What is Harder than a Rock? The Human Heart

As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you! But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster.” Jeremiah 44:16–17 (ESV)

“As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.””
Hebrews 3:15 (ESV)

It is amazing how hard the heart of man can become. The Bible likens it to a stone because it can become unfeeling and unbending like rock. But the metaphor of a rock falls short when it comes to the depths of that unbending attitude.

In Jeremiah 44, the prophet once again declared the coming judgment of God as well as the mercy of God if they would only repent. But instead of repentance, the people doubled-down in their sin. They not only wouldn’t turn from their sin, they would instead make sure that they kept their vows to their false gods and continue to make offerings, just as their wicked forefathers and leaders had done before them.

This people who would not keep their covenant promises to the LORD, were so ingrained in their sin that their hard hearts led them to lock on to their promises to worship false gods like a pit bull onto a piece of raw meat! In this way, they were not like rocks. Rocks don’t get harder, but people’s hearts sometimes do. They don’t just reject God, they go even further and show their open disdain and hatred of God.

But what is even more amazing than the hardness of man’s heart is the grace and mercy of God. In Hebrews 3, the writer of this letter uses the rebellion of Israel in the Old Testament as an example. The failures of Israel become a tool for teaching, showing that God will keep his word and punish those who insist on rebelling. But along with that, even hundreds of years after these events in the wilderness, God is still offering mercy and forgiveness to all who will listen and come to him. What overflowing grace!

The offer of the free grace of God is still offered today. Men and women can dive deeper into their sin so that their hearts become completely unfeeling and their hatred against God and everything else is seething. Or they can listen to the Spirit as he speaks through the Word of God and offers to them salvation and cleansing from all their sins.

Some offers are too good to be true, but not this one. This one is genuine. If you don’t have forgiveness from God, then this offer is for you. Don’t pass it by. Don’t grow colder and harder. There is only pain, misery, and death on that path. Go to Jesus. He receives sinners and turns them into saints.

Doctrine Worth Dying For

Bishop John Hooper burned at the stake by the order of Queen Mary Tudor

In his soul-stirring book, Light From Old Times, J.C. Ryle puts before his reader reminders of the courageous men and women who gave their lives for the truth of the Word of God. Wycliffe, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Bradford, Rogers, and Hooper, among many others, died for refusing to cast aside their conviction of what the Scriptures teach in order to spare their mortal bodies.

The other day I wrote a post in regard to some churches that have diminished views of eschatology as is evidenced in their doctrinal statement. Some claim that since whether one is Amil, Premil, Postmil, is not an issue of salvation, and therefore should be left out of a church doctrinal statement. I think I addressed this in the last post, but I will say this: If we are only going to include universal truths that all Christians agree upon from every communion and tradition, we will indeed have a very small statement.

But this view ignores two realities. First, it mixes the distinction between the universal church and the local expression of the church. Yes, to be included in the universal church we need to ascribe to the gospel as delivered once for all the saints. But the local church, with local pastors and elders will understand very important doctrines and practices very differently from many other local assemblies, that are also a part of the Church Universal.

This simplistic and even naive view wants to act as if anything that is not necessary and primary is not important to express and defend within the local church. Every church makes distinctions in what they believe and how they express their theology in practice. The only way to avoid doing so is to continually water down belief and practice to the lowest common denominator so that whatever you do, so long as you are under the banner of “Christian,” is acceptable. However, in practice, the church that doesn’t write down what they believe and practice does take a stand, but they don’t have it written down.

The second reality often ignored is the fact that not only are secondary and even tertiary issues important to delineate in a doctrinal statement, but their are even good reasons for division. In Ryle’s Light From Old Times, he points out the great division that existed during the Reformation in Europe and England over the issues of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Again, those who would prefer unity over doctrine, would say that this is unfortunate. But history shows that the doctrinally astute understand that these issues matter immensely, and may even be worth dying for if we are convinced by Scripture and conscience.

For the one who would say that secondary and tertiary issues are not important enough to divide over, I would ask whether they have women pastors and elders in their churches, whether they practice infant baptism and believer’s baptism, and by what theological basis do they affirm their practices? Does this non-committal church worship on the Sabbath or on Sunday? Do they partake of the Lord’s Supper without any explanation of the significance? If they do explain, which view do they take? Is it “potluck” and everyone brings their view to the table? Does this sound like unity? Does it sound like nit-picking and division since none of the views would keep a person out of heaven? To me, it sounds like formalized chaos and would break down in actual practice.

We live in a wishy-washy age, but we don’t need anymore wishy-washy leaders in the Church. We need men with lion-hearts and backbone. We need men who will speak with grace, but never depart from truth. We need men who will stand on what they believe and not allow their churches to slink down to the lowest common denominator in its doctrine, and especially under the false guise of “unity.” Doctrine is worth defending. It is even worthy dying for. True, not every hill is worth dying on. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have firm commitments, nor that good men can’t disagree and still be brothers at arms in the fight for truth.

May the Lord restore us to a place where we can have distinction and unity. That we recognize the universal church as all those who subscribe to the basic tenants of the Christian faith, and yet the critical importance of the local church is never downplayed or discounted, but seen as the place where further doctrinal detail is hammered out in the everyday life of Christ’s disciples.

The God Who Seeks Sinners

“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that was not called by my name.
(Isaiah 65:1 (ESV))

In considering the saving power of God, many have struggled with the conundrum of the sovereign acts of God in salvation versus the need for men to call out to God in order to be saved. This issue has shown up most clearly in the American Evangelical church as the Seeker-sensitive Movement.

The Seeker Sensitive Church may be a twentieth century phenomenon in regard to the trappings of style and function, but its roots run all the way back to the revivalistic theology and camp-style meetings of men like Charles Finney and his ”new measures.” Not only were Finney’s practices firmly planted in Arminian practice, his theology went beyond classical Arminian theology and fully embraced the heresy of Pelagianism.

The theological underpinnings of these movements (Seeker-sensitive churches, Finney-like practices, Arminianism/Semi-Pelagianism, and Pelagianism) all place major emphasis upon the idea that the makeup of human reasoning and ability in making moral choices is either totally free from any effect of the Fall (Pelagianism) or only minimally effected (Semi-Pelagianism, et. al.). This important starting point understands and teaches that man is completely and totally capable of making a decision for or against the free offer of the gospel without the direct intervention of the Spirit of God. It is a free moral choice that he is fully capable of making.

Although the idea of man being a free moral agent is a great theological discussion to have, I’ll need to do that at another time. Instead, I want to address the subject of Isaiah 65:1 above. This verse looks at the salvation from God’s point of view. The Apostle Paul referred to this text in Romans 10:20 in reference to the salvation of the Gentiles, “the nation” not called by the name of the Lord.

It is helpful to note that in the larger context of Isaiah, the Lord is described as being willing to receive those who are broken-hearted and contrite. Israel had remained hard-hearted and stiff-necked. She had refused His many appeals and would find herself in exile for her sins. And yet, God had been patient and waited for her to return. As a matter of fact, throughout the book of Isaiah, the Lord repeatedly reaffirms His need to bring His hand of judgment upon Israel while also comforting His people with the fact that although He was angry, He would not be angry forever, and that He would never forsake His Beloved.

So, as the Lord speaks in Isaiah 65:1, He addressed these foreigners who are not Israel. They may not be asking for Him and they may not be seeking Him, but the Lord is portrayed as stating “Here I am, Here I am.” Our God does not hide, He does not obscure Himself or His free offer of salvation.

The problem is that men do not seek Him. They are blinded by their sin, warped in their thinking, devoted to their iniquity, and love the darkness rather than the light. But as John reminds us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 (ESV)). We may not seek God, but it is good to know that God seeks sinners that He might bring them to salvation.

It is good to know that God can take the hard heart of stone and turn it soft. He can open blind eyes so that we can see the loveliness of Christ and the filth of our own sin. And it is an anchor to the soul to know that my salvation is not secured by my righteousness, but by the righteousness of Christ and His death upon the cross for me. I may fall a thousand times, but Christ will hold me fast. “Here I am. Here I am,” he says. May we take comfort in our great God and Savior’s words.