Ron Frost – A Stirring Love

Frost webRon Frost is my friend and colleague as a mentor in Cor Deo.  He also serves as a Pastoral Care Consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International.  I first met Ron when he was teaching Historical Theology at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.  Be sure to check out his blog SpreadingGoodness.org (as well as his posts on Cor Deo’s blog too).  Ron loves how some Puritans, especially Richard Sibbes, point his heart toward Christ.  So in this entry in the Incarnation Guest Series, Ron takes us to Sibbes with the hope that our hearts will be stirred too:

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Richard Sibbes, a 17th century Puritan preacher, invited his listeners to consider both the motivation of Christ’s incarnation and its implications for believers.

“He was born for us; his birth was for us; he became man for us; he was given to death for us.  And so likewise, he is ours in his other estate of exaltation.  His rising is for our good.  He will cause us to rise also, and ascend with him, and sit in heavenly places, judging the world and the angels.” [Works, 2.178]

Sibbes made the point in a sermon series on the Bible’s Song of Songs—with the figures in the book seen to be Christ and the Church.  The allegorical reading was strong on mutual marital love, something the unabashed Sibbes wanted to his audience to feel: “Affections have eloquence of their own beyond words.”

Sibbes, it should be said, also drew his marital imagery from other Bible content beyond the Song. He held the Bible to be divided by its testaments, with the Old Testament as a limited starting point that looks ahead to the marital fulfillment of the New Testament.  The latter spoke of Christ as the bridegroom coming for his bridal Church.

“In the new covenant God works both parts: his own and our parts too.  Our love to him, our fear of him, our faith in him—he works all, even as he shows his own love to us.  If God loves us thus, what must we do?  Meditate upon his love.  Let our hearts be warmed with the consideration of it.  Let us bring them to that fire of his love . . .” [2.174]

Many readers today will find Sibbes’ marital familiarity to be over the top.   But does he have a point?  Do more juridical and disaffected readings of the incarnation actually blind us to God’s motivation?  This motivation, Sibbes held, is birthed out of God’s mutual Triune love.  In marital love—leaving aside physical intimacy—God gives humanity a glimpse of the mutual devotion and delight of his own eternal bond.

With that caveat in mind let’s return to the lesson Sibbes takes from the incarnation.  God sent the Son to stir our response.  And this response explains every other feature of genuine spirituality: “our parts” of faith.

Sibbes makes the point.  We love God because he first loved us in Christ and we now get to anticipate growing in that love forevermore.

Wilberforce on Apathy

Yesterday I quoted from Peter Sanlon’s article in Anvil, focusing on Jonathan Edwards.  After looking at Augustine, Richard Sibbes and Edwards, Sanlon finally turns to William Wilberforce.  I have to admit this wouldn’t have been the next figure in church history I would have expected in this tracing of engaging the emotions in ministry.  Nevertheless, it is very helpful indeed.

He notes Wilberforce’s book title, “A Practical View of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians in the higher and middle classes in this country contrasted with real Christianity.”  Let me quote from the article, including a quotation from Wilberforce.

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“Wilberforce saw that the main reason for his difficulty in abolishing slavery lay in the apathy of people to others’ suffering.  He perceived that the only solution lay in genuine Christianity which engaged the emotions in their God-designed role of making a person feel as he or she ought to feel.  Only if approached in this way could people be moved to action.

“Wilberforce’s critique of unemotional and apathetic Christianity remains penetrating.  He noted that a ‘hot zeal for orthodoxy’ was not the same thing as genuine internalised acceptance of the gospel.  He warned that what people paraded externally as ‘charity’ could often be ‘nothing other than indifference.’ Wilberforce suggested that in the case of many who had been ‘converted’:

Their hearts are no more than before supremely set on the great work of their salvation, but are chiefly bent upon increasing their fortunes, or raising their families.  Meanwhile they content themselves on having amended from vices, which they are no longer strongly tempted to commit.

“In all of this searching critique, Wilberforce laid the majority of the blame at the door of ministers who failed to engage with people at the level of their emotions, claiming that most Christian preaching spoke of ‘general Christianity’ rather than bringing to the surface ‘the workings of the heart.’

. . . “Much of the preaching which Wilberforce heard and rejected as less than full-orbed evangelical proclamation could be summed up in the phrase, ‘accurate, but apathetic.'”

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I suspect that Sanlon’s comments, built on Wilberforce’s significant ministry (not as a minister of the gospel, but as a politician), might be highly relevant to us today.  How much do we see a zealous orthodoxy shot through with a reprehensible apathy today?  Let’s examine our own hearts on this, and then preach to the hearts of others.

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From Peter Sanlon’s article, “Bringing Emotions to the Surface in Ministry,” in Anvil, vol.26, nos. 3&4, 2009, p239-240.

At Least A Minor Study in History?

As those who preach, we have a whole raft of subject areas worthy of our study.  Central, in my estimation, is the ongoing engaged and dynamic personal study of Scripture.  We also must be studying the people to whom they preach, what they struggle with, their life experiences, how they think, etc.  Then there are numerous other areas of study, some of which might motivate you to buy books and read, others of which might only serve to cure insomnia.  But what about the subject of the history of preaching?

I know some reading this are avid readers of biography, church history and even preaching history.  I am also sure that some are definitely not.  Here’s a brief quote on the subject from David Larsen, writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society:

The history of preaching can encourage our hearts (as in the providential appearance of significant Biblical preaching in the most unlikely places and at the most unexpected times) as well as warn us about the perils and pitfalls which surround the practitioner of the craft at all times. Our times call for the wise and judicious balance which attention to history provides.

So for those less inclined to the history of preaching, where to start?  There are several (often multi-volume) series of books that address the subject directly.  Yet in many cases they, like most historical writing, tend to focus in one area, but remain blind to another.  Perhaps the best place to start is with biography of a preacher you find intriguing or encouraging – a Spurgeon, Sibbes, Luther or Edwards.  Perhaps it would be worth getting David Larsen’s A Company of Preachers and starting there.

One thing seems clear though, to ignore the past would be naive and might condemn us to repeating errors unnecessarily, or perhaps to leave our hearts weakened by missing the blessing offered by some of these great preachers.

(Here is an accessible starting point – take a look at this introductory article to Richard Sibbes that was just posted over on theologynetwork.org – click here)