A few days ago I was given a book by Martin Lloyd Jones called the “Plight of Man and the Power of God” It’s a short piece, only 119 pages long, consisting of five sermons in the context of World War 2. MLJ turns to the second half of Romans 1 to address the contemporary issues.
Now I have to say I haven’t gotten so excited of reading any book since D.A Carson’s “Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”! (Not even Calvin’s institutes!) The message of this book is still so immensely important for us today. As I read it I am amazed at how true many of his predictions and observations have come to be. At this point I have only read the first 40 pages, yet these first pages are so packed with hard truths that I have to pause every few lines to meditate on what he means, that I could not bring myself to continue just yet. Instead I’ve brought myself to read these first pages 3-4 times now. It was like reading the book of Romans for the first time!
Being in the context of World War 2, this book certainly delivers what I would not expect in such a difficult time. People doubted the existence of God, church attendance was dwindling and many more doubt the goodness of God. One would expect to hear something very comforting and fluffy to be preached at church.
Yet this is now how he begins. He begins his five sermons exploring the depth of the depravity of man, and the falsity of human goodness. He stated a few very good reasons by which we should doubt the theory that humans seek God and that we are making some sort of progress towards theological and spiritual enlightenment. He does this not just by observing the biblical Israel, but also by noticing the Spiritual roller-coaster human history is perpetually riding in. From the OT, to the declines and inclines of the Church, to the rising atheistic tendencies of the secular world, It is clear that humans do not seek God, God must take the initiative in revealing Himself, and yet when He does, we willingly choose and suppress His revelations. The Old Testament alone should be enough to testify to this truth as stated in Romans 1.
MLJ states that the Church cannot be presumed to only offer a message of comfort. One cannot deny the amazing comfort the Gospel offers to believers but if one was to assume that the only job of the church is to comfort people, then we would end up with a weak version of Christianity, and a sentimentalized version of God. Hence instead of saying frothy things that you would expect Joel Osteen to be preaching every weekend in his church, MLJ demands that we take a clear look at ourselves, deny the “lamentable ignorance” that is the theory of human goodness and get a biblical view of the nature of man.
It is only when we find a true view of ourselves that the gravity and immensity of the Gospel can ever make sense to us – that the grace of God becomes amazingly irresistible to us. Instead of saying “God is still loving and is still seeking to make us comfortable in this time of war”, he says “We are evil, prideful and we indulge in ungodliness, what did you expect?” Only when we realize how undeserving we are can we fully live joyously in the grace of God, no matter what the external circumstances are.
I am afraid that the church that we have today has fallen into such a trap. We have sentimentalized God and we have falsely affirmed the goodness of man. No longer does God love us merely out of grace alone, but now we hear false preachers speak of how God must necessarily love us because we are so lovable, because we are so good, because we are so “worth it”. Instead of preaching the Sovereignty of God, we succumb to philosophical speculations of free-will and the so called “problem of pain” or “evil”. Instead of emphasizing that God can do whatever He wants, we end up saying that God cannot intervene in what WE want. Such nonsense will only lead men astray and away from God when suffering and tribulations come their way.
We have seem to forgotten that both blessings and calamities come from a holy God. We seem to have forgotten that the only message there is to preach is what the Scriptures have written in front of us. Instead we have lost confidence in the power of the Word of God to draw men onto Himself and instead have replaced expository preaching with marshmallows, seeking to be attractive, seeking to be comfortable. We replace them with men-made techniques of loud music, nice lights and human fallible testimonials. We compromise mature leadership by stooping down to the maturity of the unbelievers, entertaining a delusion that somehow the natural man has an inclination to seek God. We have now replaced the goal of nurturing believers into a strong biblical foundation to the goal of numbers and hype.
Martin Lloyd Jones was right to point out that the only study man will ever be fully interested in is man himself. There are no seekers. There is no such thing as a seeker-friendly church. There is only one Seeker, and His name is Jesus Christ. We just run and hide. There is certainly something wrong when not a single person is challenged or angered at the preaching from the Pulpit. When we preach the Word, the natural man is inclined to hate it. Indeed the flesh is naturally in enmity against God (Rom 8:7-8). Will we succumb to feeding the hunger for self-comfort or will we actually heed to the Scriptures, get an honest clear look at who we really are, get a sense of true fear of the Wrath of God and then actually come to a true understanding of the Gospel? The Bible is the only message that God had given us to preach. And what, may I ask, will be more powerful than the Word of God alone? If we are not confident in His word, is it really any more sensible that other human means can bring in more profitable affects? Human means may bring in some sort of emotional affect, or as MLJ puts it, human means is inducing “dope”. But “dope” does not last.
The problem does not just exist in the Pulpits, today Christians have replaced the fundamental need for Godliness and a relationship with Christ to emphasizing moralistic (and often times, legalistic) living. Once again MLJ pointed out that we have now come to accept that unrighteousness is a more heinous sin than ungodliness when the former actually naturally comes from the latter. We see “Christian” books telling us to live a good life and to love one another, while leaving out the most important aspect: The Gospel and the Person of Jesus Christ as the motivating power driving that should be driving all of our actions.
I will continually pray that God will cause us to seek Truth, and to preach Truth as found in the Scriptures alone.
Soli Deo Gloria