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39. What is meant by imagination?

Imagination is that faculty which interprets and construes reality, and enables us to understand both what is seen and unseen.

40. How are we to behold God in His revealed and reflected presence?

We are to gaze persistently (Lk 11:5-13, 18:1-8) and deliberately upon His Word and works, diligently seeking His Person (Prov 2:1-5), as our ultimate delight and dependence.

41. What are the responses of a new nature to illumination?

Beholding the glory of God leads to blessing and beautifying God in admiring adoration (Ex 33:13-18; Ps 27:4) and desiring a deeper union and conformity to such beauty (1 John 3:2).

42. What is meant by conviction?

Conviction is the work of the Spirit upon our renewed consciences, alerting us to ways we fall short of the glory of God (Jo 16:8-11, Heb 4:12)

43. How does conviction take place?

First, the conscience, being stirred by the Spirit’s work, warns us before we sin, and accuses us after we sin (Jo 8:9; Ro 2:15). Second, the sheer contrast felt between God and ourselves, when we encounter Him, convicts us of change that is necessary (Is 6:5; Job 42:5-6; Lk 5:8).

44. Of what does the Spirit convict us?

The Spirit convicts us of sin and needed change to a degree appropriate to our relative maturity in Christ (1 Cor 2:11, Prov 20:27, Heb 5:14).

45. How should we respond to conviction?

Regular acts of confession and consecration are truthful and loving responses to the Spirit’s conviction (1 Jo 1:9, Ro 12:1).

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33. What is meant by communing with God?

Communing with God is beholding of the glory of the Triune God, directly and indirectly, in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18-4:4) as the Holy Spirit illuminates our imagination with truth, resulting in a desire to bless and magnify that glory, and become more like it in character.

34. Why is the glory of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ?

The Son has always been the radiance of God’s glory and the perfect expression of God (Heb 1:3; John 1:18, 14:9), and the Father has chosen to make Him the focal point of salvation and worship (Eph 1:10-12; Phil 2:9-10; Col 1:16-20).

35. How is the Spirit the means of communion?

The Spirit is Himself the communion between Father and Son, and His indwelling enables us to behold as the Father does, become as the Son is, and beautify as He does. The Spirit’s primary way of revealing Christ in this age has been to inspire the Scriptures (2 Pet 1:21; 2 Tim 3:16), indwell believers (1 Cor 6:19) and then illuminate hearts to understand God’s mind in Christ (1 Cor 2:1-14).

36. How do we behold the glory of God directly?

We behold God’s glory directly when we seek His revealed presence in the Word of God, through public and private worship: meditation, prayer and praise.

37. How do we behold the glory of God indirectly?

We behold God’s glory indirectly when we seek His reflected presence in His works of creation, redemption and providence, through perpetual worship: obedience, gratitude, service, discernment and stewardship of our various vocations.

38. What is meant by illumination?

Illumination is the Holy Spirit’s work of opening the eyes of our affections (Eph 1:18) to recognise and experience the reality and beauty of truth about God.

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29. What has the Father done to enable us to abide in God’s presence?

The Father lovingly chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-6; 1 Pet 1:2), and so will never condemn us (Ro 8:34) or forsake us (Heb 13:5; Jo 10:27-29), but has adopted us into His family (Eph 1:5) and reserved our inheritance (1 Pet 1:4). This love prompts us to worship in His presence.

30. What has the Son done to enable us to abide in God’s presence?

The Son’s perfect life, death, resurrection, ascension and High Priestly work has propitiated God’s wrath (1 Jo 2:2), forgiven our sins (Col 2:13-14; Eph 1:7), justified us (Rom 5:1, 2 Cor 5:21), reconciled us with God (Rom 5:10; Col 1:21; 2 Cor 5:18), regenerated and given us eternal life (Col 2:13, Jo 1:12), sanctified us (1 Corinthians 6:11), and seated us with Christ in the heavenlies (Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 2:6) through our union with Him (Ro 6:4-10). Being thus accepted (Eph 1:6) and completed (Col 2:9-10), we have every permission to worship in His presence (Heb 10:19-22)

31. What has the Spirit done to enable us to abide in God’s presence?

The Spirit regenerates us (Titus 3:5; Jo 3:3-9), and then indwells us (1 Cor 6:19, Ro 8:9-10) thereby imparting the very life of Christ and divine nature to us (Gal 2:20; 1 Jo 3:24), being the seal and down-payment of our future glorification (2 Co 1:22; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30). Being God’s Spirit indwelling our Spirit, He reveals the things of God (1 Cor 2:10-13) using the Word of God, and illuminates Christ’s beauty to the seeking heart (Jo 15:26, 16:14), giving us both desires and enablement to love God (Phil 2:13). We thus have the power to worship in His presence.

32. What takes place as we abide?

Abiding is a three-fold cycle of communing and conviction, confession and consecration, cleansing and conformity.

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23. How does God accomplish this love in us?

God sheds His love abroad in our hearts by work of grace: changing our natures to love His glory, changing our exposure to His glory in His presence, and by changing those nurturing influences in our lives that will shape our love for Him. (Deut 30:6, Jer 31:33-34, Ezekiel 11:19-20, 2 Corinthians 3:3).

24. How is God’s glory seen and loved?

God’s glory is known where His presence is revealed (Ex 33:12-34:7).

25. How is God’s presence manifest?

God’s presence is manifest in three increasing degrees: first, His reflected presence, manifest omnipresently in the created order (Ps 139:7-12); second, His revealed presence, manifest by His Incarnate Son and His indwelling Spirit’s illumination (John 14:23) ; third, His realised presence, manifest in Heaven (Rev 21:3).

26. What is the glory of the new covenant?

After the ascension of Christ, the revealed presence of God may now be known through the indwelling of the Spirit (John 14:16-23), for we are in Christ, and Christ is in us ( John 6:56, cf. 17:23, 17:26, Gal 2:20 Eph 1:3, Col 1:27).

27. What are we to do in His presence to behold His glory, become like His glory, and beautify His glory?

Christ commands us to abide: to dwell in a state of communion in which we behold Him, reflect Him, and magnify Him ( John 15:4-5, Eph 3:16-19).

28. What has God done to enable us to abide in His presence?

Each of the Persons of the Godhead have worked differently and yet in unison to enable believers to commune with God in His presence and so love Him ultimately (1 Pet 1:2).

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15. How does the Father magnify God’s beauty?

The Father magnifies the glory of God as Beholder, by delighting in it and declaring its uniqueness to all (Is 42:1, Mt 3:17, 17:5).

16. How does the Son magnify God’s beauty?

The Son magnifies the glory of God as Beauty, by expressing it and displaying its radiant beauty (Jo 1:14, 18, 14:9, Col 1:15, Heb 1:3).

17. How does the Spirit magnify God’s beauty?

The Spirit magnifies the glory of God as Beautifier, by diffusing its beauty and revealing it as He desires (Jo 15:26, 16:14).

18. How does God’s love for God affect ours?

God’s own love for Himself is imputed to us at justification, and imparted to us by the work of sanctification (Jo 17:26, 14:23, Rom 5:5, 1 Jo 4:19).

19. How do we love God as the Father does?

We love as the Father does when we behold the beauty of God and confess the utter uniqueness of God, loving Him as an end and not as a means. (Deut 6:4-5, 1 Jo 5:21).

20. How do we love God as the Son does?

We love as the Son does when arising from this beholding, we wish to become like His glory by being changed into His image, imaging Christlikeness in all we think and do (Jo 14:15, 21, 2 Cor 3:18).

21. How do we love God as the Spirit does?

We love as the Spirit does when arising from this Christlikeness, we desire to spread the praise and glory of God to all creation (1 Cor 10:31, Phil 1:20-21).

22. What then is loving God?

Loving God is beholding His glory, becoming like His glory, and blessing His glory as our ultimate end and supreme desire.

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8. Can we love anything or anyone besides God?

Ultimate love for God demands that we love all that God loves, for His sake (Matthew 10:37).

9. How can we love people or things for God’s sake?

First, we can love what reflect and reveals the Creator (James 3:9, Ps 19:1, Jas 1:17). Second, we can love all that God commands us to as an act of loving obedience (Jo 14:15, 13:34, 1 Pet 2:17). Third, we can love what God loves and hate what He hates (Mt 5:43-45, 25:31-46, Prov 6:16-19, Phil 4:8).

10. What kind of love should we give to God?

Our love for God should correspond to His supremacy and His holy nature. He should be ultimate in our loves, and we should love Him with ordinate affection.

11. What is ordinate affection?

Ordinate affection is the holy desire for God, in intention and expressions, that corresponds with God’s nature.

12. What is the danger of loving God wrongly?

Our hearts may deceive us into loving a god in our own image, or rejoicing in our own feelings. God is unworthy of inordinate affection, and of undiscerning expressions of worship.

13. How can we love God ultimately, supremely, and appropriately?

God must graciously reveal Himself to us (Mt 11:25-27, 1 Jo 4:19), and then teach our hearts to respond appropriately to Him (Ps 34:11, Phil 1:9-11, Heb 5:14).

14. How does God reveal Himself?

Within the Triune Godhead, the three Persons work differently and yet in harmony to magnify the Beauty of God and bring the sinner to taste and see this glory (Eph 1:3-14).

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1. What is the great priority and purpose of man?

Man’s great priority and purpose is to love God with his entire being: heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk 12:29-30).

2. Why is this man’s great priority and purpose?

Loving with the entire being is worship: expressing the worth and value due to God (Ps 29:1-2). Man was created to express this glory (Is 43:3), as image-bearers (Gen 1:26-27), just as the entire created order is to reflect and magnify the worth of God (Psa 150, Rev 4:11).

3. Why should all creatures magnify God’s worth?

God is Beauty (Job 40:9-10). The Triune God is the perfection of all excellence in Being, the most delightful conjunction of all attributes of Deity, the quintessence of truth and goodness, and the most admirable and sweetest expression of this loveliness. This glory calls for the appropriate response of highest enjoyment and admiration (Psa 113:3).

4. Why should God delight in this worship?

God delights in His own glory above all things, knowing that the magnification of His glory is the greater good of all (Joh 17:24-26)

5. Why should man delight in this worship?

Nothing is more reasonable, and nothing is more profitable than for man to love what is most beautiful (Psa 16:11, Joh 17:13)

6. What is meant by loving God with man’s entire being?

To love God with the entire being is to love Him for Himself, not as a means to a higher love, but to delight and depend on Him ultimately (Ps 73:25).

7. Why should God not be loved as a means to another end?

God is the only God (Deut 6:4), the only One worthy of ultimate love (Ps 115:1) and not an instrument to some other love, for all things are from Him, and through Him, and to Him (Rom 11:36).

 

Gimme That Ol’ Time Religion

Religious music has long ago fallen victim to this weak and twisted philosophy of godliness. Good hymnody has been betrayed and subverted by noisy, uncouth persons who have too long operated under the immunity afforded them by the timidity of the saints. The tragic result is that for one entire generation we have been rearing Christians who are in complete ignorance of the golden treasury of songs and hymns left us by the ages. The tin horn has been substituted for the silver trumpet, and our religious leaders have been afraid to protest. It is ironic that the modernistic churches which deny the theology of the great hymns nevertheless sing them, and regenerated Christians who believe them are yet not singing them; in their stead are songs without theological content set to music without beauty. – A.W. Tozer, The Size of the Soul

Tozer wrote those words sometime in the 1950s. Sixty years later, things are not better. The trend has continued, carving a deeper groove into the valley of Tradition, till the ugly, atheological songs he spoke of now flow down into our liturgies unquestioned, as if from the mountains of the apostles themselves. Such shallow songs are now part of the approved canon of “good ol’ fashioned hymns” in evangelical and fundamentalist circles, while the truly great hymns are becoming relics, known by only a few.

How shocked some would be if they realised Tozer was condemning the hymns they cherish.
What are the “great hymns”, “the treasure of songs left us by the ages” Tozer speaks of? Judging by Tozer’s own anthology, The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, they are hymns such as “Ride on! Ride On In Majesty”; “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts”; “Jesus, I Am Resting”; “Not All the Blood of Beasts”; “O Love Divine”; “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”; “Sweet The Moments, Rich in Blessing”; “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”, to mention a few. As he states elsewhere, the qualities of a good hymn are “sound theology, smooth structure, lyric beauty, high compression of profound ideas and a full charge of lofty religious feeling.”

In contrast, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Gospel-song era produced songs of shallow theology, unimaginative structure, limerick-style rhythms, clichéd lyrics and sentimentalised emotion. These are what Tozer calls “songs without theological content set to music without beauty”. While not all Gospel songs are useless to devout Christians, probably a large portion of them are. Where did these imposter hymns come from?

After Charles Finney, revivalistic Protestantism increasingly attached itself to the pop culture of the time, so as to draw in the crowds. Popular culture grew out of Enlightenment secularisation, riding on the wings of technology. To embrace popular culture, the church was embracing secularism.  As it happened, the popular culture during Finney’s era was a particular brand of Victorian romanticism and this influenced the ‘contemporary Christian music’ of the 19th century. The hymns of Watts, Wesley, Montgomery and Tersteegen faded from prominence, the songs by people like William Doane, Philip P. Bliss, Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby, and Charles Gabriel were brought in.

The Gospel song is easy to recognise: 1) a proliferation of religious clichés – “echoes of mercy, whispers of love”, “heavenly sunlight”, “footprints of Jesus”, “gather at the river” ; 2) hackneyed rhymes – love/above, story/glory, face/grace etc. ; 3) merry-go-round, fun-fair, nursery-rhyme melodies (think of the popular tunes to “Jesus is Coming Again”, “Praise Him! Praise Him!” and ; and 4) sentimentalised affections -“I Come to the Garden Alone”, “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart”, “Haven of Rest”, “Isn’t the Love of Jesus Something Wonderful?”. The popular hymnody reflected what Victorian sentimentalism stood for: the dreamy, clichéd, syrupy emotions and passions it lusted after were made to sound like Christian experience. The self-centredness of romanticism was made to pass for Christian devotion. It was really no different to what modern Christian rockers and rappers are doing today.

Unfortunately, the success of revivalists such as D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday, who used and further popularised the Gospel song, made sure that these sadly shallow hymns found a place in evangelical hymnody. Hymnbook editors, under pressure to include the massively popular Gospel songs, produced eclectic collections containing revivalist Gospel-song shanties alongside vastly superior hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Come Thou Almighty King”, and “O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing”. The trend continues to this day. The results: the flattening out of quality, the blunting of the Christian public’s musical discernment and the demeaning of a once-lofty view of God.

But a century later, evangelicals and fundamentalists descended from revivalism have a hard time identifying some of their favourite “Great Hymns of the Faith” as being the target of Tozer’s criticism. Such hymns have become part of the movements’ identities. Such is the power of tradition. Fundamentalists criticise the worldliness of evangelicals who chase the latest popular musical styles (and rightly so); however, theirs is simply an older secularisation.

Unless we become reflective over quality and repudiate some of the shallow hymnody in our liturgy today, the inconsistency of our musical critiques will drown out any truth they might have. To denounce secularisation in Christian music today when the smell of the world is still very much lingering in our own liturgies all but robs us of authority to speak. Instead of merely nodding sagely at Tozer’s words, we need to understand they refer to us, and we need to repent.

Tradition in Trinitarianism

All Protestant believers descended from the Reformation recognise the primacy of Scripture to rule on all matters of faith and practice. We reject the Romanist view that Scripture is to be interpreted through the Magisterium, and the Magisterium through tradition.

Unfortunately, believers of our persuasion may mistakenly come to think of our doctrine as ‘tradition-free’. We may imagine that only Catholics use tradition for their doctrine; we biblicists need nothing of the sort.

This would be a profound mistake, and it would exacerbate the chestless Christianity so prevalent around us – churches without judgement. Understanding the crucial role of tradition in our judgement is vital for the health of the same.

Take the doctrine of the Trinity. Orthodox Protestant believers hold the doctrine of the Trinity as one of the fundamentals of the faith, and rightly so. But what does the Bible, by itself, teach on this doctrine?
1. The Bible teaches that the Father is God.
2. The Bible teaches that the Son is God.
3. The Bible teaches that the Spirit is God.
4. The Bible teaches that the Father is not the Son.
5. The Bible teaches that the Son is not the Spirit.
6. The Bible teaches that the Spirit is not the Father.
7. The Bible teaches that there is only one God.

Those seven statements summarise what the Bible explicitly affirms about God. Once we begin speaking of the tri-unity of God, of the three Persons united in one God, we have left pure exegesis and moved into systematic theology. Here the truth of what Scripture affirms and what it negates is harmonised and systematised. Those hyper-biblicists who point out that the word ‘trinity’ is not found in the Bible are correct in what they affirm, but wrong in what they deny. (The word Bible is not found in the Bible either – does that mean the Bible does not contain the Bible?) We always have to move beyond the biblical data and systematise it, arrange it, and explain it in light of other Scripture. And when we do this, we do not start inventing theological words out of thin air. We use words such as trinity, persons, essence, generation, spiration, co-eternal, autotheos, because these are words developed over the centuries to help explain the biblical data. They are part of a theological tradition. Tertullian is the first to begin using the word ‘trinity’. The Nicene Creed in 325, and its revision at Constantinople in 381, gives us a framework to use. The words of the Athanasian Creed summarise biblical data in theological form and tell us, “We can say this of God, but not that, we may say it this way, but not that way…” The post-Reformation confessions had nothing to modify when it came to the received Trinitarian orthodoxy of the Catholic church, and continue to use its categories.  We depend on this theological tradition to make sense of the biblical data.

In fact, the writers of these creeds went beyond systematic theology into the realm of philosophy. Using the categories of ousia (being, essence) and hypostasis (subsistence, instantiation), these thinkers borrowed from Greek philosophy to attempt to relate and explain the biblical data. God was one ousia (Latin = essentia), but three hypostases (Latin = persona). Every time you hear someone say that God is one Being, but three Persons, he or she is really relating an explanation rooted in tradition.

Now it happens to be so good an explanation that I doubt it can or will ever be improved upon. The explanation of the data has come to be known as Nicene orthodoxy, or orthodox Trinitarianism, and a deviation from it is rightly regarded as heresy. But my point here is that this explanation, while the best explanation of the biblical data, is a product of a long tradition of Christian interpretation, theology and philosophy.

Of course, no tradition is infallible. The tradition is always to be tested with Scripture. Where the tradition is clearly shown to be wrong (such as the tradition of baptising infants), it must be dropped. But without any tradition, you do not even have a starting point to begin the critique. You don’t even have a vocabulary to begin understanding concepts in the Bible. You have an avalanche of biblical data. Rather, you receive a tradition, and once in it, you are able to test it, and evaluate if it is faithful to Scripture.

We are deeply indebted to tradition. We rely on it so often it has become invisible to us. For the Christian believer, tradition is not authoritative, but it is indispensable.

Adoration and Amusement

A great king had two sons, who were come to the age where one should be named as the crown prince. The custom of that country was that the king would choose his heir directly, without weight given to birth-order. He was hard-pressed at the choice, for they both loved him and had noble and kingly traits. He decided to test them. Whichever son pleased him most in the test would become the crown prince. He summoned his two sons to his throne room.

“My sons, you are both fine sons, more pleasing to me than all the wealth and splendour of my kingdom. I am torn at the thought of choosing but one of you to rule in my stead, but the tradition of our country knows nothing of two kings ruling on the throne. One of you must rule; indeed, one of you must rule over the other.”

His sons stirred, but did not glance at one another.

“I have chosen to put your kingliness to the test. I will judge the winner according to my own counsel, and there shall be no debate entertained. As I could crown one of you this moment without objection from the other, so I may judge the winner of my contest by my own wisdom.”

His sons nodded, their gazes still down, as was the law in that land for one in the presence of the king.

“The test is this: you will gather as much fame for my name in one year as you can. At the end of the year, your efforts will appear before me, and I will judge one of you to be king after me.”
The princes departed, wished each other luck, and immediately sought counsel from the wise men of the land.

The younger prince consulted with the old men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved greatly. Bring him some people who love him deeply and truly, however many or few, and you will be judged the wiser son.

The older prince consulted with the young men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved widely, for he is a great king, and greatly to be praised. Bring him throngs of people, by whatever means, and you will truly have brought him the fame he seeks.”

The younger prince travelled amongst the people, staying in one town for weeks at a time. There he taught the people patiently, every day explaining the glory of his father’s wars, his mercy with his enemies, his justice in ruling, and his kindness as a father. Some were taken by the descriptions of his father. Many were indifferent, and the young prince’s heart often grew discouraged. Often he felt like he was trying to kindle a fire in green wood. What would he have to show for his work? A handful of obscure people who loved the king dearly? He at times questioned the counsel he had been given. Nevertheless, he persevered.

The older prince travelled amongst the people, setting up fairs and stage-plays, tournaments and circuses, contests and puppet-shows in the name of his father. He knew how much people loved these things, and knew that they would be drawn to them. His thinking was logical: once the happy crowds found out that such were provided by the king, they would love him as well. He was not disappointed. Crowds gathered wherever he went. People thronged his demonstrations, and enthusiastically accepted his invitation to appear at the castle on the day of the king’s judgement. Occasionally, he would question the sincerity of those who followed in his train and eagerly awaited the next amusement. However, he dismissed such doubts, certain that it was better to present a large crowd of king-lovers than a thin one, even if a few were there for the wrong reasons.

On the day of judgement, the older prince filled the castle’s courtyard with hundreds of cheering people, with many others outside the walls. When the king appeared from the royal balcony, the crowd exploded in praise, and the younger prince sensed he had lost the contest.

The king proceeded to give an oration, climaxing with the promise that his subjects could forthwith have direct audiences with him in the throne-room upon request. The crowd seemed unimpressed. No applause was offered, and a silence settled over the courtyard. Here and there a shout echoed, calling for more jousting tournaments, cock-fighting and banquets. The shouts turned into disgruntled jeering. The crowd was now angry and hostile. The king ordered his soldiers to dismiss the crowd from his castle.

The king retired to his throne-room and sat down. The younger prince came in, bringing with him a small and strange group of unimpressive peasants: a little child, a blind beggar, a woman of the night, a leper, a cleric, a widow, an orphan and a soldier. They had been weeping during the king’s speech, and now prostrated themselves before him, along with the younger prince. The king rose, called for a meal to be set out for this group, and lifted up each one by his own hand. He led them to the banqueting table and served each one himself.

Which of the two sons did the will of his father?