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Literalists Lacking in Spiritual Understanding

My previous post (HERE) on the disciples’ insight into parables mentioned that there was a point (or points) when they demonstrated real perception into Christ’s teachings. Of course there were times when they didn’t as well. Related to that, in Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic book, Spiritual Depression (a personal favorite of mine), he likens the disciples to the blind man (at first only partially-)healed by Jesus, recorded in Mark 8. When Jesus asks the man if he can see, the man responds, “I see men as trees, walking.”

From this, Lloyd-Jones argues that Jesus’ miracle was performed this way intentionally in order to demonstrate a spiritual principle to the disciples. Like the prophet Nathan with David, Jesus was pointing the disciples to this partially-healed man saying, “You are the man.”

MLJ puts it this way:

It is difficult to describe this man. You cannot say that he is blind any longer. You cannot say that he is still blind because he does see; and yet you hesitate to say that he can see because he sees men as trees, walking. What then – is he or is he not blind? You feel that you have to say at one and the same time that he is blind and that he is not blind. He is neither one thing nor the other (p. 39).

He goes on to say that many struggling Christians are like this. It can both appear that they are and are not a Christian. This, however, is not my point in this post. So let me get to it.

MLJ describes the disciples in this way: the event of the healing of the blind man (in Mark’s narrative) is fresh off the heals of a discussion with the disciples about leaven (in which Jesus asks the disciples, “Do you not understand? Do you not see? Do you not remember?'”). Because he told them to beware the leaven of the pharisees, they began talking about literal bread. So, MLJ says, “they were literalists, they were lacking in spiritual understanding.” Jesus proceeds to call them out on this.

A literalist, in this sense, is someone who cannot see beneath the surface of a story or illustration or principle (and perhaps someone who cannot see beneath the surface without detailed explanations; maybe they see eventually, but it takes a lot of work). You might call this being spiritually obtuse.

I try to teach myself, my children, and want to teach my church, to be able to get beneath the surface of a story (a book, a movie, an illustration, and even the Bible itself) to see the Truth that is being conveyed – “to bring out treasures old and new” (Matt. 13:52). Call this insight or discernment or being spiritually-minded or whatever.

Douglas Coupland regularly makes the claim that only 20% of people worldwide are hardwired to recognize irony when they see it. I fear it’s maybe the same or less for Christians being able to recognize Truth when they see it: being able to see the not blind, not seeing man and recognize that we’re looking at ourselves in a mirror. The distortion/illustration is meant to allow us to see more clearly. But we find ourselves being stared down by Jesus as he asks, “Don’t you understand? Don’t you see?”

Banner of Truth Giveaway

Banner of Truth trust is giving away an entire set of Puritan paperbacks, an entire set of Lloyd-Jones’ commentaries on Romans, and Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. The more referrals you make the more times you can enter the draw. So, by all means, please use my referral link if you’re interested. You have to answer one question. And I’ll give you a hint. Spurgeon was not from Australia or the United States. Here’s my link:
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“When the devil finds a person sleeping, he enters. But when Christ finds him sleeping…”

Sin brings one low in desertion. This is a deep abyss indeed. Psalm 88:6, “You have laid me in the lowest pit.” Desertion is a short hell. Song of Solomon 5:6, “My beloved has withdrawn himself and was gone.” Christ knocked—but the spouse was loath to rise off her bed of sloth and open to Him immediately. When the devil finds a person sleeping—he enters. But when Christ finds him sleeping—He is gone. And if this Sun of righteousness withdraws His golden beams from the soul, darkness follows.

-Thomas Watson, The Mischief of Sin

The Puritans (like Thomas Watson) and their ilk were not shy of bringing up passages from Song of Solomon such as the one quoted above and applying them to the Christian life. Octavius Winslow gives us another example:

I sleep, but my heart waketh.’ Here was the existence of the Divine life in the soul, and yet that life was on the decline. She knew that she had fallen into a careless and slumbering state, that the work of grace in her soul was decaying, that the spirit of slumber had come over her; but the awful feature was, she was content to be so. She heard her Beloved knock: but, so enamoured was she with her state of drowsiness, she gave no heed to it – she opened not to him…A believer may fall into a drowsy sate of soul, not so profound as to be entirely lost to the voice of his Beloved speaking by conscience, by the word, and by providences: and yet so far may his grace have decayed, so cold may his love have grown, and so hardening may have been this declension, he shall be content that this should be his state (Personal Declension and the Revival of Religion in the Soul, pp. 21-22).

By the way, I couldn’t recommend Winslow’s book more highly. It is one of my favorites.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was fond of saying that the fact that the Holy Spirit is likened to a dove points to his gentleness and propensity to be grieved and quenched. When he is grieved he withdraws. That is not to say that he withdraws in such a way as to remove himself wholly from the believer’s life. Rather, it is to say that he exercises less influence and offers less consolation and aid.

The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. And Christ says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). In the Context of Revelation 3, this was an offer/promise to believers.

The spiritual sleeper, the one who hesitates to answer the door of Christ’s calling, leaves himself vulnerable to Satan. That is Watson’s point. Jesus will not force himself on you. Satan is another story. So get up and answer the door.

I say all of this as a Calvinist of course. I am not saying that God’s effectual call can ever be resisted. It cannot. The point is that the believer who becomes a spiritual sluggard is asking for trouble.

Let’s say you’re married. Your wife is hinting that she needs some time with you. She has her ways of doing this. You should have learned them over the years. Maybe you should have read the Love Languages book. If you are not sensitive to her overtures and subtle pleadings, then your relationship is not going to flourish.

And so, be sensitive to Christ’s knockings. Don’t let sin and sloth put you in such a frame that you are blinded and vulnerable to Satan.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on C.S. Lewis

A commenter on the blog brought an interesting quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones to my attention (one that I had never heard). In his first sermon in his famous series called Revival, the doctor said this:

Do you remember the vogue of CS Lewis? You don’t hear much about him now, but why all the excitement? Ah, here is a philosopher. And it indicates our pathetic faith and belief in these methods, which are nothing but apologetics. As exactly in the beginning of the 18th century they were pinning their faith to Bishop Butler and his great Analogy of Religion…

The doctor is nothing if not irenic! (or not). Interestingly, that comment about C.S. Lewis was edited out of the sermon when it came to be published in book form. I checked again tonight. It’s simply not there. But you can find it at the 39 minute mark of the original recording HERE. This sermon was preached, it appears, in 1959, just four years before Lewis’ death. ‘You don’t hear much about him now…’ would certainly not apply in 2015.

Here is another anecdote about MLJ and Lewis I’ve come across. In The Fight of Faith, the second volume of Iain Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones, he records a letter written by the Doctor in 1941 to his wife, which says,

There is nothing special on Thursday but meetings in different colleges. On Friday I am due to have breakfast with William Riddle’s son – a second edition of his father. Then I will go with him to a lecture given by C.S. Lewis (author of The Problem of Pain) an I am to have lunch with Lewis…

In the footnote, Murray writes,

Lewis is said to have valued ML-J’s appreciation and encouragement when the early edition of his Pilgrim’s Regress was not selling well. Vincent Lloyd-Jones [MLJ’s brother] and Lewis knew each other well, being contemporaries at Oxford. ML-J met the author again and they had a long conversation when they both found themselves on the same boat to Ireland in 1953. On that later occasion, to the question, ‘When are you going to write another book?, Lewis replied, ‘When I understand the meaning of prayer’ (p. 52).

Another interesting tidbit was a line from MLJ in Christianity Today in 1963, shortly after the death of Lewis:

C. S. Lewis had a defective view of salvation and was an opponent of the substitutionary and penal view of the atonement.

The purpose of the post is simply to document these statements, so I will end here without further comment.

Update 8/22/17: I found another one:

This comes from a sermon Lloyd-Jones gave right after the death of C.S. Lewis. From Lloyd-Jones’ sermon on Romans 10:9-10 (audio can be found HERE, at around the 15:00 mark). ML-J compares Lewis’ teaching to a dry sort of intellectualism that doesn’t involve the heart, specifically comparing it to Sandemanianism. He summarized that teaching in this way: “if you accepted the teaching [i.e. Christianity or the doctrines of the gospel] with your mind, and were prepared to say so…that was sufficient, even though you felt nothing at all…If you accepted the teaching and were prepared to say so, that saved you, in the absence of any feelings whatsoever.”

There are certain tendencies in this direction even in our own day and generation. I had already purposed to say this before I read in the press last weekend, or heard on the wireless, of the passing of Professor C.S. Lewis. I regret to say this, but that was more or less his teaching also. He believed that you could reason yourself into the Christian faith. The first book he ever published was a book called The Pilgrim’s Regress. And the whole point of that book is to say that by clear thinking, you can think yourself from a rationalist or atheistical position into the Christian position. And he actually, at one time, founded in Oxford what he called the Socratic Club, which used to meet on Monday nights, in which he used to try to show people how to reason themselves into Christianity. ‘With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.’ You cannot do it merely by a process of intellectual reasoning.

Top Ten Posts in 2014

This will likely be my last post of the year (with the holidays and all), so I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

In the meantime, I give you the mandatory ‘top posts’ post. If there’s anything on the list you haven’t read before, why not give it a look? Here are the most read posts from the blog for the year:

1. Myths About the Bible: Noah Was Mocked? The Fight Against Apathy
This marks the second year in a row that this post is number one. It had about 1,800 views for the year.

2. A List of Benedictions
In the top 3 for the third straight year. Everybody needs a good list of benedictions.

3. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton: Reading, Fairy Tales, and Mental Health
The same top 3 as last year. I still think that reading fairy tales is a balm for the soul.

4. God Is Love, But Love Is Not God
This one’s the first newcomer to the list. Here I take on not only modern culture, but no less a giant than St. Augustine.

5. Recent Reading: The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy Sayers: Part 1 – Summary of the Argument for a Trinity in Creative Art
This marks the second year in the top 5. I go back to this post fairly regularly to brush up on Sayers’ points.

6. The Misused Passages: 1 Corinthians 2:9, Eye Hath Not Seen, Nor Ear Heard
This is my take on how people misuse the famous words, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the mind of man, what God hath prepared for them that love Him.’

7. Charlotte’s Web: Dr. Dorian, Miraculous Webs, Animals Talking
I share a favorite quote from Charlotte’s Web.

8. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Method of Pastoral Counseling and Diagnosis
I am glad this one cracked the top 10. I worked very hard on this post in an attempt to distill the basics of the pastoral counseling method of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I work harder to actually try to put his wisdom into practice. I still highly recommend the book on which this post is based: Healing and the Scriptures.

9. Recent Reading: Leaf by Niggle, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Here’s a taste: “Christian lawyers work for justice, and the world remains unjust. Christian doctors, nurses, and pharmacists (and others of course) work for the health and well-being of people – all of whom eventually die…”

10. Him that is Unjust, Let Him be Unjust Still: What does it mean? (Revelation 22:11)
It’s a line from the Book of Revelation that has entered into the modern consciousness via Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around. I remember early in the season there was an SEC football commercial that used this song. I thought there was an ironically fitting display of southern culture as I saw images of Les Miles and Nick Saban as this song played in the background.

Sunday Hymn: Jesus, My Great High Priest

As is my Saturday custom, I was listening to a sermon by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tonight. In it, speaking of ‘the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel,’ he quoted the words of this great hymn:

Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside.
His pow’rful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the Throne.

Jesus, My Great High Priest is another beauty from Isaac Watts. The tune, Bevan, is very easy to pick up. You can click the link HERE for the words and tune. You can find it in the Trinity Hymnal at number 306. Here are the lyrics:

Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside.
His pow’rful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the Throne.

To this dear Surety’s hand
Will I commit my cause;
He answers and fulfills
His Father’s broken laws.
Behold my soul at freedom set;
My Surety paid the dreadful debt.

My Advocate appears
For my defense on high;
The Father bows his ears
And lays his thunder by.
Not all that hell or sin can say
Shall turn his heart, his love, away.

Should all the hosts of death
And pow’rs of hell unknown
Put their most dreadful forms
Of rage and mischief on,
I shall be safe, for Christ displays
His conqu’ring pow’r and guardian grace.