Yesterday I watched the final part of the History Channel’s mini-series The Bible. The five part series attracted over 10 million viewers each week. The Christian response that I have seen has been generally positive towards the series, though always expressed with some reservations and concerns. Given the History Channel’s past treatment of Biblical subjects, this series was far more respectful towards the Bible than I expected. The series was unique, offering a broad panorama of the Biblical message through the means of individual stories of some of the major characters of the Bible. The History Channel did much right in their handling of Scriptures. Considering the way books are usually rearranged to become suitable to a broad movie audience, The Bible stands out as one of the few that maintains much of the original integrity of the story.
However, and this is one of my greatest concern with The Bible, God’s Word is not some other book. The stories and characters are not merely the handicraft of a skilled author to develop tension and further the plotline. Every word of the Word was directly given by God to His apostles and prophets for His purpose and the instruction of mankind. To change the stories and facts of the Biblical account and then present it as if it was from the Bible is to change the Word of God. (Now, lest this be misunderstood, my complaint is not the characters did not quote the Bible directly or speak in Elizabethan English. My complaint is they change the content, facts, events and characters). Even granting broad liberty for dramatics, artistic license, interpretational differences and time limitations, these changes were very problematic. Ultimately, the History Channel’s treatment of Biblical truth significantly undermined the revelation of Divine authority, the uniqueness of the Biblical narrative and the message of redemption.
While the facts presented were accurate more times than not, there was a sweeping undermining of true Biblical doctrines. My gravest concerns are not for the details that were misrepresented or odd changes to the story line (Genesis 19 says nothing about sword wielding angels fighting their way out of Sodom), but for the misrepresentation of the overall scope of the Bible. Instead of faith being a conviction of the truth and authority of God’s decrees, it is presented as an inner voice guiding men along a path. Why leave out the audible decrees of God to His servants? Why neglect the pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites? Why was there no voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s “beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”? This is not nitpicking the failure to include a couple scenes that I would liked to have seen. This is a sweeping complaint that the entire series served to minimize the authority of God’s spoken and written Word and elevated the importance of inner impressions. As a result, the stories become a loosely connected string of anecdotes of great personal faith rather than the harmonious series of events working together as a result of God’s Sovereign direction ruling in all the affairs of men. The series does contain a bare hint of a great overarching plan, for those who would understand the sheep in the background, but that bare hint is severely obscured by the barrage of characters following a mysterious inner voice.
Most importantly, the gospel offered in the series was not the gospel. No, I don’t actually expect unsaved people to get the gospel right. However, I cannot praise them for their well intentioned errors. I most definitely cannot recommend their erroneous presentation of the gospel to others. The History Channel’s version of the gospel completed neglected sin. Christ’s death seems to be nothing more than a plot by jealous priests to remove a trouble maker. Pilate’s wife does whisper that it looks like Jesus knew it all had to happen, but there is never any mention of why it all had to happen. Once the flood sequences are done, sin seems to be completely forgotten. Even during the flood, the narration seems to relegate sin to just bad choices. The Biblical realities of sin and separation from God are nearly non existent. Worse still, the gospel promises offered by the apostles are promises deliverance from oppression. The Bible’s presentation of the gospel does not match the gospel presented in God’s Word, rather it aligns itself with the 20th century social and liberation gospels. Christ’s death appears to be more about suffering with His people than suffering in their place. His deliverance seems to be more about physical deliverance than eternal, spiritual deliverance. Scriptures tells us the gospel is forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to the father. The gospel is not about men changing the world, it is about God transforming hearts. Even though The Bible series was a very well done, generally careful adaptation of God’s Word, the distortion of the gospel is enough for Christians to offer no further support or recommendation of the series. As Paul actually said under the direct inspiration of God (and not the spontaneous creative thoughts of the moment), “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
“For what a man loves, that that man is. What a man chooses out of a hundred offers, you are sure by that who and what that man is. And accordingly, put the New Testament in any man’s hand, and set the Throne of Grace wide open before any man; and you need no omniscience to tell you that man’s true value. If he lets his Bible lie unopened and unread: if he lets God’s Throne of Grace stand till death, idle and unwanted: if the depth and the height, the nobleness and the magnificence, the goodness and the beauty of divine things have no command over him, and no attraction to him—then, you do not wish me to put words upon the meanness of that man’s mind. Look yourselves at what he has chosen: look and weep at what he has neglected, and has for ever lost! But there are other men: there are men of a far nobler blood than that man is: there are great men, royal men: there are some men made of noble stuff, and cast into a noble mould. And you will never satisfy or quiet those men with all you can promise them or pour out upon them in this life. They are men of a magnificent heart, and only in prayer have their hearts ever got full scope and a proper atmosphere. They would die if they did not pray.”
- Alexander Whyte
This past Sunday, as part of the February series on “Idols of the Heart” that I am currently preaching, I dealt with the source of idols and how to identify an idol in our life. I shared with the congregation a quote from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon Hideous Discovery. Time did not allow me to quote all I wanted from that sermon, but the content was so excellent I could not leave it completely unsaid. Below is Spurgeon’s second point on Mark 7:20-23.
“Now, secondly, I want to indicate THE NEST FROM WHICH THEY COME. Now that we have seen these evil beasts, we will go and look at their den. Let us make a journey there. No, you need not feel for your money to pay your fare—I am not going to take you very far. I do not ask you to quit your homes, or even your pews. There is not even need for you to stretch out your hand to feel for this foul nest of unclean birds—you can keep your hand upon your bosom and it will not be far off from the lair wherein these evil things are lurking, ready to leap forth whenever occasion offers.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says, “All these evil things come from within.” “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts.” The source from which these rivers of pollution proceed is the natural heart of man! Sin is not a splash of mud upon man’s exterior, it is a filth generated within himself!
Now this is a very different story from that which we sometimes hear from thoughtless people. “Oh, yes, he used to swear. He was unkind to his wife and family—no doubt he took too much drink—but he was a good-hearted fellow!” What an awful lie! His heart could have been no better than that which came out of it. Yet how common it is to say, when a man dies, “Well, poor man, he is gone! There was no fear of God or man about him. He was a passionate, drunken man and so full of vice that no one was safe near him, but he was good at bottom.” A likely story, is it not? The water which came up in the bucket was black and putrid, but, no doubt, at the bottom of the well it is clear as crystal! Do you believe it? If men bring to market baskets of fruit which upon the top are rotten, they will not be believed if they say that they are, “good at bottom.” If the goods in the window are worthless, the stock in the warehouse is not much better. You can only judge of a tree by its fruits—and if I gather sour crabapples from a tree, I shall not believe that it is a golden pippin! If grapes, when fully ripe, are sour, we cannot believe that the vine which bears them is a sweet one! Our Savior makes short work of the lie that the life may be impure and yet the heart is good!
Regeneration is much more than reformation, or the development of natural goodness. It is described in Scripture as a new creation and as a resurrection from the dead. It is not the cleansing of the carnal mind, but the implantation of a spiritual nature. It is not a shaping, feeding, washing and purging of what is already in fallen man—it is a putting into us a life which was never there before. It is a supernatural work of God, the Holy Spirit—it is a miracle of Grace, a work of God! Out of the heart, if the volcano is permitted to pour forth its lava, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, and such like. The Savior compels us to see how bad the natural heart must be in itself, since that which comes out of it is so vile. Who could bring such unclean things out of a clean heart? The source must be foul if the streams are so filthy. These evils must be within, or else they could not come from within.
Our Savior is not speaking of a single man, or a certain set of men, but of man, generally, of man as a race! We are all very much alike by nature. “As in water, face answers to face, so the heart of man to man.” Friend, you are of the same race as those whose sins you censure. Though out of your heart there may never proceed actual fornications and adulteries—God grant they may not!—yet the seeds of such evils are there and you will be foolish if you think that they can never grow into acts. If any man says that no such evil lurks in his heart, I lay to his charge the two last sins in the list, namely, pride and foolishness! No man should dare to think that he is incapable of a sin into which another man has fallen! We may never have suffered from fever, or cholera, or diphtheria—but we may not, therefore, conclude that we are not liable to such diseases. Nor may an unregenerate man, however excellent or moral he may be, conclude that he is invulnerable to the arrows of moral disease. Put the man in certain circumstances, tempt him in certain ways and there is a terrible possibility that he will fall into those very actions which he now so righteously denounces in others! I am a man and, therefore, liable to all the faults of human nature. Self-righteousness may induce us to say with Hazael, “Is your servant
a dog, that he should do this thing?” But we shall be wise to forego so proud a question, for we may rest assured that we are dog enough for anything if the Grace of God is withdrawn from us! It is certainly true that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders” and so forth.
But what is meant here, do you think, by, “the heart?” Is it not intended to indicate the man himself—the man’s most real self? Sin is sin, for the most part, because it is of the heart and the will. If the man’s heart had nothing to do with it, I do not see how it would be sin. If a man had no will in the matter, where would his responsibility be? It is because we willingly do evil that we sin. The essence of the sin lies in the will to do it and the full consent of the heart in it. The heart is the center of life, the core of being, the place where manhood maintains its throne and what a terrible statement this is, that out of the very center of life there proceed from man “evil thoughts, wickedness, blasphemy” and the like! The heart is the spring of action—the heart suggests, resolves, designs and sets the whole train of life in motion. The heart gives the impulse and the force and yet, out of the heart, thus initiating and working, proceeds all this mischief of sin. By the heart is meant mainly the affections, but it often includes the understanding and the will. It is, in fact, the man’s vital self. Sin is not a thing extra that comes to us and afflicts us like robbers breaking into our house at night, but it is a tenant of the soul, dwelling within us as in its own house. This evil worm has penetrated into the kernel of our being and there it abides. Sin has intertwisted itself with the warp and woof of our nature and none can remove it but the Lord God Himself! As long as the heart remains unchanged, out of it will proceed that which is sinful. “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually.”
If it is so, that the nest in which sin is born and nurtured is the heart, itself, we always carry about with us, by nature, that which will surely be the cause of sin unless we look well to it and cry daily for Grace to conquer it. This evil nature of ours is an always present danger—it is a powder magazine which at any moment may explode. Oh for Grace to keep our hearts with all diligence!
How clearly sin comes from within and not from outside! How truly it is born in the heart! Oftentimes we see men commit sins against conscience—they know they are doing wrong, for they will lie and even swear hard in order to conceal their folly. A man must know that he does wrong, for he labors to deny it when it is charged against him. Now, if a man sins against light and conscience, it shows that his heart must be radically bad. Sin must be within us naturally since the best training does not prevent it. Children secluded from the sight or hearing of evil—kept, as it were, within a glass case—yet run to it when the restraint is removed! As the young duck which has been reared in a dry place yet takes to the water as soon as it sees a pond, so do many hasten to evil at the first opportunity.
How often it happens that those young persons who have been most shut out from the world have become the readiest victims of temptation when the time has come for them to quit the parental roof! It must be in them, or it could not thus come out of them. In many cases, evil cannot be the result of mistaken education nor of ill example—and yet there it is—the seed is in the soil and needs no sowing. Again, we frequently find men falling into sins towards which they would seem to have had no temptation. A man is rich and yet covetous. He has enough to content him if his heart were not evil. Men who have the enjoyment of almost every desirable pleasure too often crave after indulgences altogether unnatural. Does not this show how evil the heart is? Is not this specially striking when you see how men invent new sins, of which ordinary people would never have dreamed? Moreover, put a man where you may and seclude him as you please, sin will still break out from him and, therefore, the sin must be somewhere within, hidden away. Do we not know this? When we are in associations of the best kind we find evil thoughts and imaginations springing up within our minds. Shut yourself up in a narrow cell, but there will be room in it for troops of sins! Hasten away and dwell alone as a hermit where rumor of pollution and iniquity can never reach you from abroad and still you will find the cauldron within boiling and bubbling up with evil! A door must be well sealed if it is to shut out temptation. No, shut the door and hermetically seal it and sin has already entered with yourself, for it is within you! Until you are delivered from that evil man, yourself, you are not delivered from tendencies to wickedness.
The heart of man is the seed plot of iniquity and the nursery of transgression. As the multitudes streamed forth from the hundred gates of Thebes, so do sins proceed from the heart! O Lord, have mercy upon us and give us new hearts and right spirits!”
I just came across this great quote from Chrysostom’s Address on Vainglory. He presents a phenomenal pictures of the ravages reeked within the church by our personal, pointless pride.
Has any man done what I asked? Has he prayed to God on our behalf and on
behalf of the whole body of the Church for the quenching of the conflagration, begotten of Vainglory,1 which is bringing ruin on the entire body of the Church and is tearing the single body asunder into many separate limbs and is disrupting love? Like a wild beast swooping on a healthy, tender, and defenseless body, Vainglory has fastened her foul teeth in her victim and injected poison and filled it with noisome stench. She has severed and cast away some limbs, others she has torn into shreds, others she has chewed up. Yea, if it were possible to look on Vainglory and the Church with our eyes, one would behold a pitiful sight, exceeding by far in savagery the spectacles in the circus — the body of the Church prostrate and Vainglory standing over it, gazing fixedly all round, restraining those that attack her, never giving ground nor drawing back. Which of us will scare away this wild beast? It is the task of Him who has set the contest, when we beseech Him to send his angels, and they, muzzling her bold and shameless mouth as it were with cords, lead her away so. He who has set the contest will do this whenever we cease to long for her when she has been led away. If He bids the dread beast withdraw from us and dismisses it, but we, after we have escaped safely and she has been driven off to her own den, rise up with our countless wounds and seek the beast once more and strike her and overturn her to carry her off.
Let us take to heart Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2:1-5, “ If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Forsake Vainglory, pursue the humility that comes with having the mind of Christ.
Several years ago we moved in with Ruth’s parents to help care for her father before he succumbed to leukemia. Since that time we have continued to live in the house, first staying with Ruth’s mom and then renting after her remarriage. During much of that time the house has been for sale and we have prayed earnestly that the Lord will provide a buyer. Last week God answered those prayers. Barring any unforeseen difficulties (in other words, if the Lord wills), the house will be sold in February. This relieves Ruth’s mom of an unnecessary burden. Praise the Lord for His provision!
Yesterday you probably heard at least one sermon. After a sound night of rest, you may have forgotten a large portion of it. However, lest the truths proclaimed yesterday be soon put beyond any hope of recall, I offer you this brief snippet from Spurgeon regarding profiting from the Sunday sermon.
“(A) venerable brother delivered a sermon equally singular but far more original and useful; those who heard it will remember it to their dying day. It was from this text: “The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting.”
The good old man leaned upon the top of the pulpit, and said, “Then, my brethren, he was a lazy fellow!” That was the exordium; and then he went on to say, “He went out a hunting, and after much trouble he caught his hare, and then was too idle to roast it. He was a lazy fellow indeed!”
The good man made us all feel how ridiculous such idleness was, and then he said, “But then you are very likely quite as much to blame as this man, for you do just the same. You hear of a popular minister coming down from London, and you put the horse in the cart, and drive ten or twenty miles to hear him; and then when you have heard the sermon you forget to profit by it. You catch the hare and do not roast it; you go hunting after the truth, and then you do not receive it.”
Then followed directions as to roasting a sermon; run the spit of memory through it from end to end, turn it round upon the roasting-jack of meditation, before the fire of a really warm and earnest heart, and in that way the sermon would be cooked and ready to yield real spiritual nourishment.”
May you feast all week on the meat you took yesterday.
Here’s a follow up from last week’s post. In these excerpts from Jonathan Edwards Diary he talks about the difficulties he faced keeping his resolutions. You can be encouraged that all spiritual giants face the same struggles in growth as we do. As Proverbs says, “ For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again:” A righteous man will fall, but will get back up again. He will not wallow in his failure, but will climb back to his feet and continue to press forward. Most important to note is the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work for any kind of spiritual growth to actually occur. Thanks to Nathan Busenitz for posting these selections.
“The last week I was sunk so low, that I fear it will be a long time before I am recovered. I fell exceedingly low in the weekly account [regarding keeping my resolutions]. I find my heart so deceitful, that I am almost discouraged from making any more resolutions. — Wherein have I been negligent in the week past; and how could I have done better, to help the dreadful low estate in which I am sunk?”
“I find, by experience, that, let me make resolutions, and do what I will, with never so many inventions, it is all nothing, and to no purpose at all, without the motions of the Spirit of God. . . . There [must be] no dependence on myself. Our resolutions may be at the highest one day, and yet, the next day, we may be in a miserable dead condition, not at all like the same person who resolved. So that it is to no purpose to resolve, except we depend on the grace of God. For, if it were not for his mere grace, one might be a very good man one day, and a very wicked one the next.” (January 2, 1722)
“It used to appear to me, that I had not much sin remaining; but now, I perceive that there are great remainders of sin. . . . Without the influences of the Spirit of God, the old serpent would begin to rouse up himself from his frozen state, and would come to life again.”(January 5, 1722)
“It seemed yesterday, the day before, and Saturday, that I should always retain the same resolutions to the same height. But alas! how soon do I decay! O how weak, how infirm, how unable to do anything of myself! What a poor inconsistent being! What a miserable wretch, without the assistance of the Spirit of God! While I stand, I am ready to think that I stand by my own strength, and upon my own legs; and I am ready to triumph over my spiritual enemies, as if it were I myself that caused them to flee: — when alas! I am but a poor infant, upheld by Jesus Christ; who holds me up, and gives me liberty to smile to see my enemies flee, when he drives them before me. And so I laugh, as though I myself did it, when it is only Jesus Christ leads me along, and fights himself against my enemies. And now the Lord has a little left me, how weak do I find myself! O let it teach me to depend less on myself, to be more humble, and to give more of the praise of my ability to Jesus Christ!”(January 15, 1722)
“I know, O Lord, that without thy help I shall fall, innumerable times, not withstanding all my resolutions, how often soever repeated.” (April 7, 1722)