D.G. Hart recently had a very helpful post Is Scripture Like Sweetbreads or Broccoli? in response to an article by Daniel R. Hyde that has left some parties inflamed. Hart’s post is very helpful and so are some of the comments that should not be missed. Early in my own Christian journey, I found myself amongst the Pentecostal movement where spirituality seemed to always be compared, one’s earnestness or seriousness questioned, and the ‘discerning of the ‘spirit” leaving one to feel ‘outside the camp’.
With Dr. Hart, I must say I earnestly agree:
Hyde is not wrong to call his readers to have fellowship with God, to do so through reading the word, or to combine doing with reading. But where does the Larger Catechism actually talk about earnestness? Or why can’t my reading Scripture or attending the ORDINARY means of grace be routine, as in weekly? Why should I feel like I have failed if my worship or Bible reading has been ordinary, lacking in earnestness?
One commenter, named Warren, wrote here:
Hyde–and Calvin–got it right.
“He who knows Christ in a proper manner beholds him earnestly, embraces him with the warmest affection, is absorbed in the contemplation of him, and desires no other object.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians)
Dr. Hart responded helpfully here:
Warren, and how do you know when your earnestness is not hypocritical? Have you thought about that?
And do you think it is easier to gain a following with earnestness (read sincerity) or with moderation and restraint — meaning, you don’t talk about your devotion in ways that either exalts it or that makes others question their own devotion.
And this response of Dr. Hart is not to be missed:
Warren, here here. Calvin was astute enough to write: “Others do good, not from a desire to do what is right, nor on account of the glory of God, but only to obtain for themselves fame and a reputation for holiness. This last mentioned class Christ now describes, and he properly calls them hypocrites: for, having no proper object in view in the performance of good works, they assume a different character, that they may appear to be holy and sincere worshippers of God.” (Commentary on Matt. 6)
Isn’t it conceivable that our earnestness may be a cover for less holy things going on inside us? Couldn’t it be deceptive to think that now I have arrived since I really really really feel Scripture speaking to me? Wouldn’t Calvin’s understanding of sin (not to mention Scripture’s) even in the life of the believer caution us about making too big a deal of our own zeal? Maybe we look to the earnestness of God in saving us?
R. Scott Clark makes another helpful point here:
Darryl makes a good point re exhortations to read the Bible generally. We should be a little cautious about transferring exhortations in Scripture to read Scripture from their context to ours.
1. Universal literacy (which is almost certainly in decline) is a relatively recent phenomenon. It certainly didn’t exist in the ancient world where relatively few people could read or could have been expected to be able to read Scripture.
2. Very few people had direct, unmediated access to Scripture in the ancient world.
3. Most people would have heard Scripture (as distinct from seeing Scripture with their own yes). We get a sense of this from Colossians 4:
And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:16, ESV)
4. Yes, now that most of us can read and now that Scripture is more available to us than ever, we should certainly capitalize on such blessings but we should be careful in how we draw the lines between the biblical exhortation to read and our setting.
Dr. Clark is helpful here:
1. Someone asked about “being more than earnest.” Here you go. It’s all about me.
2. I don’t think we should juxtapose the English Reformed over against the European/Continental Reformed if only because the Europeans at the time didn’t do so. The adjective “puritan” is about as slippery as the adjective “evangelical” is today. Some of the English Reformed were more subjective, some less. Some were confessional and orthodox and some, like Richard Baxter, were the Shepherdites of their day. I don’t think the piety of the orthodox, confessional British (to be more inclusive) was more intense than that of Ames (an Englishman pastoring and teaching in the Netherlands) or Voetius (an actual Dutchman) or their followers.
3. I don’t think anyone in this discussion seriously doubts that Christians should be earnest about their faith and piety. One problem is that “earnestness” is a little subjective and if we press believers on continually or ham-fistedly, “earnestness” can become a man-made test of piety: “are you earnest enough brother” Well, probably not but who’s judging and by what standard? If the standard is 1st Great Awakening revivalism, probably not but, David (Ps 63), Asaph (Ps 78), Isaiah (26:9), and Paul (1 Thess 3) were not Edwardseans. The problem isn’t with the noun, the adjective, or the adverb in themselves. These are sound translations. The problem comes in what is made of them by those who think that other believers aren’t sufficiently earnest (or whatever quality is thought to be lacking).
Yes, we probably aren’t earnest enough. Thank you for the reminder of the sin and death that clings to us and our need for sanctification. We also, however, need just as much a continual, gracious reminder of God’s unconditional favor toward wretches with their insufficiently warm hearts. We need the foolishness of the cross, the wonder of the empty tomb, the glory of his ascension and reign, and the mystery of the abiding presence of his Spirit as we await the consummation of all things.
Dr. Clark is again helpful, reminding us of the Reformed Confessions and the relationship of guilt, grace, gratitude:
On guilt, grace, and gratitude, there’s always Heidelberg Catechism 2, 86, and Belgic Art. 24 (with which the Westminster Standards agree):
2. How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?
Three things: the first, how great my sin and misery is; the second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery; the third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.
86. Since then we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why should we do good works?
Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and also that He be glorified through us; then also, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof; and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.
BC Art 24:
We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” causing him to live the “new life” and freeing him from the slavery of sin.
Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.
These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification—for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.
So then, we do good works, but nor for merit—for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure”60—thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ”
Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works—but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.
So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.
Indeed, perhaps we need to consider more the faithfulness of God and the earnestness of His Son in rescuing us. As Hart wrote, “Maybe we look to the earnestness of God in saving us?”