves church with a satisfied conscience. She rests having fulfilled her “weekly duty,” but little worship was practiced or experienced. Instead of meeting with God, she played the cynic. Instead of hearing the voice of God, she heard the frail words of the preacher. Instead of a mind stirred by truth, it was stymied in criticism. Instead of a heart moved with joy, it was hardened in judgment. If you or I depart church on Sunday mornings and our main thoughts or topics of conversation consist of concerns, critiques, and criticisms, it is likely we have become a critic rather than a worshiper.

How do we fight this tendency? First, we must remind ourselves of the great privilege of corporate worship. My friends, we are meeting with the Triune God of the Universe. The Lord of Glory is speaking to us, the grace of Christ is being extended to us, and we are enjoying a taste of that which we shall enjoy for all of eternity. Nothing in all the earth is more significant, monumental, and remarkable than the reality that God chooses to meet with us by His Word and Spirit week in and week out. Corporate worship is the high-point of the Christian’s week. Anything that detracts from it is an enemy.

Second, intentionality goes a long way in fighting unnecessary critique. Begin Saturday night by setting aside time in prayer and reading the Bible to soften your heart for the next day’s holy appointment. On Sunday, rise early enough to seek the Lord in order to have your heart moved with affection for Him before entering the church building. As you take your seat in the sanctuary, remember above all else that worship is a meeting between God and His people. You are not there to sit in judgment or question the motives of others. You journeyed to this place at this time to meet with the Living and True God of heaven and earth. What a delight! As the music begins, even if it is not your “cup of tea,” seek to meditate upon the words you are singing. Allow your affections to be stirred as you think and meditate upon Him. As prayers are uttered, seek to stay your thoughts upon Him. Say over and over in your mind, “Amen,” as you agree with the words offered in corporate prayer. As the sermon is preached, plead with Him to lay bare your own heart, root out sin where it is found, and provide comfort where it is needed. When driving home from church talk about how the service or sermon impacted you. Limit critiques and abound in discussion about how the Word preached, sung, read, confessed, and prayed that morning shaped and informed your own understanding and life in Christ. And throughout the week meditate upon that Word and watch for how the Lord is conforming you more and more to the image of Christ.

Criticism can detract and deject the worshiper. We all must seek to limit it to healthy bounds. It may be the case that you attend a church where the Word isn’t preached, the Sacraments aren’t administered, and worship is absent. If that is the case, it is time to move on. However, if you attend a church where the Word is preached, the Sacraments are rightly administered, and worship is present then delight in worshiping God. You are meeting with the Triune God of the universe. Don’t let our adversary tempt you to do something less. The worship critic stands in judgment over everyone and everything else, the God-adoring worshiper rightly kneels in unity with her brothers and sisters humbly before her King.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 20, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Laughing is good for the soul and the subway…

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Jesus Loves the Little Children

Jul 17, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Oddly enough, it’s sometimes progressives who are most eager to move the culture backward.

As we reflect in horror at the utter callousness with which some persons and organizations speak of (not to mention crush) the tiniest humans, it’s worth remembering that the ancient world was unabashedly open to the killing of children. For starters, they had almost none of the sentimentality we have towards kids. There was no Disney, no summer camps, no play dates. Family life–even if there was such a thing–certainly did not revolve around children. In general, children, were useful at best, burdens at worst, and almost never coddled.

If there was one dominant fact regarding children in the ancient world it was their high mortality rates, especially among infants. Many newborns were stillborn or died in labor. Those who made it safely out of the womb often went hungry. There were too many mouths to feed and too little food. As a result, children were often abandoned, exposed to the elements, literally left on trash heaps to die. From 230 B.C. onward, the most common family in Greece was a one-child family. Families of four or five were rare. Some families might want two sons, but rarely would they want two daughters.

Unwanted children were disposed of, often sold into slavery. Others were aborted in the womb. Many more were simply killed as infants. Newborns were not considered part of the family until the father officially acknowledged them and received them into the house by religious ceremony. Consequently, ancient Greeks and Romans thought little of little babies and did not hesitate to get rid of them.

In the ancient world, it was uniquely the Jewish people who prohibited abortion and infanticide, the latter of which was not outlawed until Christianity took on a privileged place in the empire. Christians have always opposed killing children, whether infants outside the womb or infants inside the womb. The two were one and the same crime. “You shall not abort a child or commit infanticide,” commanded the Didache, a late first century church constitution of sorts. Despite the muddled arguments of progressive Christian groups and demoninations (whose obfuscation with language is positively Orwellian), opposition to abortion and infanticide is not simply one position for Christians, it is the Christian position.

Jesus welcomed children when others wanted to push them away (Mark 10:13-16). He said the measure of our love for him would be measured by our love for children (Mark 9:36-37). He took the children in his arms as if to say, “Honor these little ones, and you honor me. Send them away because they are weak, socially insignificant, and bothersome, and you’ve demonstrated you don’t understand the values of the kingdom.”

As abortion is again in the public eye (though willfully ignored by major media outlets), let’s pray for our society to change its mind regarding the smallest and most helpless of its citizens. Let’s pray for the church to lead the way in protecting, honoring, and caring for children–not matter how unborn or unwanted. Let’s pray that every judge, politician, and doctor becomes convinced of the sanctity of unborn life and acts accordingly. Let’s pray for the flourishing of pregnancy centers and women’s clinics that provide an alternative to abortion. Let’s pray for the women contemplating such a tragic choice, and for the family members encouraging them in the wrong direction. Let’s pray for men to be men, to stop fooling around and to stop fleeing when they have. Let’s pray that hundreds of politicians, thousands of pastors, millions of would-be moms and dads, and 300 million hearts are gripped by a Jesus-inspired view of children.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. Even the ones with an umbilical cord.

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Heaven Is a World of Love

Jul 15, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Most people know Jonathan Edwards as the guy who preached hellfire and brimstone sermons like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But fewer realize that the pastor from Northampton, Massachusetts also preached sermons like this one, called “Heaven is a World of Love.”

The Apostle tells us that God is love, 1 John 4:8. And therefore seeing he is an infinite Being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love, Seeing he is an all-sufficient Being, it follows that he is a full and overflowing and an inexhaustible fountain of love. Seeing he is an unchangeable and eternal Being, he is an unchangeable and eternal source of love. There even in heaven dwells that God from whom every stream of holy love, yea, every drop that is or ever was proceeds.

There dwells God the Father, and so the Son, who are united in infinitely dear and incomprehensible mutual love. There dwells God the Father, who is the Father of mercies, and so the Father of love, who so loved that world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life [John 3:16].

There dwells Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Prince of peace and love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for it. There dwells the Mediator, by whom all God’s love is expressed to the saints, by whom the fruits of it have been purchased, and through whom they are communicated, and through whom love is imparted to the hearts of all the church. There Christ dwells in both his natures, his human and divine, sitting with the Father in the same throne.

There is the Holy Spirit, the spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, all flows out or is shed abroad in the hearts of all the church [cf. Rom. 5:5].

There in heaven this fountain of love, this eternal three in one, is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it. There this glorious God is manifested and shines forth in full glory, in beams of love; there the fountain overflows in streams and rivers of love and delight, enough for all to drink at, and to swim in, yea, so as to overflow the world as it were with a deluge of love. (The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, 245)

Jonathan Edwards was one of those rare persons who saw the terror of hell and the extraordinary beauty and loveliness of heaven.  He understood that we do not worship a cartoon deity.  God is not a one-dimensional character out of  a summer blockbuster.  He’s not some petty, insecure despot with lightning bolts who nurses a grudge against the human race.  But neither is he a souped up version of  American Ninja Warrior’s uber-supportive audience, a feel good god eager to cheer on anyone no matter their failings so long as they have a back story.

These are not biblical images of God.  The God of the Bible is a God of unswerving justice and boundless mercy. And never can the two be divorced from each other.

One of the striking things in reading the excerpt above is to see just how much this depiction of heaven rises out from the most foundational elements of Christian theology. The love in Edwards’ vision of heaven cannot be reduced to sentiment, sympathy, and bumper sticker notions of acceptance and affirmation. The love that awaits the saints in heaven is far different, not because it is something less, but because it is so much more.

The love Edwards extols is rich with theological reflection on the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, substitutionary atonement, Christ as Mediator, the importance of the church, and the immutability of God. Edwards’ heaven is full of a love that only makes sense in the world of thought shaped by the whole counsel of God. Cheap imitations of biblical love never plumb the depths of the Christian tradition. Instead they plunder the booty of Christian vocabulary and employ in such a way so that everyone from Donald Trump to the Dali Lama can nod in agreement. Edwards tells a different story, reminding us that heaven is a world where Trinitarian-wrought, cross-bought, sorrow-easing, wrath-appeasing, Christ-centered, church-focused, overflowing, inexhaustible, incorruptible love wins.

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