Beseech sinners to ask the Lord to enable them to believe or just to believe?

Discussion in 'Preaching' started by Pergamum, Nov 13, 2014.

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  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, Article VIII obliges that I believe as I do:

    "We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseperable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and relying on Him alone as the only and all sufficient Saviour."

    Thus, when the Spirit regenerates, he plants these things (Repentance and Faith) in our souls. Thus, they are ordinarily to occur together.
  2. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Calvin speak about 'seeds of faith' in infants in his institutes 4,16,20. Would you agree that God can regenerate an infant in the womb? Since I am sure you agree that regeneration and conversion are two different segments of the ordo, how is it that these infants are converted? If God decrees that my daughter be regenerated in the womb and live to a ripe age, the only means God has allowed for her conversion is by the preaching of the word; either by me or the pastor.

    The distinction that we need to consider in light of these truths are levels of faith; seeds of faith and absolute faith are not one and the same.

    Here is Calvin utilizing an example I speak of:

    Here is something from Turretin:

  3. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Hi Scott,

    Yes, I am leaning towards believing what Calvin says about infant faith. I already believe it in regards to John the Baptist who leapt in the womb for "joy" at the sound of his Messiah. I feel I must not separate regeneration from faith, and therefore, it seems that I must believe in some form of faith even in these infant cases (for I believe children who die in infancy are saved). This is more satisfactory than believing in a regeneration without faith.

    I admit, however, I am not sure how to piece it all together or what all the implications are concerning my belief.
  4. The Narrator

    The Narrator Puritan Board Freshman

    I decided to upload my paper I wrote some years ago for a class I was taking. But I wanted to respond to something Dr. Alan Strange said. By the way, I am a big fan of anything I can listen to by him. He mentioned Spurgeon's criticism of the Evangelist pointing Christian to yonder Wicket Gate instead of to the cross. If you look at my paper, I have a quote by Horatius Bonar that shows he was concerned as well about the men used during the Great Awakening. That they throw the sinner too much upon their own selves, perhaps for fear of showing them
    the gospel message prematurely. HOWEVER, I have read hundreds of conversions, David Brainerd, Asahel Nettleton, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Samuel Bolton, and have read every revival book I can
    get hold of.... and nobody's conversion experience is a detailed as Spurgeon's lengthy awakening given in his autobiography that I am aware of except for Thomas Halyburton. So I am not sure if he is completely consistent to his own experience and his counsel to others.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2014
  5. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Prof. Strange, The time element is dependent on how long the person himself remains in this "sensible" state. The preacher can call him to come to Christ, but if he does not come to Christ he remains in this state. Nor should a preacher wish him to become insensible of his sin. I think that is where the pastoral process is required, and helps the person step by step through the concerns of his soul. It is not for the purpose of creating a "narrative," but merely to help the individual in his struggle.
  6. The Narrator

    The Narrator Puritan Board Freshman

    Pergamum: Here is an interesting quote from William Tennent to Thomas Prince during the Great Awakening, October 9th 1744....
    Such as have been converted were every one of them prepared for it by a sharp law-work of conviction in discovering to them in a heart
    affecting manner their sinfulness both by nature and practice as well as their liableness to damnation for their original and actual transgressions. As to what Alan Strange comments about their
    being a stage called the Awakened Sinner that my go on for awhile - in not a Biblical concept, it certainly was the case with Owen, Spurgeon, Halyburton, David Brainerd, Asahel Nettleton - who says the awakening
    was 10 months, and many other examples. And I dare say that those who have been sometime in the Slough of Despond are the better counselors for it when others come to them
    with their own burden on their backs. John Owen could not have written his Treatise on the Forgiveness of Sins with the learned experimental detail he did had he not known what
    it was like to hear the thunder in his own conscience. I am always told that such experiences are not detailed in the Bible. But if you look at Jonathan Edwards's sermon, God Makes Men Sensible of Their Misery Before He Reveals His Love and Mercy, it is not a concept that is foreign to God's dealing with His people. But further, I always tell people that the Bible is not an exhaustive testimony of every person's experience. It is that Touchstone in which all of our experiences our weighed, but I don't see things like the case of Francis Spira or David Brainerd in the Scriptures. Yet I don't doubt what they went through. I myself was 3.5 years under awakening before I had a real level of assurance.
  7. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Mr. Sullivan, please fix your signature; see the link in mine for instructions.:judge:
  8. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Than you, I am reading your paper now.
  9. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Thank you again, I am looking for a link to this Edwards sermon now, God Makes Men Sensible of Their Misery Before He Reveals His Love and Mercy.
  10. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    Rev. Winzer:

    With respect to the development of the so-called Puritan narrative conversion (as detailed by Pat Caldwell, Edmund Morgan, Norman Pettit, Michael McGiffert and others), I am simply being descriptive as a historian. I am not talking about what should be, but what existed. Prescriptively, I agree that the pastor is to help someone sense his need and then to point him to the only remedy for that need, not to help him construct a narrative. As a matter of fact, however, as I noted in the citation that I gave above to an article in which I discussed this, it became a requirement in various places in colonial New England to give a convincing conversion narrative in order to be admitted to communion, a requirement that Edwards himself admitted that he could not fulfill (all detailed in my cited article).

    It was required in the narrative, taking Perkins' steps, and those of others, to detail legal humiliation that gave way to evangelical humiliation, usually with at least one (if not more) later-discovered-to-be-false conversions along the way. It became an extended exercise in spiritual navel-gazing and had to, in the congregational contexts, be related to the whole congregation and then voted upon as to whether the congregation found the conversion narrative credible and compelling. Thankfully, this never prevailed in Presbyterian contexts (even those of the New Side).

    All this is to say that we've gone down a dangerous path before of something that could lead to stylized conversion narratives, all of which focus on religious experience and not Christ. I heartily agree that there must be a sight of sin for a true conversion, because a true conversion consists of repentance and faith, in which one sees one's sin and need and in which one sees one's Savior (though repentance will have a rather different shape in the the life of a four-year-old than it would in the life of someone years outside of Christ). I agree that a sinner must be sensible (as Boston says) and have an awareness of his sin and misery as Edwards argues. This does not mean, however, that there are many people in this state for some time before repenting and believing and that such may fall away from this state, since the Spirit brought them into it and will safely lead them home.

  11. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    Brothers and Sisters:

    I think that one of the great challenges of this whole discussion is the notion that regeneration/conversion for some (and I mean among some of our Puritan forebears) served as the culmination of a spiritual crisis and not as much the beginning of our spiritual lives in Christ.

    I believe that we should properly be preparationists and what I mean by this is not only that sinners need to have the law preached to them and thus to become sensible of their sin (which only the regenerate will truly and properly), but that all who trust in Christ should spend much time praying for the Lord to work in and among us, to use the appointed means so that we are truly inwardly transformed and brought to more and more charity and not only outwardly conformed in our doctrine, worship and piety. Bob Godfrey has a good article on this meaning of ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (in the current issue of Table Talk).

    In other words, it is simply not the case that we should look for all sorts of reformation of life and spiritual understanding before one trusts Christ (yes, one needs knowledge of self and God as a part of saving faith and repentance). The message is not "clean up your life and come to Christ" but "come to Christ and begin to enjoy living out the life that He has won for you."

    I appreciate the kinds words of our brother The Narrator (Mr. Sullivan, I believe). But when he says "I myself was 3.5 years under awakening before I had a real level of assurance," he makes my point. Was he unregenerate all that time simply because he lacked assurance? I would go so far as to say that the brother has no real way of knowing precisely what his spiritual state truly was during that time: Because he may believe himself to have then been unregenerate does not mean that he was and besides, what difference does it make? He trusts now; he has assurance now; he is walking, albeit quite imperfectly (as is true of all the saints) with his Savior.

    If the point of all this is that many are simply insensible of their sin and need to know it, I agree. If the point is that they need to have tons of things happen that culminates in a crisis conversion, I disagree. Folk need to trust Christ. Perhaps that will come about through a crisis-conversion. Perhaps not. We need to encourage, I agree, proper self-examination. But we also, for those thus engaged, need to discourage morbid introspection and to invite all to take ten looks at Christ for every look that they take at themselves.

    Trusting in Christ alone and repenting of our sin is something that the regenerate begin to do and never stop doing. This is why the same Edwards referrred to sanctification as "continuous conversion," always turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God. Yes, we begin that turning at some point, by God's grace, and we never stop (by that same grace). We are not to be pointing people ever to themselves and having them ask, "Am I truly saved?" Rather we are to proclaim that all who trust in Christ truly are His and need to "get on" with their Christian lives (and are empowered by the Spirit to do so).

  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Thanks Dr Strange.

    I agree with your last post and have profited from your comments (as well as the comments of others such as Harley and Rev. Winzer, etc.

    I agree...except perhaps for where you say, "We are not to be pointing people ever to themselves and having them ask, "Am I truly saved?" Rather we are to proclaim that all who trust in Christ truly are His and need to "get on" with their Christian lives (and are empowered by the Spirit to do so)."

    I still believe that asking the sinner pointedly whether they have ever truly been saved or not is valid and beneficial. "Am I truly saved" needs to be asked by most of today's church-goers. Paul tells us to examine ourselves. False assurance seems one of the major blights upon the church today. "Are you saved?" and "What are you trusting for your salvation" or "Why do you believe that you have been saved?" all seem good questions to ask.

    Though...we are not to answer by means of a long past narrative leading up to a crisis as proof, but by one's present proclamation of faith and even by way of fruit (the fruits of the Spirit and the tests of faith as found in I John). But, there does need to be some sensible and intentional commitment to Christ and not a general reply of, "Well...I've ALWAYS been a Christian..." For those who have believed as young children, a reply of "Well..I don't remember exactly when I savingly believed, but I believe savingly now to the best of my knowledge and I seem to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit."

    Would you agree with that last paragraph of mine?

    Also, I notice you used the word "preparationist" in your last posting. Is this the proper term to use for what we are advocating? I have read some definitions of preparationism (i.e. a series of steps people must do before they can believe, or preliminary actions a sinner may take so that God might more likely save them), and as of right now I reject the assertion that I believe in "preparationism" (if these are, indeed, accurate definitions of this belief). I do not believe in preparationism if by preparationism you mean the belief that man must first commend himself to God in some way before God becomes more disposed to save that man (this sounds like Wesley's prevenient grace scheme). Yet, I still believe the Spirit works in people in ways that do not always lead to conversion (the Holy Spirit falling on King Saul in the OT, per example) and that the Spirit often draws sinners slowly. I believe the category of "Awakened sinner" and even "inquirer" are valid realities. Do you agree?

    Also, as of right now, I agree that there is an immediacy to our Gospel appeals such that it might be wiser often to say, "Believe now" instead of "Ask the Lord for Him to enable you to believe." And yet I see examples of the Puritans doing the latter and it seems appropriate still sometimes to do the latter, "Pray that the Lord will open your eyes." I do not believe Joseph Alleine erred in his Alarm to the Unconverted when he wrote,
    Do I err in this?
  13. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior


    I did not say that we are not to ask people to examine themselves as to whether they truly trust Christ. I said that we are not to point people ever (and by this I meant "always") to themselves with such a question, but to urge them to trust Christ and get on with the Christian life.

    If one is a pastor of a settled congregation, it is, I think, quite problematic to be always questioning the same people (and why would we want to do that?) with some form of "yes, but do you really know Christ?" In doing so, we fail to help them on to maturity and keep them in a place of forever wondering if they are saved--getting a bit of assurance here and losing it in the struggle against sin there. This is inimical to sound and healthy Christianity.

    When you assert "False assurance seems one of the major blights upon the church today," what specifically do you have in mind? I don't necessarily disagree with you here (I believe that there are many professors who give no evidence of being possessers in the mainline churches as well as in some evangelical churches). But we have to be rather careful with this assessment, particularly as a broad-brush judgment and we have to be especially careful with respect to what prompts or motivates us in this and what we base it on.

    In most of our congregations (confessionally Reformed churches), we don't have, largely, people who appear to be afflicted with false assurance, but, rather, earnest souls who believe the gospel and endeavor to lead godly lives, and nonetheless afflicted with remaining sin and may be full of doubt about themselves. In the case of such, they need rather to be pointed to Christ and comforted and encouraged. If someone is orthodox in doctrine and evidences love of God and neighbor but comes to me and expresses lack of assurance, my primary approach in seeking to encourage them is not to point them to themselves but to Christ. Why would I do otherwise?

  14. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Thankyou for you comments, Prof. Strange. You have helpfully articulated the dangers of preparationism while acknowledging the place of a preparatory work, and I heartily agree with the imperative to offer Christ fully and freely to all, sensible and insensible sinners alike. Blessings!
  15. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Thanks so much for the comments. Maybe false assurance is more of a problem in broad evangelical or baptist circles.
  16. Gforce9

    Gforce9 Puritan Board Junior

    I think so.....for the very reason Dr. Strange elaborated on. Where he ministers (and when he blesses Westminster from time-to-time), God's people hear weekly what Christ has done for sinners, encourages them believe on Him, and leads them into the unfolding of God and His Christ through the faithful reading and proclamation of God's word. It is glorious! This is by and large absent from pop-evangelicalism, which happens to be mostly Baptist. What you find in the "more faithful" evangelical circles/churches is Promise Keeper type stuff (ie. work hard to be a better husband/father, change your culture,....veiled social gospel stuff).
    After 20ish years of that garbage, I love and need to be pointed away from myself and pointed to Christ. The Christians telos is Christ, nothing within us. Anything less is rubbish.
  17. The Narrator

    The Narrator Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree with the sentiments of Dr. Strange. I could not say that I was not regenerate before Sept. 18th 1986, and really obtained assurance on that date. But I will say that a pastor who properly counsels someone during this time of being in the slough of despond must be scrupulously careful, and I will say as for myself, I could never rest in anything less than the highest assurance of my faith's reality. I dared not build on the sand. The extreme, in this regard, I am afraid are persons like William Nichols, insist that the preparatory work is necessary and persons who detail a conversion without it have a suspect conversion. I deal with all of this in three hours of lectures that are on Sermon Audio. Did the Puritans Teach Preparationism? 1 of 3 Is preparatory law-work necessary? MP3 | SID=51010131775 and SID=510101411335 One of the most interesting discussions on this subject was written by Increase Mather in his introduction to Stoddard's Guide to Christ. "That eminent man of God, Mr. Baxter relates that he was once at a meeting of many Christians, as eminent for holiness as most in the land, of whom divers were ministers of great fame, and it was desired that every one of them would give an account of the time and manner of his conversion, and there was but one of them all that could do it. And, (says he,) I aver from my heart, that I neither know the day, nor the year, when I began to be sincere. Nevertheless, for the most part, they that have been great sinners, are not converted without dreadful terrors of conscience."
  18. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    That is an interesting link you posted. I am reading through it now (with caution).

    Thanks for the quote by Increase Mather.
  19. The Narrator

    The Narrator Puritan Board Freshman

    I do want to qualify the whole discussion. There is always an underlying presupposition here that I am assuming. Of course we always direct persons to Christ. That is assumed. What I am talking about is assisting someone who is keenly aware of his innate inability to believe any of the gospel promises. There is a lengthy quote in the preface to Owen's Treatise on the Forgiveness of Sins but worth reading. But before I quote it, I still believe that many modern pastors could hardly write a book like Archibald Alexander's Thoughts on Religious Experience, or write a detailed work like Ichabod Spencer's Pastor's Sketches. Often they aren't well trained in experimental theology. (2) any person who was under the terrors that I was under does not easily respond to the gospel promises. One of the BEST means I have given awakened sinners is to tell them to read a hymnal like the Gadsby Hymnal. By the way, Pergie! as someone called you, I use the nickname "The Narrator" because I have been narrating Puritan and Reformed works for 29 years... Puritan / Reformed Audio Books | Narrating from 1985 to the Present. Comments? Questions? jubwubbins AT yahoo DOT com - Here is the preface... THE circumstances in which this Exposition of Psalm 130 originated are
    peculiarly interesting. Dr Owen himself, in a statement made to Mr
    Richard Davis, who ultimately became pastor of a church in Rowel,
    Northamptonshire, explains the occasion which led him to a very careful
    examination of the fourth verse in the psalm. Mr Davis, being under
    religious impressions, had sought a conference with Owen. In the course of
    the conversation, Dr Owen put the question, “Young man, pray in what
    manner do you think to go to God?” “Through the Mediator, sir,”
    answered Mr Davis. “That is easily said,” replied the Doctor, “but I
    assure you it is another thing to go to God through the Mediator than
    many who make use of the expression are aware of. I myself preached
    Christ,” he continued, “some years, when I had but very little, if any,
    experimental acquaintance with access to God through Christ; until the
    Lord was pleased to visit me with sore affliction, whereby I was brought
    to the mouth of the grave, and under which my soul was oppressed with
    horror and darkness; but God graciously relieved my spirit by a powerful
    application Psalm 130:4, ‘But there is forgiveness with thee, that
    thou mayest be feared;’ from whence I received special instruction, peace,
    and comfort, in drawing near to God through the Mediator, and preached
    thereupon immediately after my recovery.”
  20. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    If you don't mind me saying so ........ in reading posts on the computer screen it is very helpful if the paragraphs are broken up by hitting the enter key every so often to separate them, as I have taken the liberty of doing to your post shown above. Makes it far more easier on old eyes such as mine. Thanks for the useful and informative posts.
  21. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    This has been the point I have been hammering away at. I am more comfortable w/ the idea that one was regenerate in this 'preparatory' phase than to consider the unregenerate man being dealt with in a manner that was less than the enmity which he held w/ Christ if unregenerate. In my opinion, there is a deep chasm between the realities, scripturally speaking; at least in what I am able to see. Part of the problem arises out of making the proper distinctions and using a consistent language. Many use the term conversion and regeneration interchangeably, to which in my estimation leads to some problems. I find myself having to sift through what is being said in these instances to gather the points correctly.

    It has been a profitable discussion. Thanks to all. :)
  22. The Narrator

    The Narrator Puritan Board Freshman

    The question that has plagued me for 30 years, and to which I don't have a definite answer, is why so many people in our day are converted so easily?
    When I look at the huge turnout of the Young, Restless and Reformed "Calvinists" that attend assemblies from the Gospel Coalition,
    and when I see that Mark Driscoll's church had an assembly of 8000 people and John Piper's church, when I visited there in 2003,
    had 22 pastors, inside I wonder how such a revival producing so many conversions took place but the testimonies differ so drastically
    from many conversion testimonies I see detailed in works like John Gillies, Historical Collections and Accounts of Revival. I know God's
    ways of bringing the dead sinner to life are so very various. But what I see that is different in many detailed autobiographical conversions
    in a bygone day is a conviction that the sinner was brought to that by nature he has a dreadful enmity against God. Romans 8:7.
    This sentence, from the life of Asahel Nettleton, used to be a very common pre-conversion experience that is by and large unheard of in our day,
    " One day, while alone in the field, engaged in prayer, his heart rose against God, because he did not hear and answer his prayers.
    -Then the words of the Apostle, the carnal mind is enmity against God, came to his mind with such overwhelming power,
    as to deprive him of strength, and he fell prostrate on the earth." Again, here is a statement from the biography of David Brainerd,
    When I considered of it, it distressed me to think that my heart was so full of enmity against God; and it made me tremble,
    lest God's vengeance should suddenly fall upon me. I used before to imagine my heart was not so bad as the Scriptures and some other books represented."
    But this kind of confession is very rarely met with in the details of so many conversions now. That it is necessary, I am not saying, that it should be preeminent
    I don't even say that. I am saying it is almost non-existent. I am only asking why?
  23. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    These are confessions; disciples who have the sign placed. No one knows who is actually regenerated and converted. The path is narrow, not wide. Many are called, few chosen. Numbers never tell the truth.

  24. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    Mr. Sullivan, I believe ("The Narrator"):

    A few thoughts in answer to your question. Edwards himself is very clear that conviction of sin--deep and profound conviction of sin--often follows conversion (as it did in his case; as noted in my earlier cited article on Edwards). I think that your question is a valid one, then, when taken in the broader sense: what has happened to a deep conviction of sin in the life of the Christian (whether at the beginning of his walk or later)?

    I think that the answer there is that we tend to have little clear preaching of the law to see our sin, hate our sin, and turn from our sin. We don't take our sin very seriously. We are not a deeply spiritual age. Our spirituality tends to be thin and we need greater texturing, including a much greater sense of the unspeakable sinfulness of sin: what is cost the Savior and how that, unless we are killing it (to use Rutherford's terms), it will be killing us.

    More could be said here about the specifics of your question, but I think that the real point is that there is far too little sense of the truly horrifc nature of sin among us and we need to be in prayer for the Lord to revive such in our midst so that we might see and hate and turn from our sin as never before.

  25. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Wow, I checked out your link. You have a very nice voice to narrate with! I will be exploring your website more today (after lots of turkey).
  26. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Thanks Scott!
  27. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    This is why I said in a previous post that "false assurance" was our biggest problem in the US church today. Lots of people who say they are saved, but the trouble seems to be getting people lost....nobody is ever "lost" nowadays and I've scarcely heard of people struggling for any extended period of time in conviction over their sins prior to salvation. Dr Strange responded that he did not see this as a problem in his church (which I assume is a solid church with long-time Christians in attendance), so maybe it is only a problem in more evangelical circles, but I am not ready to relent on the point that salvation has become altogether too easy in our day and nobody seems to struggle much prior to being delivered.
  28. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior


    I did not say that false assurance was not a problem in the confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches. I said that I did not see it as the predominate problem. I would agree, as I said above in response to The Narrator, that a low view of sin, and too little conviction of sin, is a predominate problem, as well as hearty faith.

    You've gone on to say other things, including this reiteration: "This is why I said in a previous post that "false assurance" was our biggest problem in the US church today." Trevor, just to be clear, when you assert this, what you are saying is, "Lots of people who profess faith in evangelical churches clearly are not Christians at all and are headed for hell." I am not suggesting that this is unclear to you, but I am not sure that it's equally clear to everyone in the conversation.

    I am prepared to agree that in all our churches the spiritual temperature is low right now. I am not prepared to say what you are pretty clearly saying: "That's because most of these people are not Christians at all." You may well be right that many are not, but I do not believe that there's a necessity to assert such. If people's life and doctrine is such that clearly warrants such a conclusion that's one thing (e.g., they deny the virgin birth or live impenitently in sin). But I am not going to assert this on the grounds that "they are not saved because they've not had (or yet had) a particular religious experience." This is what you are doing, brother.

    I do not hear you saying "I think that many people are not really Christian because of their clearly defective doctrine and/or life." You may well think that, but that's not the point of all of these posts, is it? The point of all of these posts is that you question whether people are Christian because you don't hear them testifying to an experience of significant conviction of sin before conversion, which is to say, that you are questioning, in the first place, whether people are Christians, not because of defective life or doctrine, but because they've not had the sort of religious experience that you think they should have had if they are truly Christian.

    This is why I urge you to rethink your position on this. It is not fundamentally sound to judge a person's spiritual state on the basis of whether you find their conversion narrative convincing or not. This is a path down which some good Puritans have gone in the past, but it is a fruitless and ultimately uncharitable one. Much better simply to say that we need refreshing and reviving and leave in God's hands how He works this all out. And one may object here that refreshing and renewal pertains only to those already trusting. Yet the dynamic of initial trust and continuing trust are not different: when one first trusts and repents, that's simply the begining of a life of trusting and repenting. So I need either to do it for the first time or be renewed in it. But it's always about Christ and what he's done for me, not the quality of my conviction for sin or the quality of my faith in Him.

    We (I am thinking of what a session does in this respect) don't properly examine men's religious experiences minutely in determining whether men are saved or not; rather, we examine their doctrine and life and ask them whether they repent and believe. Some see their sin clearer than others; many come to realize its depths later.

    I think that we have the same concern (we both lament the current low spiritual temperature). But given your way of seeing it, one is likely to preach in a way that will prompt men to seek a certain religious experience, whereas we really want to point men to Christ so that they repent and believe for the first time or simply once again. We don't want to preach in a way that induces men to seek to have a certain religious experience. Rather, we want to preach in a way that makes it clear to all your hearers that outside of Christ there is no hope, that we are lost sinners, doomed and damned, and that Christ alone is our only hope of eternal salvation.

  29. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Yes, I agree that one's life and doctrine are important to examine. And yet, one may mentally assent to all the right things and yet still never commit to it or be changed by it.

    You write:
    . How about the religious experience of having believed and repented?

    If a man truly believes and has repented, he might not know when this was exactly, but he would have an awareness of being alive. There does seem to be some importance to the experiential aspect. Just to be clear, if somebody comes to me for spiritual counsel, I would focus on present repentance and faith and doctrine and fruits. BUT, asking whether one has ever truly believed savingly in Christ or truly repented (questions pertaining to a past experience of conversion) are also very useful. The answer of, "Well I've always been a Christian..." might be justifiable in some cases of children raised up in the church, but for most people there was a time of conscious decision to commit to these doctrines.

    My wife grew up in a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod environment where she reported that no sermon ever addressed them as sinners or demanded a conscious placing of faith in was always "just assumed" that all those in the church were already believers. There was never any "examine yourself to see whether you be in the faith" sort of sermons.

    Yes, we are to preach in a way that shows that there is hope in Christ and that Christ is our only hope of eternal salvation. I am not sure how my preaching would diminish this if I were to ask "Have you ever truly hoped in Christ..." or "Have you ever placed your faith in the Saviour?"

    Do you see anything wrong with Joseph Alleine's appeal in An Alarm to the Unconverted, "... Strike in with the Spirit when He begins to work upon your heart. When He works convictions, O do not stifle them, but join in with Him, and beg the Lord to give you saving conversion. 'Quench not the Spirit.' Do not reject Him, do not resist Him."

    I believe that the experiential aspect of salvation is of some importance. Though the experience varies in the particulars and in the intensity, if becoming a Christian is to be translated out of a kingdom of darkness into a kingdom of light, shouldn't Christians be able to be conscious of at least some of this change and be able to verbalize it? MY affections have been changed, my appetites have been changed, what my mind dwells on has been changed....
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