Sunday, December 01, 2013

How NOT to train up a child - Michael Pearl

I read about this sad story recently about a well-known but dreadful book by Michael Pearl. Training a dumb animal is nothing like bringing up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The rod cannot be used without reproof. Our discipline must be limited by what a child can properly understand--otherwise it is not spiritual discipline, just senseless violence. Also just as we ought to flee temptation, we ought to keep our children away from temptation, not put stumbling blocks in front of them.

To be honest, I would not let people like that even train my dog (if I had one). 
"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." - Prov. 12:10.
As for Christ's little ones: 
"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." - Eph. 6:4.
"Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." - Col. 3:21.
"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." - Prov. 29:15.
The goal of discipline administered by Christian parents ought never to be to train children to achieve some kind of outward show of absolute obedience. It ought to be spiritual discipline to aim at a child's sanctification. That is what it means to nurture them in the Lord: they are like little olive plants that are weak and need to be carefully and lovingly nurtured (sometimes pruned) to become strong (Psalm 128:3). Not to tear them down, but to build them up. If it is to be spiritual then it must necessarily come with the Word of God - otherwise it is worthless because all our growth in grace comes by the word, and there is no edification without understanding (I Cor. 14:9ff), therefore the child must be taught to understand the Word of God. Also since the goal is the sanctification of the child, that means that children may only be chastened for sin (not for accidents, mistakes, weakness, etc), and the chastening must be appropriate and proportionate to the sin.

God's Fatherhood of us is our model. That God wills us always to be assured of our salvation (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:57; etc), teaches us that we too must always assure our children of our love for them, especially as we seek their salvation, to lead them away from sin and temptation, to lead them with us to Christ for forgiveness daily, and this means too that since it is sinful for them to disobey us, we ought not make the temptation more difficult for them by laying down burdensome and overbearing commandments on them. Instead we need to be gentle, knowing that they are weak vessels like us, yet even weaker. And unless we know in ourselves our own weakness as deeply as we ought, we will not be as gracious with our children as we ought to be. Who is sufficient for the heavy responsibility to be a father to one these little citizen's of Christ's kingdom. Considering the task, I would despair except that I trust that if God has entrusted one of His beloved elect to my care, then He will also work by His grace in me as an instrument in His hand for their benefit - because I know that God works all things for the good of His elect. 

By the way, I don't believe in presumptive regeneration. But I'm not a Baptist either, so I don't believe in presumptive un-regeneration. I believe we ought to view and treat all the children of believing parents as everyone else in the church; elect and beloved, etc (even though we know that just as there will be hypocrites among confessing adults, there will be reprobates among the children - in other words, that is not a sufficient reason biblically to view either an adult or a child in the church uncharitably). 

A friend directed me to this review. I want to highlight a very important that Rachel Miller makes in that review article - children have emotional needs. In fact, if I have learnt anything as a parent, it is that we can never know exactly what the reason for a child's crying might be. They might be crying because they are hungry, or thirsty, or too cold, or too warm, or a bit sick, or a bit uncomfortable, or because they want someone to talk to them, or to be with them, or to hold them. It is very likely that they themselves very often don't know what they are crying about, and maybe often they just feel a need to cry for no real reason other than that. And whatever the reason may be, even if they do not know themselves, unless they can tell us, then we cannot know.

But are we not the same? Do we not sometimes feel like we don't know what is wrong, and just want to cry to our heavenly Father? He is always ready and willing to hear our cries, no matter how often or how loud and fervent they might be. To bring our cries before God is not at all the same as murmuring and complaining against Him and His good providence - His fatherly kindness. It is an act of worship when we bring our cries before Him, because in doing so we confess that He alone is the one who always hears us and ultimately from whom all our comfort comes no matter what may be the reason for our cries. I don't have a lot of experience as a parent (one year today), but I guess that one of the richest experiences of any parent is when a child seeks their comfort from you, and I believe that God, who comforts us so that we can comfort others, works through us parents to comfort His children.

Ultimately our cries to God are a manifestation of this: "And not only they [the brute creation], but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23). And in this is our comfort; the Spirit expresses far more deeply to God what cannot express rightly (because of our sin, and more simply our weakness, and limited nature): "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:26-28). And since Christ knows the mind of His own Spirit dwelling in us, so He knows exactly how to intercede for us. And so we have the knowledge that everything is worked out by God for our good, because of His eternal love for us in Christ.

We will continue to offer up cries to God until our final redemption at the coming of the new age, and then there will be no more crying and our Father will have wiped away every tear from our eyes: "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev. 21:3-4).

Isn't this the kind of fatherhood that we ought to try to emulate: to wipe away the tears of our children, by giving them the comfort of us being with them, and them with us?

To presume that their crying is some kind of sophisticated sinful manipulation is not only absurd (from the point of view that even though their fallen human nature is utterly depraved, its expression is nevertheless restricted by their lack of development in strength, intelligence, etc), but also, and more importantly it is fundamentally uncharitable, and therefore un-Christian. It comes from a radically wrong mindset. Christian love demands this: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth..." (I Cor. 13:4-8). If we would desire that people be charitable with us in all our weaknesses, should we not be charitable to others - especially our own children? If we do not provide a living example of Christian love to our children, they will not learn it from us.

And even if it was only ever sinful crying, that would not change our responsibility as parents. We may never accuse another (whether our children or otherwise) of lying when we do not really know. The unregenerate wicked only ever sin, and yet they often speak truthfully in their sinning if it will get them want they want. Yet as Christians, we may not even presume that our children are unregenerate. I would guess in the theology of the Pearls however, they do presume this. And they propose a very different unbiblical way of the salvation of infants and children - salvation by physical discipline through the efforts of parents, rather than by grace through faith in Christ.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Does God have a kind benevolence toward all who receive good things from Him?

Maybe you can think about this more if I refer to a few Scriptures, and ask a few questions: "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (I Tim. 4:4-5). What if we receive good things from God without giving thanks for these things? We can find forgiveness only in Christ. But does this tell us what God's attitude is toward the recipient when He gives a person a good thing, whom He knows (according to His eternal determinate counsel) will not give thanks for it?

If the greatest good gifts are not given in benevolence, what of the lesser gifts? Would a less good gift be given with more benevolence or less? Would no gifts be the greatest benevolence? "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." (Rom. 3:1-2; cf. Rom 9:4-5) Can you conceive of a greater gift apart from salvation itself, than what the Jews received which the Gentiles did not? And yet which will receive the greater condemnation? "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Matt. 11:21-26) Isn't hearing the gospel a very good gift? But what is God's attitude in preaching it to the impenitent?

Consider God's attitude toward the recipients of such marvellous good gifts in His purpose for them and their receipt of these things: "What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway." (Rom. 11:7-10). These words, quoted from a Psalm of David, are also the words of Christ concerning those who betrayed and crucified Him (centrally Judas, but also the unbelieving Jews - to which they are applied in Romans 11 - and also by extension to all apostates or hypocrites). Therefore we find in the attitude of Christ toward those to whom He gives such good things: "Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap." Is there a kind benevolence toward those who receive the wonderful gifts here?

Christ Himself is the greatest most wonderful gift: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son ..." (John 3:16). As a good and precious gift, what is the attitude and purpose of God in giving Him or presenting Him to those who refuse to believe, to those who take Him and crucify Him? "And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken." (Isa. 8:14-15). "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." (I Pet. 2:6-8)

Practically how is the comfort of a good breeze on a hot day very different to the comfort of full table when hungry? But we know that specifically the table is a snare to those who are not in Christ. "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:" (Psalm 92:7) What is the purpose of God in giving earthly benefits to the wicked according to this verse? Consider also Psalm 73 and 37. I think that should provide sufficient ground for understanding the truth about the idea of a general benevolence of God - which after all is historically what the pagans of the Roman empire liked to believe in, not the "hard God" of the Christians. It is not a general benevolence of God toward wicked men revealed in the created things, but rather: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened." (Rom. 1:18-21) This is the content of the witness of God against the heathen in the dark days (for the Gentiles) of the Old Testament: "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." (Acts 14:15-17) If a good comforting breeze is therefore given as a witness of the good God against the unthankful idolatrous unbeliever, how can it be sent in a kind benevolence?

There are many more simple theological reasons which could be added: how could a general benevolence be compatible with God's eternal decree of predestination? Is it not mockery to claim to be kind to someone whom you have determined beforehand to send to eternal torment in hell? God doesn't send mixed messages. He is simple and in perfect peace and harmony within Himself. He does not have mercy for a few days, and then decide to throw you into hell. What comfort could we then find in the knowledge of His mercy or benevolence toward us? Rather, His mercy endures forever. He does not change, and therefore His attitude toward us does not change. If He had benevolence toward the wicked in this present earthly life, He would therefore continue to have benevolence toward them in hell. But we know that God even refuses to give good gifts to those in hell: "And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." (Luke 16:24-26).

If the wicked do not heed the witness of these good things, they therefore receive them to their condemnation, to the accumulation of evil things to be received when they end up in the lake of fire. That is the terrible judgement and righteously discriminating wrath of God - with which benevolence is incompatible.

Monday, May 27, 2013

God's reproof of Cain's evil anger

I recently quoted commentaries from John Calvin, John Gill, and Matthew Henry in answer to a question on the meaning of Genesis 4:7.
"If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him."

One surprising reply was this:
"Those are absurd commentaries, twisting the language to avoid the obvious. The passage is a direction for Cain to repent. It has nothing to do with Able [sic]. But when you deny free will, you have to twist God's words into something He did not say."

Nothing to do with Abel? Wasn't he the one who was murdered?

But to interpret it this way , "sin's desire shall be for you, but you shall rule over him" - I ask, how can sin (which is not a person) "desire"? And also, how can one say that Cain ruled over sin? Was it not the very opposite, that sin was Cain's ruler (cf. John 8:34; Rom. 6:16)?

And you have provided no answer to the argument given by Calvin: "I omit to notice that to the Hebrew word for sin is affixed the mark of the feminine gender, but that here two masculine relative pronouns are used."

From these arguments it is very obvious that the relationship between the firstborn Cain (and the ungodly) and Abel (and those saved by grace) is meant in this last phrase, as part of the reproof emphasising the wickedness of Cain's anger. It applies indirectly to all those who follow afterward, since it is ordinary for the ungodly to exercise dominion over the persecuted saints in this present evil age.

God says these things, and they are recorded here for us, to show us the sinfulness that is each one of us, apart from grace, since though Cain was reproved by God Himself, yet he reacted to that reproof by murdering his brother. In this we see more of the terrible results of the Fall, and the manifestation of the seed of the serpent.

In the murder of Abel, we see also that the destruction of this wicked seed is necessary for the salvation of the church, as God demonstrates when He sends the Flood to preserve His church (at that time reduced by apostasy and persecution to only Noah's family) as a type of the final judgement.

This is probably the worst place to look for something good in man's ability, since this passage only shows his slavery to sin despite being reproved by God Himself. God demonstrates by this what fruit we produce by our fallen nature, our hopelessness and misery apart from His grace. We see here our need for Christ, that promised seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), in whom Abel trusted by the grace which Cain did not receive according to the sovereign purpose of God.

Enough of my thoughts, here are the excellent commentaries I referred to above:

Calvin explains:
"And unto thee shall be his desire. Nearly all commentators refer this to sin, and think that, by this admonition, those depraved hosts are restrained which solicit and impel the mind of man. Therefore, according to their view, the meaning will be of this kind, ‘If sin rises against thee to subdue thee, why dost thou indulge it, and not rather labor to restrain and control it? For it is thy part to subdue and bring into obedience those affections in thy flesh which thou perceivest to be opposed to the will of God, and rebellious against him.’ But I suppose that Moses means something entirely different. I omit to notice that to the Hebrew word for sin is affixed the mark of the feminine gender, but that here two masculine relative pronouns are used. Certainly Moses does not treat particularly of the sin itself which was committed, but of the guilt which is contracted from it, and of the consequent condemnation. How, then, do these words suit, ‘Unto thee shall be his desire?’ (240) There will, however be no need for long refutation when I shall produce the genuine meaning of the expression. It rather seems to be a reproof, by which God charges the impious man with ingratitude, because he held in contempt the honor of primogeniture. The greater are the divine benefits with which any one of us is adorned, the more does he betray his impiety unless he endeavors earnestly to serve the Author of grace to whom he is under obligation. When Abel was regarded as his brother’s inferior, he was, nevertheless, a diligent worshipper of God. But the firstborn worshipped God negligently and perfunctorily, though he had, by the Divine kindness, arrived at so high a dignity; and, therefore, God enlarges upon his sin, because he had not at least imitated his brother, whom he ought to have surpassed as far in piety as he did in the degree of honor. Moreover, this form of speech is common among the Hebrews, that the desire of the inferior should be towards him to whose will he is subject; thus Moses speaks of the woman, (Gen_3:16,) that her desire should be to her husband. They, however, childishly trifle, who distort this passage to prove the freedom of the will; for if we grant that Cain was admonished of his duty in order that he might apply himself to the subjugation of sin, yet no inherent power of man is to be hence inferred; because it is certain that only by the grace of the Holy Spirit can the affections of the flesh be so mortified that they shall not prevail. Nor, truly, must we conclude, that as often as God commands anything we shall have strength to perform it, but rather we must hold fast the saying of Augustine, ‘Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.’"

Also Gill:
"but rather it refers to Abel; and the meaning is, that notwithstanding his offering was accepted of God, and not his brother Cain's, this would not alienate his affections from him, nor cause him to refuse subjection to him; but he should still love him as his brother, and be subject to him as his eider brother, and not seek to get from him the birthright, or think that that belonged to him, being forfeited by his brother's sin; and therefore Cain had no reason to be angry with his brother, or envious at him, since this would make no manner of alteration in their civil affairs: 'and thou shall rule over him', as thou hast done, being the firstborn."

And Henry:
"That he had no reason to be angry at his brother: “Unto thee shall be his desire, he shall continue his respect to thee as an elder brother, and thou, as the first-born, shalt rule over him as much as ever.” God's acceptance of Abel's offering did not transfer the birth-right to him (which Cain was jealous of), nor put upon him that excellency of dignity and of power which is said to belong to it, Gen_49:3. God did not so intend it; Abel did not so interpret it; there was no danger of its being improved to Cain's prejudice; why then should he be so much exasperated? Observe here, (1.) That the difference which God's grace makes does not alter the distinctions which God's providence makes, but preserves them, and obliges us to do the duty which results from them: believing servants must be obedient to unbelieving masters. Dominion is not founded in grace, nor will religion warrant disloyalty or disrespect in any relation. (2.) That the jealousies which civil powers have sometimes conceived of the true worshippers of God as dangerous to their government, enemies to Caesar, and hurtful to kings and provinces (on which suspicion persecutors have grounded their rage against them) are very unjust and unreasonable. Whatever may be the case with some who call themselves Christians, it is certain that Christians indeed are the best subjects, and the quiet in the land; their desire is towards their governors, and these shall rule over them."

This is much like how Paul instructs us to pray and seek the good of those who have the rule over us (because God will have all men to be saved - even kings and governors [not everyone nor even the majority, but of every sort]).

Cain of course, would not hear this reproof, and ignored the obvious injustice of his anger. So it is today. Despite the peacefulness of Christians waiting on the just vengeance of God in due time, seeking the good of their persecutors to whom they are subject, these sons of Cain still rise up to murder the children of God for no other reason than to satisfy their own rage. The wicked have no peace, like the troubled sea. 
photo credit: Fergal Mac Eoinin via photopin cc