Friday, December 30, 2011

Charles Hodge—A man who was a moderate and a gradualist towards slavery

There is a part of me that wants to run from this topic….slavery. Just saying the word invokes thoughts of anger, indignation and unbelief.

To give an example of my inner resentment towards slave-owners (and racism), I watched The Help with my wife (a recent movie about a white woman chronicling the stories of African-American maids) and made this comment to her during the final credits, “I have never wanted to punch so many white women in my life.”

By the way, just so the readers are clear…..I HAVE NEVER HIT A WOMAN….EVER (white, black or any other ethnic group)!

So why write about it? Two reasons: 1) Charles Hodge wrote about it and 2) he lived through the Civil War era.

Charles Hodge grew up in the most volatile time in America’s history. The Civil War claimed thousands of lives and the issue of slavery could not be avoided. As a Christian, a theologian and a churchman, Dr. Hodge knew it was his responsibility to help Presbyterians (and Christians in general) think through this issue.

What was Dr. Hodge’s position on slavery? Well, I would define it as the title suggests: He was a moderate and a gradualist.

During Hodge’s lifetime, there were three approaches to the slavery issue. Either you were pro-slavery, a gradualist or an abolitionist.

Now for most of us, anything position other than the abolitionist stance is reprehensible. So how did Dr. Hodge defend his position? Let’s hear from the man himself:
“How did they (Christ and the apostles) treat it (the issue of slavery)? Not by denunciation of slave-holding as necessarily and universally sinful. Not by declaring that all slaveholders were men-stealers and robbers, and consequently to be excluded from the church and the kingdom of heaven. Not by insisting on immediate emancipation.”
We must remember that Hodge, like many others during his day, believed the issue of slavery was predominately a state issue and therefore, the role of the church was to simply promote the gospel. Regarding the influence of the church, Hodge states:
“The South (the side that was predominately pro-slavery) therefore, has to choose between emancipation to the silent and holy influence of the gospel, securing the elevation of the slave to the stature and character of freemen, or abide the issue of a long continued conflict against the law of God.”
Past and present critics of Dr. Hodge have asserted that the gradualist approach was too passive. They interpreted his approach as indifference to the created purpose of man or the imago dei (i.e. humans are made in the image of God). For Hodge, though, it was more complex than simply releasing slaves. He believed that immediate emancipation would cause civil, societal and cultural chaos.

What did Dr. Hodge propose through the lens of the gradualist approach? His biographer writes:
“To achieve the goal of producing freedom for blacks gradually, Hodge proposed means by which they could achieve that freedom within a generation. He endorsed the emancipation of all those born in slavery when they reached their twenty-fifth birthday. He urged adoption of educational practices that would elevate slaves.” (p. 176)
At this point, though most readers would agree that “immediate emancipation is the best option”, Hodge’s propositions would (to most readers) seem reasonable and realistic. But the following solution brought the most criticism against Hodge when he urged the extradition of freed slaves. His biographer continues,  
“(Extraditing the freed slaves) to the republic of Liberia would offer the opportunity for freed slaves not only to live out their freedom productively but to engage in an evangelistic mission—to ‘carry with them the seeds of religion, civilization and liberty to an entire continent’.
Again, it would be easy at this point to condemn Hodge. Critics argued that the extradition of freed slaves would not solve the issue of racism, if anything it reinforces the thinking that races cannot or (even worse) should not co-exist.

But was Dr. Hodge being racist or just being realistic? History tells us that 100 years will pass until the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., bringing our country to its knees, finally causing us to deal with the issue of racism. Advocates of colonization would argue that slaves would have not only freedom, but freedom from the tension (and violence) of white-black racial relations. In other words, colonization would at least have brought a temporary fix.

***It should be noted the solution of colonization was never implemented in American history for economic and pragmatic reasons.

Now it is probably time to defend the actions of Dr. Hodge.

Here is my defense: Dr. Hodge was trying to be biblical.

There is no getting around this hard fact: THE AUTHORS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT NEVER COMMANDED THE IMMEDIATE EMANCIPATION OF SLAVES. Instead, the apostles seemed to encourage slaves to remain in their current state.

1 Corinthians 7:21-24 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Many Christians have struggled with the silence of the apostles on this issue. Yet the reason is simple: The gospel frees the individual of their spiritual bondage, but not necessarily the temporary bondage of a sin-cursed world. Jesus came to “seek and save those who were (spiritually) lost”, not necessarily rescue those who are in a bad marriage, oppressed by an evil government (Romans 13:1-5) or from an earthly slave owner (Philemon 1:10-14). It seems that the apostles believed that as the gospel permeates society, whether through the salvation of slave owners or those who are in government or through the people themselves, heart change will produce and promote moral, ethical and (in theory) societal reformation. Therefore, let every Christian take seriously the command to “be His witnesses” while He is away (Acts 1:8-11).

In conclusion, is slavery wrong? Yes. Is racism wrong? Yes.

What is the answer? The gospel. Charles Hodge knew this and advocated the gradualist approach because of it. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Charles Hodge—A man who was raised by the local church

It is probably the desire (and prayer) of every single mom that their son has not only a role model, but a male role model. For Mary Hodge that role model was their pastor, Dr. Ashbel Green. The description below conveys the lifelong impact made on her sons.
“Mrs. Hodge did not labor alone in the task of nurturing her children in the Presbyterian faith. The family benefitted from the support of the local church, the same Second Presbyterian Church that Hannah Hodge had joined a century earlier. Their pastor, Dr. Ashbel Green, was known as an Old School Presbyterian and took seriously his calling to train children in the Christian faith. Not only did he catechize Hodge and his brother, but as president of Princeton he also taught Charles the Bible when he matriculated at Princeton and preached frequently in seminary chapel.”

It is interesting that Hodge’s biographer only describes the spiritual influence of Dr. Green, but is entirely silent regarding any effort towards gender development. I began to wonder, “Did Dr. Green help him become a man”? Did he teach Charles to throw a ball or ride a bike (though I don’t think bikes existed at that time)? Did he sit down with him and explain the “birds and the bees”? Did he explain the complexities of the opposite sex or even the journey through puberty? If he did, Charles never said anything about it.

It is clear that much of Charles’ gender development came through the lens of the local church. Through the years, Charles undoubtedly observed godly men who showed him how to be humble, respectful, bold, patient, strong and sacrificial.

It should also be noted that part of the reason the local church embraced Mary Hodge and her two boys is their covenantal understanding of infant baptism. During the 1800’s, most Presbyterians believed that baptizing an infant placed the child in the New Covenant community, similar to the sign of circumcision that placed a Israelite child under the divine blessing of the Old Covenant, which God made with the nation of Israel. Later on, Charles himself defended the importance of this doctrine:
“To refuse to baptize one’s child, like refusing to circumcise one’s child in the Old Testament, put the child’s salvation in jeopardy. Including children with the covenant people did not remove their responsibility to affirm their faith upon reaching adulthood. Just as a Jewish child had to come to the point of submitting  to God’s covenant, so baptized children when they came to a ‘suitable age, and have the requisite knowledge…should be required to assume for themselves their baptismal vows, and should, as other church members, be disciplined for any neglect or violation of their covenanted obligations’”.

To be clear, the above position of infant baptism is NOT the same of baptismal regeneration (i.e. the doctrine that baptism regenerates a soul).

What are the practical benefits of this doctrine? Well, for the Hodge’s, this meant the local church helped raise her boys. It meant that each member of Second Presbyterian Church was a father, a mother, a sister and a brother to the Hodge brothers. It meant that each family viewed their responsibility to not just live consistent before God, but also to live as an example before impressionable, watchful eyes.

On a personal note, I don’t agree with the covenantal view of infant baptism or infant baptism in general. In my opinion, there is NO biblical evidence to support baptizing an infant. The New Testament clearly teaches that baptism is an external response of obedience by those who have repented of their sins and have trusted in Jesus Christ and Him alone (Rom. 6:3-5).

Yet I must admit I am sympathetic to this unique aspect of Covenant theology. If I was a pragmatist, I would attend a church that practices this doctrine; because I believe this understanding of infant baptism (though theologically unjustified) pushes the local church to act more like a spiritual family.

Look at the verses below:

Titus 2:1-5 But as for you, teach what accords with sound1 doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

I guess what I am trying to say is......This doctrine often brings proper focus SO THAT THE VERSES ABOVE WILL BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY BY THE MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST!

So what is the answer….covenant theology? No! The answer is a proper understanding of the local church and a renewed desire of commitment, both to God and to each other.

Also, I believe local churches need more baby dedications. Please understand this is NOT to be understood as a quick fix or even a top priority by churches with an unbiblical or imbalanced ecclesiology. It is always necessary to begin with the pillars of a healthy church: 1) expositional preaching, 2) biblically-qualified leadership, 3) God-exalting corporate worship and 4) gospel-centered ministries. But within the lens of a healthy local church, baby dedications help remind the members of their responsibility to each other and often serves as a corrective for unholy living and the sin of non-commitment (Heb. 10:24-25).

I know someone might ask, “Is a baby dedication biblical? I would say that though there is no command that requires it, yet some traditions are profitable (if kept in their proper place) and can be used as instruments (i.e. small group ministries) to remind us of our biblical responsibility to each other. 

Therefore, baby dedications can be used to shepherd, not only the parents of that child, but also the church family as well. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Charles Hodge—A man whose mother made “all the difference”.

Charles Hodge never knew his father. After entering this world for a brief six months, Hodge’s father finished his earthly journey.

Who was Charles’ father? Dr. Hugh Hodge was a surgeon, a patriot and a war hero. Hodges’ biographer explains,

“A graduate of the College of New Jersey in 1773, Hugh trained in medicine and served as a surgeon with the Pennsylvania troops in the Revolutionary War. British forces captured him and held him prisoner in November 1776, but he obtained release after several months through the efforts of George Washington.”

Details of his death are unknown, but what is known that Charles’ three older siblings also died, which only left him and his older brother, Hugh.

Fortunately for these boys, God had ordained Mary Hodge to be their mother. She was a strong, driven and hardworking woman. Hodge’s biographer writes:

“(Though she received some money from her husband’s estate)…to supplement her income further, Mrs. Hodge took in boarders, young relatives of the family or close associates who were preparing for admission to the college (Princeton). These measures, combined with a strict economic regime enabled her to put both sons through college and professional school (Hugh—medical school; Charles—theological studies). Echoing a sentiment of many a 19th century Protestant, Hodge summarizes his debt to his mother ‘beyond all estimate’. He wrote, ‘To our mother, my brother and myself, under God owe absolutely everything. To us she devoted her life. For us she prayed, labored and suffered.”

Many 21st century women would quietly mock the life of Mary Hodge. As they sit around the “water cooler”, living the life of a working mom, purposefully allowing a child care worker to raise her kids. They would confidently assert that a fulfilled life must be a dualistic existence, rather than functioning in a “domestic prison”.

Please understand that my comments are not to be taken generally. I acknowledge that economics sometimes require both parents to work. Obviously, single moms must take care of the home and provide financially for their family. The only Divine requirement is for parents to obey Him and embrace the roles He has ordained for the well-being of the family.

Still, women today seem to demean the importance of simply raising children. Being singly-devoted to young children is often seen as drudgery, rather than a blessing or a vital stewardship. What drives this mindset?

First, the pervasive biblical illiteracy of this generation. If a mom is not Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-filled, bathing herself in the oracles of God, then the wisdom of this world wins every time. Am I saying the remedy is the simple memorization of Titus 2:4-5?

Titus 2:4-5 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Certainly memorizing scripture is helpful, but it is not the complete answer. Many individuals have scripture ingrained in the memory, but these truths never stir the affections of the heart. Rather, consistent time with God, through the means of prayer-driven study of scripture, will lead a godly mom to a renewed mind (Rom. 12:2; Tit. 3:5).

Second, the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s. It is here that women began to actively embrace a philosophy and a movement. Is this movement new or original to human history? No, of course not. This is simply a contemporary version of the battle of the sexes that began in the Garden of Eden.

Yet how harmful is this thinking? Well, here are the facts: 1) this philosophy is anti-God and 2) its purpose is to challenge and distort the original intent of gender. Furthermore, if gender distinctions are irrelevant, than naturally, gender roles are irrelevant as well.

What does this ultimately lead to? Women who are worldly, selfish, distorted and deceived. They have been taught that motherhood is demeaning and the privilege of maternal influence is not as rewarding as a personal influence in the corporate world.

So we must ask this question: What if Mary Hodge would have neglected her God-ordained responsibility to nurture her children, both intellectually and spiritually? Obviously, the result would be that the annals of church history would have never known the name Charles Hodge.

This brings me to my final thought (or thoughts).

Which life do you think God was more pleased with? The life of Mary Hodge or the life of Charles Hodge? From a human perspective, the clear answer would be Charles Hodge. Charles accomplished much for the kingdom of God. He trained hundreds of pastor / scholars throughout his tenure at Princeton. He wrote hundreds of theological treatises that impacted not only Christianity in America, but Christian thinkers around the world.

What did Mary Hodge do? She raised two sons. Her sacrifice and submission to God’s ordained role produced children that save lives, both physically (Hugh) and spiritually (Charles).

The beautiful truth is that God was supremely pleased by both lives.

Is He pleased by yours? 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Who is Charles Hodge?

Charles Hodge was born December 28, 1797 in Philadelphia, the last of five children born to Hugh and Mary Hodge. Both parents were of distinguished families; his mother was of Huguenot descent. His father, who descended from Irish roots, died six months after Charles was born, leaving his mother to raise him and his brother (only the two of them survived infancy) on limited means.

Speaking of his forebears in America, Charles Hodge wrote in his journal, “I wish...that those who come after me should know that their ancestors and kindred were Presbyterians and patriots.”

Of his childhood he wrote,

“To our mother, my brother and myself, under God, owe absolutely everything...Our mother was a Christian. She took us regularly to church, and carefully drilled us in the Westminster Catechism, which we recited on stated occasions to Dr. Ashbel Green, our pastor.”
At the age of fourteen years he entered the sophomore class of the College of New Jersey. It was here that he met John Johns, a lifelong friend of whom more will be said under “Friendships”. Revival came to the college in the winter of 1814-15 and the result was that Charles made a public profession of faith by joining the Presbyterian Church of Princeton on January 13, 1815.

In 1816 he entered Princeton Theological Seminary, then in the fourth year of its existence, and graduated in 1819. In May of that year the young Hodge was asked by Archibald Alexander, president of the seminary, “How would you like to be a professor in the seminary (He was only twenty-two years of age)? Acting according to a plan proposed by Alexander, Hodge went home to Philadelphia to study Hebrew. In October of that year he was licensed to preach the gospel and entered upon “missionary” work in the Philadelphia area. Written in his journal from that period of his life are these words, “May I be taught of God that I may be able to teach others also.”

Hodge was appointed in May, 1820 to serve as a teacher at the seminary. In September of 1821 he was ordained to the ministry and in May of the following year he was elected as Professor of Oriental and Biblical Literature of the Seminary. His pay was $1,000 per year.

On June 17, 1822 Hodge married Miss Sarah Bache, who was the great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin. At their marriage Charles was described as slender, of average height, very youthful-looking, with light brown hair, curling over a finely formed head, a light complexion...illumined by the light of blue eyes. In other hand, Sarah was “of full standard height for women, of symmetrical form, dark auburn hair, large bluegrey eyes...”

In the Life of Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge wrote that in 1826, "....the sense of his (C. Hodge) own deficiencies became more intense.” Application was made to the Board of Directors of the seminary to study for two years in Europe. Leaving his family (his wife and two children) with his mother, he sailed from New York in October, 1826. He studied in Paris until February of the following year and then went to Halle, Germany, where he was introduced to Wilhelm Gesenius. Here also he made the acquaintance of Friedrich Augustus Tholuck, with whom he “formed a personal friendship, which on both sides remained unabated to the end of their long lives.”

From Halle he made his way through Germany, meeting Augustus Neander in Dresden and finally arriving at Berlin, October 12, 1827. There, among others, he met Ernst Hengstenberg and Friedrich Schleiermacher. His journal from his stay in Berlin contains this note,

Upon his return from Europe, he resumed his writing for the Biblical Repertory (later to become the Princeton Review) which he had established in 1825 before going to Europe. Hodge would continue to be the editor of the Repertory from the date of its initiation and for the next 43 years.

In 1840, in view of the advancing age of Dr. Alexander, Hodge was transferred from the chair of Oriental and Biblical Literature to the chair of Exegetical and Didactic Theology. Upon the death of Dr. Alexander in 1851, Polemic Theology was added to Hodge’s title. His son said, “This change... was not only not sought by him, but was regarded at first with decided aversion.” The change of chairs, according to A.A. Hodge, “was one of the capital and most advantageous turning points in Dr. Hodge’s life.”

Charles and Sarah had eight children; two born before he left for Europe, and six after his return. But then, on Christmas Day, 1849 Sarah, his wife of twenty-seven and one half years died in the fifty-first year of her life. After her death, Hodge would write to his brother, “No human being can tell, prior to the experience, what it is to lose out of a family its head and heart, the source at once of its light and love.”

In 1852 he was married a second time to a widow, Mrs. Mary Hunter Stockton. In a letter to his friend Bishop Johns he wrote,

“I have known her by sight since she was fifteen years old. For the last six or seven years she was a sister to Sarah, and therefore to me. She was familiarly known and greatly loved by all my children, who were almost as much at home in her house as in my own. She has come into my family as an old friend, every heart already her own, and we all feel her presence as a token and assurance of God’s favor.”
A semi-centennial celebration was observed at the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton on April 24, 1872 for the fiftieth year of his professorship at the seminary. On that occasion $45,000 was contributed for a permanent endowment of the chair which Hodge had filled and, in addition, a gift of over fifteen thousand dollars was given to Hodge himself.

Dr. Henry Boardman addressed him in behalf of those gathered for the occasion, which included, among others, four hundred of his former students. Boardman told Dr. Hodge, “in reviewing this half century of your labors, we reverently glorify God in you.” Speaking of the type of theology taught in the seminary, Boardman remarked, a censorious critic said the other day, derisively in reviewing the volumes of Theology, lately published, ‘It is enough for Dr. Hodge to believe a thing to be true that he finds it in the Bible.’ We accept the token. Dr.Hodge has never gotten beyond the Bible. It contains every jot and title of his theology.

Now we come to the close of his life. After attending the funeral of a friend on May 16, 1878, Hodge began to weaken. During those final days, seeing his widowed daughter weeping while she watched him, he stretched his hand toward her and said, ‘Why should you grieve, daughter? To be absent from the body is to be with the Lord, to be with the Lord'.

Even in his last hours when freedom from pain and from torpor was gained for a little, he was alert and inquisitive with his usual interest in events around him, and events of the day.

Hodge died on June 19, 1878. His funeral was held on Saturday, June 22. Dr. William Paxton preached the sermon. All the stores in the town were closed and all business suspended in token of respect.

**This biography was taken and revised from Robert W. Anderson’s A Short Biography of Charles Hodge.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Robert Murray McCheyne—A man whose memoirs reveal a heart for Christ

Out of all of McCheyne’s entries, these impacted me the most.

Nov. 12—“Reading H. Martyn’s Memoirs. Would I imitate him, giving up father, mother, country, house, health, life, all—for Christ. And yet, what hinders/ Lord, purify me and give me strength to dedicate myself, my all to Thee!”
It seems a common trend among the “giants” to drink of the springs of those “who have walked before them”. The reason is obvious: Encouragement to finish the race. Encouragement to finish the right way.

Dec. 18—“My heart must break off from all these things. What right have I to steal and abuse my Master’s time? Redeem it. He is crying to me.”
Nothing grieves my heart more than “wasted time”. Conversely, nothing strengthens the Christian more than the joy of a clear conscience (Acts 23:1).

Aug. 18—“Heard of the death of James Somerville by fever, induced by cholera. O God, Thy ways and thoughts are not as ours! I saw him last on Friday, 27th of July, at the College gate; shook hands, and little thought I was to see him no more on earth.”

Somber reminder to preach and speak “as a dying man to dying men” (Richard Baxter). Our days are numbered (Psa. 139:16). So live like today is your last!

Dec. 11—“Mind quite unfitted for devotion. Prayerless prayer.”
How many times this is a description of my devotional life! The frailties of man distract us from sweet communion with God. How often the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).

Dec. 31—“God has in this past year introduced me to the preparation of the ministry—I bless Him for that. He has helped me to give up much of my shame to name His name, and be on His side, especially before particular friends,--I bless Him for that. He has taken away friends that might have been a snare, must have been a stumbling block,--I bless Him for that. He has introduced me to one Christian friend, and sealed more and more my amity with another,--I bless Him for that.”
As I get older, the blessing of true friendships is progressively sweeter. As I grow closer to God, the more I desire friends who tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. Furthermore, the spiritual indifference of certain friends limits my time with them. They claim Christ, but do not walk with Him. My rebuke is disregarded because they quickly show their receipt of spiritual fire insurance, in the form of a confession or a “sinner’s prayer”. They are deceived and need to come “face to face” with the God who is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).

Feb.16—“Walk to Corstorphine Hill. Exquisite clear view,--blue water, and brown fields, and green firs. Many thoughts on the follies of my youth. How man, O Lord, may they be? Summed up in one—ungodliness!”

The lost joy of “taking a walk”. There is something to be said about being in God’s creation, reflecting and meditating on His power, beauty and glory (Psa. 19:1)

Aug. 13—“Clear conviction of sin is the only true origin of dependence on another’s righteousness, and therefore (strange to say!) of the Christian’s peace of mind and cheerfulness.”
My father-in-law highlighted this entry. He is now with McCheyne in Heaven. Two men who had a consistent conviction of sin and who trusted completely in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to save them from their sins.

Nov. 9—“Heard of Edward Irving’s death. I look back upon him with awe, as on the saints and martyrs of old. A holy man in spite of all his delusions and errors. He is now with his God and Saviour, whom he wronged so much, yet, I am persuaded, loved so sincerely. How should we lean for wisdom, not on ourselves, but on the God of all grace!

May 21—“Preparation for the Sabbath. My Birthday. I have lived twenty three years. Blessed be my Rock. Though I am a child in knowledge of my Bible and of Thee, yet use me for what a child can do, or a child can suffer. How few sufferings I have had in the year that is past, except in my own body. Give me strength for a suffering and for a dying hour!”
McCheyne wrote this at 23. Was he is unusually morbid? No, he was unusually single-minded.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Robert Murray McCheyne—A man of “unusual” holiness

The Bible is clear that a Christian is to “be holy, because I AM holy” (I Peter 1:16). Robert Murray McCheyne not only obeyed this command, but lived before God and others with an “unusual” holiness.

A brief account of McCheyne reveals his impact on others:
“A cynic was once asserting to a follower of Jesus the hypocrisy of Christians, but when he asked if she had ever met a genuine ‘man of God’ she replied, “Yes, I saw one, a minister in this hotel, who was a man of God. His very look did me good.
After reading this story, I asked myself a few questions. “How does a look convey such holiness?” “Was McCheyne’s holy behavior unique or is it available to every Christian?” and finally “How did McCheyne become this holy?

His biographer explains:
“He was never satisfied with his own attainments in holiness; he was ever ready to learn, and quick to apply, any suggestion that might tend to his greater usefulness. About this period he used to sing a psalm or hymn every day after dinner. It was often, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” or “Oh, may we stand before the Lamb!”.
Huh. Well….maybe this is too simplistic, but here is why I believe McCheyne was uniquely holy:

McCheyne hated sin. So does God.

Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

McCheyne loved the truth. So does God.

Psalm 51:6 Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being, and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

McCheyne acted for the glory of God. So does God.

Ezekiel 20:14 But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.

McCheyne loved the church. So does God.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

McCheyne believed in discipline. So does God.

Hebrews 12:10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

The bottom line is Robert Murray McCheyne was holy because he feared God. Do you?

2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Robert Murray McCheyne—A man who loved and wrote poetry

As I get older, my tastes are becoming more refined. I prefer clothes of good quality and clothes that fit well. Though I drink all types of coffee, I am becoming more of a “snob” about it as the years roll on. Even poetry (which in the past seemed about as fun as “watching paint dry”) now has an inherent beauty that I never noticed before.

Robert Murray McCheyne was a literary and poetic genius. His biographer paints a promising picture of the young poet:
“He might have risen to high eminence in the circles of taste and literature, but denied himself all such hopes, that he might win souls. With such peculiar talents as he possessed, his ministry might have, in any circumstances, attracted many; but these attractions were all made subsidiary to the single desire of awakening the dead in trespasses and sins.”
The poem below is actually a hymn. In my opinion, it is McCheyne’s greatest hymn. As you read, please meditate on the obvious theme of “The Righteousness of God”.  

Jehovah Tsidkenu

“The Lord our Righteousness”

I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.

I oft read with pleasure, to soothe or engage,
Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page:
But even when they pictured the blood-sprinkled tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me.

Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu—‘twas nothing to me.

When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die:
No refuge, no safety in self could I see—
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Savior must be.

My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free—
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.

Jehovah Tsidkenu! My treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I never can be lost;
In thee I shall conquer by flood and by field—
My cable, my anchor, my breastplate and shield!

Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This “watchword” shall rally my faltering breath;
For while from life’s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu my death-song shall be.

It moves me every time I read it. Yet I wonder is it beautiful because of the words itself? Does its beauty lie within the flow and arrangement? Or is it the theme of righteousness that moves my heart?

I believe it is all of the above. May it move you closer to the transcendent God. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Robert Murray McCheyne—A man whose church had a revival (while he was gone).

This is one of my favorite stories about Robert Murray McCheyne. 

He left to go to Israel to evangelize the Jews and renew his own heart; walking where Jesus walked, taught, bled and rose again. While he was there, God accomplished a mighty work in his home church. 

Here is the account: 

“Mr. Burns returned to Mr. McCheyne’s flock on August 8th (McCheyne was deathly sick in Israel, praying for his people under all his own suffering). Two days later, the Spirit began to work in St. Peter’s (McCheyne’s church), at the time of the prayer-meeting in the Church. Day after day the people met for prayer and hearing the word; and the times of the apostles seemed returned, when “the Lord added to the Church daily of such as should be saved.”
One night Mr. Burns spoke a few words about what had for some days detained him from them, and invited those to remain who felt the need of an outpouring of the Spirit to convert them. About a hundred remained; and at the conclusion of a solemn address to these anxious souls, suddenly the power of God seemed to descend, and all were bathed in tears.
Such in substance were the accounts he heard before he (McCheyne) reached Dundee (his home). They were such as made his heart rejoice. He had no envy at another instrument having been so honored in the place where he himself had labored with many tears and temptations. In true Christian magnanimity, he rejoiced that the work of the Lord was done by whatever hand.” 
Here are some reflections I have:

First, the Spirit blows when He wants and on whom He wants.

Revival is a fascinating phenomenon to me. I have studied the two Great Awakenings in 18th and 19th century and for all of its extremes; it seems to clearly have been the “hand of God”. Jonathan Edwards wrote about it and defended its legitimacy. And surprisingly, many of the revivals came through the words of men who were more Calvinistic in their understanding of salvation (i.e. Whitefield, Spurgeon, Harris, Edwards, etc.), rather than those who embraced the Arminian scheme of salvation.

Furthermore, I have concluded that a revival is “of the Lord”. This is undoubtedly self-evident, but many have tried to manufacture or convince the Spirit to show up by human means (i.e. the ministry of Charles Finney) and yet time (and genuine fruit) reveals the error of their ways.

But I ask that none of the readers conclude that the wind of the Spirit is arbitrary or random in His moving. He choose Mr. Burns for a reason and NOT Mr. McCheyne for another reason. Still, the most basic and beautiful truth is that “salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Prayer and proclamation are the only responsibilities given to man.

Second, God doesn’t need us.

No really…….He doesn’t. God didn’t need us in eternity past. The beauty and love perfectly revealed in the Godhead was not lacking or bored. Yet He chose to create us and He chose to give His elect a stewardship, which is the Gospel.

McCheyne was sick in bed, praying for his congregation and God chose to bring dead bones to life (Ezek. 37:1-14). Did McCheyne pray for a revival in his church in his absence? Maybe. But I doubt it. Nevertheless, God stirred the heart of His people and many came to salvation.

This great servant was taught a necessary lesson….God doesn’t need me. His ways are higher than my ways (Isa. 55:9). His decrees and divine plan will come to pass (Job 42:2).

How wonderful is this truth! Yet this truth is only acceptable to those who are humble in heart. Why? Because you have to grapple with this reality: I am not near as important as I think I am. McCheyne labored years at St. Peter only to have the validation of his ministry (from a human perspective) given to another co-laborer. For those new converts, Mr. Burns, not Mr. McCheyne, was their spiritual father in the Faith.

Was he bitter towards God or envious of Mr. Burns? Apparently not. Look at McCheyne’s words as he returned from Israel:
“Everything here I have found in a state better than I expected. The night I arrived I preached to such a congregation as I never saw before. I do not think another person could have got into the church, and there was every sign of the deepest and tenderest emotion.”
He goes on to conclude:
“I have no desire but the salvation of my people, by whatever instrument.” 
Wow. No envy. No jealous. All the sanctifying work of the Spirit (Phil. 2:12-13). 

Third, there may be more revivals if there was more prayer.

There are many tensions is the Christian life. One of these is that God answers prayer, but we are commanded to pray according to His will (I John 5:14). Therefore, it makes sense that the more we pray according to His will, the more He will answer it.

I believe that American Christianity considers “prayer meetings” to be outdated. For many, these were gatherings primarily seen in fundamentalism or the Puritan movement. Even at my church, there is no weekly prayer meeting. This is not to say people or leaders aren’t praying…..I know they are. But is it the fabric of the local church anymore? I am not sure it is. D.L. Moody’s ministry exploded through the “noon time prayer” hour. Charles Spurgeon’s legendary “boiler room” was the fuel that pleaded with God to save the souls of men EVERY SUNDAY.

Can there be a third awakening in the 21st century? Absolutely. May this be the generation where the Spirit blows with the force of a hurricane. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Robert Murray McCheyne—A man who was respectful and gracious with those whom he violently disagreed with

The first time I read The Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne this brief entry affected me greatly.
Nov. 9—Heard of Edward Irving’s death. I look back upon him with awe, as on the saints and martyrs of old. A holy man in spite of all his delusions and errors. He is now with his God and Saviour, whom he wronged so much, yet, I am persuaded, loved so sincerely. How should we lean for wisdom, not on ourselves, but on the God of all grace!
I am sure many of you are thinking, “Who is Edward Irving (1792-1834)?” Well, much controversy comes with this man.

First, he is known by some as the “father of the modern tongues movement”. He held to the subsequent filling of the Holy Spirit (i.e. second blessing after conversion). It is important to note that Irving himself never spoke in tongues. 

Second, his focus (some would say obsession) was prophecy. Specifically, Irving held to pre-millennialism and to the pre-tribulational view of the rapture. His position on eschatology is not a concern (I also hold to this position), but his focus was imbalanced and led to dating some end-times events. You always get in trouble when you forget Jesus’ explicit command: 

Matthew 24:36 "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Third, his strong Pentecostal views led him to believe in new or continual revelation for the church today. Obviously, this undermines the sufficiency and authority of God’s word, if there are still “prophets and apostles” today.

Fourth, his views about miracles and healings, parallel the modern-day “word of faith” movement. In other words, if you aren’t healed… lack the right amount of faith. (Important note: Irving himself consulted a doctor when his children came close to death. Three of his children died, likely because he waited too long in receiving medical attention). 


Fifth, his Christology was unbiblical. He believed that Jesus had a sin nature. This is otherwise known as the doctrine of peccability (Though Irving himself believed that Jesus didn’t sin). It was this last controversy that got Irving kicked out of the Presbyterian Church.

Now…knowing all of this, does the words of McCheyne surprise you? It is okay if they do. It bothered me also.

Here are a few things that makes me appreciate McCheyne's assessment of Edward Irving:

First, every Christian needs wisdom from God to understand and not slip into error.

Apparently, Irving in 1822 was at the height of his popularity and had not yet embraced his Pentecostal convictions. He was biblical and gifted in the area of preaching. But unfortunately, he was influenced by those in the Pentecostal movement and was led astray from the truth and subsequently, led many others astray.

The story of Edward Irving is sad in many ways, but it reminds us how much we need the Divine Helper (John 16:7; 1 Cor. 2:12-13). Yet I believe strongly if we are patient, humble, Spirit-led and prayer-driven, God promises to illuminate our hearts so we can come to a proper understanding of the truths of the scriptures.

Can we trust other preachers and bible teachers? I believe we can. God promises to raise up certain men in the church to be teachers and has given us qualifications to guide us, clearly stating what these men are supposed to already be (I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9). Through practical wisdom, prayer, discernment and the clear affirmation of others, I believe churches can identify godly under-shepherds; men who love the word of God and desire themselves to follow and serve the Chief Shepherd (I Peter 5:4).

Second, the individual’s destiny ultimately rests on the righteousness of Christ. 

History doesn’t tell us how much McCheyne knew about Irving. We know they were both Presbyterians and it seems reasonable to think that McCheyne dealt directly or indirectly with the disciples of Irving. The main issue is that McCheyne left Irving’s eternal state up to God. It is Him who will judge the hearts of men on that day (Dan. 12:2; John 5:29). 

But can’t we judge the fruits of another man’s tree? To some degree we can (Matt. 7:20). It seems to me that McCheyne viewed Irving as being deceived and taken in by these “modern-day prophets” and “miracle workers”. I infer this from his statement, “whom he wronged so much (i.e. Jesus Christ), yet, I am persuaded, loved so sincerely”. For McCheyne, the fruits of Irving’s life seems questionable, but ultimately he believed he loved the Savior, trusted Him as his “substitute”, and therefore, he would see him in Heaven.

What do we do with the Edward Irvings’ of this generation? I think McCheyne reminds us to be humble; acknowledging our knowledge of the heart is limited. The scriptures are clear regarding this issue:

1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Leaving their eternal destiny to God is not only sensible, but encourages us to “do our part”. What is our “part”? To diligently be “making disciples of all men”. We must ground these new believers in the Truth. Teaching them good bible study habits and encouraging them to “walk in the Spirit”, so that through His illumination they may know and understand the wonder of the Invisible God (I Tim. 1:17).

Finally, we should pray for the “Edward Irvings” of this generation. Is Harold Camping a Christian? I don’t know….he has wronged the Lord much during his ministry. Is Joel Osteen a Christian? I don’t know…..his smooth words and watered down gospel is suspect to me.

But I know that God knows. He simply calls me to be humble, to preach the gospel, defend the truth, protect the flock and leaving the judgments of eternity to Him who is Just.