Saturday, December 16, 2017

Should We Pray “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”?


The Pope says, “no” (as has been widely reported recently). Francis said, “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.” There is nothing ambiguous about the wording of the original. Pope Francis does not suggest that the translation needs to be improved because of language but because of theology.  So what to make of this? It is true that God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13-14) and that the word for tempt can also mean to test. But we also read that Jesus was led by God into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1). We have to acknowledge the role of God’s Providence in this. How should we understand this part of the Lord’s Prayer?

There is a lot more to this phrase than we might first assume. As Samuel Rutherford notes, when we pray “lead us not into temptation” we are acknowledging our dependence on God’s sovereignty. We pray against removal of the spiritual influences that we need to withstand temptation. “We crave the increase of faith and grace, and that we may have strength to stand against the devil, sin and all the troubles and the evil and curse in temptations as being weak of ourselves.”

Rutherford points to similar prayers in the Psalms: “Remove from me the way of lying” (Psalm 119:29). “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work ini­quity” (Psalm 141:4). He notes that “praying to be led of God in His way, not to be led into temptation must include a petition that God would send influences, and not forsake us in the way of His obedience under our defections.” This is a way for “a child of God submit to His deep sovereignty in withdrawings, and stoop humbly to the Lord’s holy decree.” It would be no comfort to believe that the temptations we face are outside of God’s control. Scripture makes it clear that He is sovereign over all things and has wise purposes in what He permits. It is difficult for us to fathom these mysteries but that does not make them any less real.

We acknowledge that (if left to ourselves) the desires of our hearts would lead us into temptation. We cannot blame God if we fall into temptation. David fell and yet acknowledged the guilt was solely his own (Psalm 51:1).

Rutherford together with the rest of the Westminster Assembly shone the light of Scripture on these great mysteries. They are matters of everyday practical concern to us, despite their difficulty. The Assembly considered it as an aspect of God’s providential dealings with His children. The experience of Job (Job 1:12), Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7) and David (2 Samuel 24:1) prove that this is true.
The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave for a season His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption, and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends (5:5).
The Westminster Assembly dealt with this matter more fully in expounding the Lord’s Prayer in the Larger Catechism (Q195).
In this petition, (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,) acknowledging, that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers [various] holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptation; that Satan, the world, and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us; and that we, even after the pardon of our sins, by reason of our corruption, weakness, and want of watchfulness, are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations, but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them; and worthy to be left under the power of them: we pray, that God would so over-rule the world and all in it, subdue the flesh, and restrain Satan, order all things, bestow and bless all means of grace, and quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them, that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin; or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation; or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it, and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof: that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected, Satan trodden under our feet, and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, for ever.
God Has Holy and Just Purposes in Permitting Temptation

God had a purpose of testing Hezekiah and showing him what was in his heart (2 Chronicles 32:31) and therefore left him to himself for a time. God had a purpose of restraining pride in Paul and showing the all-sufficiency of His grace (2 Corinthians 12:8). God left enemies for Israel to face to test them (Judges 2:21-22).

As the Catechism goes on to show, we need to be shown sometimes how unable and unwilling we are of ourselves to resist temptation (Romans 7:23-24).  We need to be shown the power of the world, the flesh and the devil to draw us away and our weakness against them (James 1:14). Sometimes we are left to temptations to show that we deserve to be left in their power (Psalm 81:11-12). He also purposes to show us our need of watchfulness (Matthew 26:41). 

We need Grace to Benefit from Temptation

We need to learn lessons from experiencing temptation, particularly to pray for increased grace and watchfulness. If God has wise and holy purposes, we ought to learn what these are as far as possible. This is what the catechism means when it says that we need “to improve them”. Peter had to do this (Luke 22:32).

God’s Good Providence Can Provide Occasions for Temptation

We need to pray against being led into temptation because our natural corruption can make anything an occasion for temptation. We may not be fully aware of this. The Psalmist was tempted to envy because of the good providence of God towards the wicked (Psalm 73:4). He responded similarly to God’s chastisements designed for his own good (Psalm 73:14).  The good things of this life can be an occasion for temptation (Matthew 22:22; 1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Timothy 3:4).

It is not God’s providence that needs to change but our sinful response to it (Psalm 62:10). We need to pray, therefore “that God would so over-rule the world and all in it…quicken us to watchfulness…that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin.”

We Are in Danger of Exposing Ourselves to Temptation

Peter was confident in himself and not being watchful, exposed himself to temptation (Matthew 26:35). He was sure that he was willing even to lay down his life for his Master (John 13:37). Yet, when the trial came he was not willing to be identified with Christ. Thus we need to pray for the flesh to be “subdued” as an enemy within (Psalm 19:13; Psalm 119:133).

We Need Strength to Withstand Temptation

In praying “lead us not into temptation” we pray to God that “by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation” (Ephesians 3:16). As one older writer puts it, we pray that temptation “may be like a wave dashing against a rock, which remains unmoved thereby, or like a dart shot against a breast-plate of steel, which only blunts the point thereof, and returns it back without doing any execution” (Thomas Ridgeley).

The strength we need is sanctifying grace to keep us from falling (Jude 24). This enables us to hate sin and love holiness and so to resist temptation as Joseph did (Genesis 39:9). We need the mighty strength of God to stand equipped with the spiritual armour of grace (Ephesians 6:13-14). Such testing can have a strengthening effect, even if it does involve resisting a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8-10).

We Pray to be Delivered from Temptation

We also pray that we would not be left under the power of temptation but delivered from evil even if we have fallen. We pray that we would not be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin but rather restored (Psalm 51:12; Psalm 23:3). We need to pray for grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16) and that is why we must pray not to be led into temptation.
Conclusion

These are just some of the reasons we must pray “lead us not into temptation”. We certainly do need this prayer in our daily warfare with sin. It is a gross misinterpretation which ignores biblical teaching to say that this is God “pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen”. It is clear from Scripture that “the most wise, righteous, and gracious God” orders things “for just and holy” reasons “so that that “we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptation.”

As one older writer (Thomas Ridgeley) suggests, we would do well to turn this Catechism answer into a prayer. We need to confess our weakness and that we are exposed to many difficulties. We find it hard to pass through the world without being allured and drawn aside or discouraged. We need to confess the deceitfulness and treachery of our own hearts which make us prone to yield ourselves the servants of sin and Satan. Thus, we seek the powerful help of God’s grace, that we may be kept in the hour of temptation. We pray from strength to overcome the world, mortify sin and resist the devil.  Though we are liable in ourselves to remain under temptation, we pray for grace to be recovered and delivered and kept through this life.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Worldview: Pluralism and Relativism


"While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols" (Acts 17:16).

We now turn our attention to one of the most important manifestations of secularism today: pluralism. The basic idea of pluralism is this: We have diversity here in this world. We have no access to ultimate unity. We have particulars but no universals; relatives but no absolutes.

As Christians, we understand that God has built a plurality of things into His world. There is a plurality of cultures and of cultural expressions, and this is good. We understand, though, that in back of all this diversity of expression there is the one God who is Author of it all. Pluralism, however, says that there is no ultimate truth, or if there is we cannot know it. Diversity is all there is.

This is precisely what Paul encountered in Athens (Acts 17:16–31). He was struck by the multiplicity of gods, created by man to meet every differing need and facet of Greek life. Paul destroyed this pluralism by his reference to the “unknown God” who is Lord of heaven and earth, not made of gold or stone.

Pluralism and relativism have no chance of being true because, from the beginning, truth itself is eliminated. If everything is true, then nothing is true. The word truth is now empty of meaning. That is why the modern man finds himself in a dilemma. He is cast into chaos, and man cannot continually live in intellectual chaos.

When this emptiness has happened in the past, something has come in to fill the vacuum. Relativism is ultimately intolerable. What will come to this vacuum is some form of statism to bring unity. The good of the “state” will become the ultimate point of unity. The rapid growth of the centralized state is happening before our eyes in the United States.

Consider the areas where the people of America formerly looked to God for their security, their meaning, and their decision making. Now, instead, they look to the state. This eventually becomes statism. The state unifies, transcends, becomes absolute, and is eternal.

Compare the security of the Christian faith with the constantly shifting values of relativism in our pluralistic society. What is the unifying foundational principle in the lives of those around you? How is your life different?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Worldview: Pragmatism


"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14:28).

Pragmatism is a philosophy built around practicality. As Christians, we are called by our Lord to be practical in what we do, and in our ethical practice—what we do for God—is very important to our Christian lives. Pragmatism, however, reduces all of life only to questions of immediate practicality.
Pragmatism grew up in the United States. It arose at Harvard University among three members of the Metaphysical Club that existed there toward the end of the 19th century. They were William James, Charles Pierce, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. A later advocate of pragmatism was John Dewey.

Out of a growing spirit of skepticism toward understanding eternal norms, these men began to look for an alternative approach. They said, “We can’t know ultimate truth; we can’t know ultimate values. So, how do we know what is right? The answer is by experimentation.” In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James turned this approach toward religion. His method was to interview people, and he concluded that religion is fine for many people because it works for them. If religion does not work for you, then you don’t need it. His ultimate concern and that of his fellow pragmatists was not with truth but rather with “what works.”

Pragmatism focuses on the short term. Since we cannot know ultimate truths, we can only deal with immediate issues in terms of short-term perceived workability. Beyond this, the pragmatist has no answer to such short-term solutions to problems as the elimination of the Jews by the National Socialists during World War II. After all, such a solution surely “works.”

Review the decisions you made last weekend. What were your reasons and motivations? Were they for convenience, gain, profit, pleasure? What place did ultimate values and biblical principles have in the decisions? What about decisions facing you at the start of this new week—will pragmatism dictate the outcome?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Have We Lost the Ten Commandments?


A recent poll conducted in Britain show that most people there think that only six of the Ten Commandments are still relevant. One wonders what it would be here in America! It’s not hard to guess which ones have become unpopular: the first four relating to our duty to God. What is shocking but not surprising is that most of those professing to be Christians agreed. It hardly seems credible that 60% of Christians would not believe we should only worship the one true God. Any encouragement that the other commandments are still respected is undermined by the fact that the Godward aspect of morality is rejected. If most people are prepared to give this away, have we now lost the Ten Commandments?

Removing the first four commandments actually dispenses with the most important precepts. Christ summarizes them as loving the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind (Luke 10:27). Indeed, He calls this “the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). It comes before loving our neighbor as ourselves. Love to our neighbor should flow from love to God (1 John 5:1). Unless we have the faith that pleases God working by true love for Him we cannot truly love our neighbor.

The first four commandments deal with worship: (1) who we are to worship; (2) what ways we must worship Him; (3) how (in what manner) we must worship Him; (4) when we must worship Him. The other six deal with how we are to treat others and we can see it is in our self-interest to respect these. Yet proud unrenewed self can see no personal benefit in worshipping God even though it is the reason that we were created.

The connection that links the commandments together is so close that if the authority of God is despised in one, it is despised in all (James 2:10, 1 John 4:20). James Durham reflects on how the first four commandments deal with the worship, service, and obedience which is due to God. It seems that the first four were written on one tablet of stone and the remaining six on the other (Deuteronomy 4:13). This would make the division into two parts (usually called two tables) something that God did from the beginning. This is supported by Christ summary of the commandments under the two main duties towards God and our neighbor. The two tables were put into the ark to emphasize the holiness of the law.

Durham makes the following points:

1. All the commandments of the second table share the same authority with the first. God spoke “all these words”. Indeed, it appears from Acts 7:38 that it was our Lord Jesus who spoke them.

2. Sins directly against the first part are greater than those against the second. It is for this reason that the first table is called the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:38).

3. In morals (if they are things of the same nature) the duties of the second table give place to the duties of the first table when they cannot be equally obeyed. This is so in the case of love to God and exercising love to our father and neighbor (Luke 14:26; Matthew 10:37). When obedience to God and obedience to our superiors cannot be consistent we are to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19). We are to love the Lord and (comparatively) hate father and mother (Luke 14:6).

4. Note, however, that things required in the first table may for a time give place to moral duties in the second. For example, relieving or preserving our neighbor’s life when it is in danger, we may need to work on the sabbath day. This is in accordance with the “I will have mercy and not sacrifice” and “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

Why do we need to study the Ten Commandments?

The deep ignorance about how the Ten Commandments fit together and the importance of the first table of the law show that they are not understood. If people understood the full requirements of the other six commandments as they reach to our thoughts, words and desires as well as actions they would have far less general approval. Even if we have a commitment to all Ten Commandments, if we do not properly understand them we are in danger of losing them. It’s time to seek to understand them in the way that Scripture reveals their full meaning. James Durham makes the following points.

1. They are unique.

God uniquely announced them with His voice and then directly wrote them on two tablets of stone. These tablets of stone were afterwards commanded to be kept in the ark (Deuteronomy 10: 2, 5) and to be learned (Deuteronomy 5:1). They were to be written on the posts of the doors and diligently impressed on their children (Deuteronomy 6:7-10). Great emphasis is given to explaining these commandments by the prophets and apostles. The Saviour also does this in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7).

2. They are useful.

Everyone who wants to know what is pleasing and displeasing to God will find them useful. By them we may know what sin is, how to avoid it and how to be stirred up to repentance when we have fallen into it. The knowledge of sin comes through the law (Romans 7:7). This is why it is summed up in so few words, to be more easily brought into and kept within our memories and hearts. This is why they are commended in the Word of God (Deuteronomy 5:1).

3. They are not understood.

The Ten Commandments are so comprehensive that we will come short of their great scope without effort and diligence (Psalm 119:96). There is great ignorance among many about the meaning of this vital part of Scripture. Many people do not even know that they are breaking the commandments. The result of this is little conviction of sin, little repentance for sin and much presumptuous confidence in self-righteousness.

Ignorance of the spiritual nature of the Ten Commandments makes many people neglect the main aspects of holiness, and instead proudly rest on self-righteousness and despise Christ the Mediator. We can see this from the example of Paul (Romans 7:9). Our Lord expounded the Ten Commandments so that sinners would see the necessity of a Mediator who is the end of the law for righteousness to all that believe (Romans 10:4). It is not only the godless, those who are most careful to observe religious formalities and upright in their lives, also stumble in this.

We need to know: (1) what kind of duties are required in every commandment, and (2) the sins which contradict each commandment. This should give us some direction and help in duty, and some spur to repentance, or at least conviction. By it we may therefore be led to Christ Jesus, who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes (Romans 10:4). This was after all, the principal purpose of this law as it was given to Israel.

How should we study the Ten Commandments?

We need to know how to understand and apply the Ten Commandments properly. Without this we do not understand how to live according to and make use of the gospel. Gospel obedience involves conviction of sin, carefulness in practice, constant exercise of repentance and daily fresh dependence on the blood of Christ. All this is undermined by failure to understand the commandments aright. Here is some further advice from Durham on how to approach the study of the Ten Commandments.

1. Look on Them as God’s Word.

Receive it as though you heard God Himself speak it from Sinai. Tremble (as the people did) and be more affected by holy fear whenever you read, hear or meditate on it.

2. Pray to Understand Them

Be much in prayer for grace to understand its meaning. David (Psalm 119:18) prayed for this often and thought it not unbecoming a King and a Prophet, to study this Law, and pray much for opened eyes to understand the meaning thereof.

3. Understand so as to Practice Them

Practice is the goal of knowledge. It is also the aim of the law itself (Deuteronomy 5:1-2). We know no more in God's account than what we endeavor honestly to practice. Failure in aiming to put things into practice makes us very careless and undermines both understanding and practice.

4. Examine Yourself by Them

When you hear and understand anything to be either duty or sin, reflect on yourself. Test whether this sin is in you and how far short you come in that duty. This is the proper way to use the law. It is intended to reveal sin and transgression (Romans 7:7-8). This is why it is called a glass or mirror (James 1:23-24). Look in it so that you may know what kind of person you are and what blemishes are on you.

5. Be Convicted by Them and Repent

When the law reveals sin let convictions in. The law entered that sin might abound, not in practice but in the convictions of conscience (Romans 5:20). Follow these Convictions by repentance till they force you to flee to Christ, and leave you there.

6. Use the Rest of Scripture to Understand Them

Receive help to understand this part of Scripture from Christ’s sermons and the prophets. They are the only canonical (and therefore the best) commentary on the Ten Commandments.

7. Use the Larger Catechism to Understand Them

But do not despise the understanding contained in human writings such as the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q.91-152). The Larger Catechism is very full in relation to this and if you make the best use of it conscientiously, it will prove exceeding profitable for your instruction.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Worldview: Humanism


"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power" (Daniel 7:13–14).

As we continue our study of competing worldviews, we now turn our attention to humanism. It is difficult to define humanism because it is such a broad philosophy and contains many different elements. One major problem in understanding humanism is that some people use humanism as a synonym for humanitarianism.

Humanitarianism refers to a concern people have for the welfare of other people. Humanism seeks to be humanitarian, of course, but so do other philosophies like Judaism and Christianity. Humanism as a philosophy says that “man is the measure of all things.” Man, in himself, is the ultimate norm by which values are to be determined. He is the ultimate being and the ultimate authority; all reality and life center on man.

Humanism states that there is no creator God. Thus, man is a cosmic accident. He emerges gratuitously from the primordial pool or warm pond by chance. He is moving inexorably toward annihilation. Yet the humanists maintain that man is a being of supreme dignity. He lives his life between two poles of meaninglessness. He comes from nothing, and he goes to nothing, but somehow in between, he acquires ultimate dignity! He becomes the measure of all things. This is a ridiculous position. 

What reply can the humanist give to the critic who asks, “What difference does it make if black germs or white germs sit in the back of the bus? Why should we mere germs care for the poor? Dignity is an illusion. It is at best a sentimental dream. If I am a cosmic accident, why should I not just sleep in tomorrow morning?” Humanism, thus, is intellectually untenable, but it is emotionally attractive. We humans want to believe we are important. Apart from a doctrine of creation in God’s image, however, we can have no foundation for such a belief.

“True humanism” is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. It is indeed Jesus Christ who has supreme dignity and who is the measure of all things. As such, He brings dignity to human existence. If you are convinced of the dignity and sanctity of life, become involved in local efforts to stand against the devaluation of life.