“God is not a quantity that can be mastered” by David Wells

“There are few lines quite so poignantly applicable to the theologian’s craft as those of the medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote of ‘The life so short, the craft so long to learn. The attempt so hard, the victory so keen.’

It is, in fact, surprising that the thought should ever cross our minds that the theological undertaking could be otherwise, for understanding– understanding of God, of ourselves, of the world– comes so slowly, so painfully slowly, that ‘life’s’ summer passes and the winter arrives long before this fruit is ripe to be picked.

Or so it seems. And that, perhaps, is why we are so fiercely tempted to turn theology into a technique that we can use to produce a more efficiently gained and bountiful knowledge of God!

God, however, is not like the periodic table.

He is not a quantity that can be ‘mastered’ even though He can be known; and though He has revealed Himself with clarity, the depth of our understanding of Him is measured, not by the speed with which theological knowledge is processed, but by the quality of our determination to own His ownership of us through Christ in thought, word, and deed.

Theology is the sustained effort to know the character, will, and acts of the triune God as He has disclosed and interpreted these for His people in Scripture, to formulate these in a systematic way in order that we might know Him, learn to think our thoughts after Him, live our lives in His world on His terms, and by thought and action projection His truth into our own time and culture.

It is therefore a synthetic activity whose center is the understanding of God, whose horizon is as wide as life itself, and whose mission echoes the mission of God Himself, which is to gather together in Christ a progeny as numerous as the stars above (Gen. 15:1-6; Gal. 3:6-16).”

–David F. Wells, “The Theologian’s Craft” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, John Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey, Eds. (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 1994), 171, 172.

“We are not to be always going about the world searching out heresies like terrier dogs sniffing for rats” by Charles Spurgeon

“We should avoid everything like the ferocity of bigotry.

There are religious people about, who, I have no doubt, were born of a woman, but appear to have been suckled by a wolf.

I have done them no dishonour: were not Romulus and Remus, the founders of the city of Rome, so fed?

Some warlike men of this order have had power to found dynasties of thought; but human kindness and brotherly love consort better with the kingdom of Christ.

We are not to be always going about the world searching out heresies, like terrier dogs sniffing for rats, and to be always so confident of one’s own infallibility, that we erect ecclesiastical stakes at which to roast all who differ from us.

And, dear brethren, we must acquire certain moral faculties and habits, as well as put aside their opposites. He will never do much for God who has not integrity of spirit.

If we be guided by policy, if there be any mode of action for us but that which is straightforward, we shall make shipwreck before long.

Resolve, dear brethren, that you can be poor, that you can be despised, that you can lose life itself, but that you cannot do a crooked thing.

For you, let the only policy be honesty.

May you also possess the grand moral characteristic of courage.

By this we do not mean impertinence, impudence, or self-conceit; but real courage to do and say calmly the right thing, and to go straight on at all hazards, though there should be none to give you a good word.

I am astonished at the number of Christians who are afraid to speak the truth to their brethren.

I thank God I can say this, there is no member of my church, no officer of the church, and no man in the world to whom I am afraid to say before his face what I would say behind his back.

Under God I owe my position in my own church to the absence of all policy, and the habit of saying what I mean.

The plan of making things pleasant all round is a perilous as well as a wicked one. If you say one thing to one man, and another to another, they will one day compare notes and find you out, and then you will be despised.

The man of two faces will sooner or later be the object of contempt, and justly so.

Now, above all things, avoid that. If you have anything that you feel you ought to say about a man, let the measure of what you say be this— ‘How much dare I say to his face?’

We must not allow ourselves a word more in censure of any man living.

If that be your rule, your courage will save you from a thousand difficulties, and win you lasting respect.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1874 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 78-79.

“Perhaps a dead cat or two” by Charles Spurgeon

“Brethren, we should cultivate a clear style.

When a man does not make me understand what he means, it is because he does not himself know what he means.

An average hearer, who is unable to follow the course of thought of the preacher, ought not to worry himself, but to blame the preacher, whose business it is to make the matter clear.

If you look down into a well, if it be empty it will appear to be very deep, but if there be water in it you will see its brightness.

I believe that many “deep” preachers are simply so because they are like dry wells with nothing whatever in them, except decaying leaves, a few stones, and perhaps a dead cat or two.

If there be living water in your preaching it may be very deep, but the light of the truth will give clearness to it.

At any rate labour to be plain, so that the truths you teach may be easily received by your hearers.

We must cultivate a cogent as well as a clear style; we must be forceful.

Some imagine that this consists in speaking loudly, but I can assure them they are in error.

Nonsense does not improve by being bellowed.

God does not require us to shout as if we were speaking to three millions when we are only addressing three hundred.

Let us be forcible by reason of the excellence of our matter, and the energy of spirit which we throw into the delivery of it.

In a word, let our speaking be natural and living.

I hope we have forsworn the tricks of professional orators, the strain for effect, the studied climax, the pre-arranged pause, the theatric strut, the mouthing of words, and I know not what besides, which you may see in certain pompous divines who still survive upon the face of the earth.

May such become extinct animals ere long, and may a living, natural, simple way of talking out the gospel be learned by us all; for I am persuaded that such a style is one which God is likely to bless.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1874 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 76.

“Many preachers are not theologians” by Charles Spurgeon

“Study the Bible, dear brethren, through and through, with all helps that you can possibly obtain.

Remember that the appliances now within the reach of ordinary Christians are much more extensive than they were in our father’s days, and therefore you must be greater Biblical scholars if you would keep in front of your hearers.

Intermeddle with all knowledge; but, above all things, meditate day and night in the law of the Lord.

Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it. Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make.

It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders.

Nowadays, we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry, “Eureka! Eureka!” as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but only a piece of broken glass.

Had they been able to compare spiritual things with spiritual, had they understood the analogy of the faith, and had they been acquainted with the holy learning of the great Bible students of past ages, they would not have been quite so fast in vaunting their marvellous knowledge.

Let us be thoroughly well acquainted with the great doctrines of the Word of God, and let us be mighty in expounding the Scriptures.

I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up a church so well, as the expository.

To renounce altogether the hortatory discourse for the expository, would be running to a preposterous extreme; but I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors.

For this purpose, you must understand the Word yourselves, and be able so to comment upon it that the people may be built up by the Word.

Be masters of your Bibles, brethren; whatever other works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles.

‘Let the Word of God dwell in you richly.’ (Colossians 3:16)”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1900/1960), 27-28.

“The emotion we find most frequently attributed to Jesus during the course of his earthly ministry is mercy” by Mark Jones

“The emotion we find most frequently attributed to Jesus during the course of His earthly ministry is mercy.

Christ, anointed with the Spirit, “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Jesus was often “moved with pity” toward others (Mark 1:41; see also Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 20:34).

But Christ extended mercy not simply toward people in their physical or spiritual suffering (e.g., demon possession); he showed pity toward the whole person (Mark 6:34). He sought ways to be merciful.

Very often in the Christian life, we are too reactionary, always having to respond to situations and then not as we should. One way for us to respond better comes through understanding our holy Savior’s mercy to us and pursuing Christian holiness.

These actions will lead us to show mercy to others and to relieve others of their physical and spiritual misery while treating them as whole people.

The Christian who has received mercy seeks to show it. Knowing includes experiencing. Indeed, Christ issues a rather startling command in his Sermon on the Mount concerning the need for us to show mercy: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7).

Thomas Watson quotes the early church father Ambrose as saying, “The sum and definition of religion is, Be rich in works of mercy, be helpful to the bodies and souls of others. Scatter your golden seeds; let the lamp of your profession be filled with the oil of charity. Be merciful in giving and forgiving.”

Here Ambrose understands our duty to the whole person: body and soul. God’s mercy and our mercy are not mere concepts or ideas but actions toward others.

In expressing spiritual mercy, we must show mercy to those who have sinned against us. Like our Father in heaven, we should be more willing to show mercy than the offender was willing to sin against us. Thomas Watson observes,

Thus Stephen the proto-martyr, “He kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). When he prayed for himself he stood—but when he came to pray for his enemies, he kneeled down, to show, says Bernard, his earnestness in prayer and how greatly he desired that God would forgive them. This is a rare kind of mercy. “It is a man’s glory to pass over a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11). Mercy in forgiving injuries, as it is the touchstone, so the crown of Christianity. Cranmer was of a merciful disposition. If any who had wronged him came to ask a favor from him, he would do all that lay in his power for him, insomuch that it grew to a proverb: “Do Cranmer an injury and he will be your friend as long as he lives.” To “overcome evil with good,” and answer malice with mercy is truly heroic, and renders piety glorious in the eyes of all.

In sum, ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful’ (Luke 6:36).”

–Mark Jones, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 154–155.

“It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from His gracious person.

It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him. Nor is it for us.

In some ways the Marrow Controversy resolved itself into a theological version of the parable of the waiting father and his two sons. (Luke 15:11-32)

The antinomian prodigal when awakened was tempted to legalism: ‘I will go and be a slave in my father’s house and thus perhaps gain grace in his eyes.’

But he was bathed in his father’s grace and set free to live as an obedient son.

The legalistic older brother never tasted his father’s grace. Because of his legalism he had never been able to enjoy the privileges of the father’s house.

Between them stood the father offering free grace to both, without prior qualifications in either.

Had the older brother embraced his father, he would have found grace that would make every duty a delight and dissolve the hardness of his servile heart.

Had that been the case, his once antinomian brother would surely have felt free to come out to him as his father had done, and say:

‘Isn’t the grace we have been shown and given simply amazing? Let us forevermore live in obedience to every wish of our gracious father!’

And arm in arm they could have gone in to dance at the party, sons and brothers together, a glorious testimony to the father’s love.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 173-174.

“The encouragement of good theology” by John Webster

“The encouragement of good theology requires that certain interventions be made in order to promote certain practices and achieve certain ends.

Thus, for example, I shall argue that among the most important practices which need to be cultivated – especially at the present time– are textual practices, habits of reading.

There can be few things more necessary for the renewal of Christian theology than the promotion of awed reading of classical Christian texts, scriptural and other, precisely because a good deal of modern Christian thought has adopted habits of mind which have led to disenchantment with the biblical canon and the traditions of paraphrase and commentary by which the culture of Christian faith has often been sustained.

Such practices of reading and interpretation, and the educational and political strategies which surround them, are central to the task of creating the conditions for the nurture of Christian theology.

Fostering the practice of Christian theology will involve the cultivation of persons with specific habits of mind and soul. It will involve “culture” in the sense of formation.

To put the matter in its simplest and yet most challenging form; being a Christian theologian/ involves the struggle to become a certain kind of person, one shaped by the culture of Christian faith.

But once again, this is not some sort of unproblematic, passive socialization into a world of already achieved meanings and roles. It is above all a matter of interrogation by the gospel, out of which the theologian seeks to make his or her own certain dispositions and habits, filling them out in disciplined speech and action.

Such seeking is painful; as a form of conversion it involves the strange mixture of resistance and love which is near the heart of real dealings with the God who slays us in order to make us alive.

Good theological practice depends on good theologians; and good theologians are— among other things— those formed by graces which are the troubling, eschatological gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

—John Webster, The Culture of Theology, Eds. Ivor J. Davidson and Alden C. McCray (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019), 45-46.