- They are faithful. Some promise to pray for you. You never know if they do. And yet you are afraid to ask them if they did; otherwise you are diverted and end up spending more time talking about praying than praying. The devil does not mind talk about prayer. He does not want praying.
China December 2014
Our son TR and I recently returned from a very gratifying trip to Shanghai. We give God all the praise and glory for the favor given us by all we met there.
We went as guests of the International Church of Shanghai. The pastor is Daniel Ho. Coming from Singapore, Daniel is a good man, theologically sound and totally devoted to God and His Word. This is a church open to passport holders, such mainly being business people from all over the world, especially Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Shanghai. A few Brits and Americans also attend. I spoke four times on the Saturday December13th to about 300 who came to the seminars. I spoke on The Gospel, Total Forgiveness, Totally Forgiving Ourselves and Totally Forgiving God (not that He is culpable of anything but we must set Him free for what He allows which we do not understand). These seminars were simultaneously translated into Chinese. The CDs and videos will spread far and wide. I preached twice on the Sunday to 800 people, mostly on Total Forgiveness and the Gospel. The response was truly wonderful – both in the number of those who stood to profess faith in Christ and hundreds who came forward to demonstrate total forgiveness. The need to show total forgiveness is everywhere in the world!
As I understand it, there are basically three categories of Christians in China. First, the Three-Self Church (self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating). We were not involved with this movement on this particular visit. Second, the Home Church or House Church Movement. Third, the international churches, like the one we visited in Shanghai. This is the group that opened the door for me to speak in China.
The trilogy of Total Forgiveness (as described in the sermons above) has been translated into Chinese by the Green Olive press in Beijing and is available all over China. More books are coming down the road. It is amazing that God has opened this door. The books have sold widely and quickly. Please pray that the publisher and translator will have wisdom on which books to do next and that the numbers who read these will be in hundreds of thousands not merely tens of thousands!
I do not profess to being highly cognizant of the situation in China. I can only give my impressions. Having visited the Soviet Union years ago – preaching to registered churches there, what we saw in China indicates a greater opportunity and openness than we saw in Russia. Never once did we feel “followed” or “watched”. I was totally surprised by hearing Christmas carols (O Come All Ye Faithful, Silent Night and virtually all Christian carols) in our hotel and in shopping centers – what you might not hear in American stores!
We have been invited back for December 2015, and we could come much sooner if only my diary would allow it. I think too of the first part of 1 Corinthians 16:9, for a great door has been opened to us.
I would not be surprised to see true Revival – greater than they have seen so far – break out in China at any moment. Christianity is growing there in any case at an amazing rate. One must walk in the door that is opened, and I am humbled that God has opened a door to me.
Please pray for China – and all Christians there, including those in the Three-Self churches.
MY FOURTH VISIT TO ENFIELD, CONNECTICUT
Some people love to go to the Holy Land to see where Jesus lived, walked and performed miracles. I myself do this every year. But there is something else I love to do when I can: to visit places where the Holy Spirit came down in power. I am thinking of two places in particular. First, the area called Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, Kentucky – the site of America’s second Great Awakening. Second, Enfield, Connecticut, where Jonathan Edwards preached his notable sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, the title the printer gave it.
Louise and I recently made our fourth trip to Enfield. There is a vacant field on a corner, across the street from the Montessori school. I am told that the residents of Enfield are rather embarrassed by it. On this vacant lot there is a small monument with this inscription:
This boulder marks the place where stood the Second Meeting House of the First Church of Christ in Enfield. Built A.D.1704 and used for worship until 1775. In this Meeting House on July 8, 1741 during the revival known as “THE GREAT AWAKENING” Jonathan Edwards preached his celebrated sermon “SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD.
Why would we make trips to this spot? I am not entirely sure of my motive, to be candid. But if pushed I would probably admit that I go there to pray – and to ask the Lord, “Do it again”. Why there? Could I not pray at home? Yes. I tell people this when I take them to Israel. It is far more important to discover Jesus by the Holy Spirit than to come to the Sea of Galilee if you expect Jesus will be more real there. You can even become superstitious about going to the Holy Land. This could be said about my trips to Enfield – three of these took over four hours each time.
So why ever do this? I will come clean. I am in awe of that sermon and its alleged effects. Taking his text from Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their feet shall slide in due time” (KJV), Edwards preached a sermon on Hell and eternal punishment that was so powerful that people talk about it to the present day. You can Google it and read it in its entirety. The bottom line of the sermon can be summed up: it is by the very mercy of God you are not in Hell right now.
If you read the sermon, chances are it will have little or no effect on you. You might therefore be surprised to learn of the effect it had when it was first preached. As Edwards spoke – reading from a manuscript, the people began to moan and audibly sigh. He paused and asked the people to get quiet so he could finish. But the groans became greater. When he finished people were seen holding on to church pews to keep from sliding into Hell, men were seen outside the meeting house holding on to tree trunks to keep from sliding into Hell.
It only happened once. This is important. Because Edwards preached the same sermon elsewhere two weeks later – with no effect at all. God only did it one time. Once was enough – just to show His power and what He can do at His sovereign will.
But there is more. Had Edwards not spoken the truth the Holy Spirit would not have put His seal on that word as He did. To me the sermon is one of the best indications of the reality of the New Testament teaching of eternal punishment. God would not have owned that sermon were it not grounded in the truth of His Word. I will tell you one more thing: the way that sermon was used by the Holy Spirit is one of the things that has kept me convinced of the New Testament teaching on Hell. It has also helped keep me from imbibing the teaching of annihilation. Annihilationism – a fast growing teaching among Evangelicals in recent years – can be very convincing. Some of the most respected Christian ministers have embraced it. I cannot.
Word of the sermon spread all over New England in days, into England in weeks. It was arguably the high water mark of the Great Awakening, a period that lasted from around 1735 to 1750. When I get to Heaven I want to see a DVD of the whole episode.
Isaac Watts the hymn writer, hearing of it in England weeks later, affirmed the truth of the sermon but thought there should have been the preaching of the Gospel in it. Fair point. But it is also likely that Edwards knew these people had been taught the Gospel over and over again. However, I agree with Watts. I try to bring in the Gospel in all my sermons, never taking anyone’s knowledge of it for granted.
When I was in Geneva I sat in John Calvin’s chair. I prayed that God might be pleased to use me in our day as He used Calvin in his day. So when I bowed my head on the site of Edwards’ immortal sermon a few weeks ago I will admit that I asked God to use me as He did Edwards in his day. I don’t pretend to have Edwards’ intellect. He is without doubt the greatest theologian America ever produced. I have never preached a sermon on Hell like Edwards did, although I have one or two sermons on eternal punishment. I only want to be a vessel that God could use anyway He chose to.
The Faith of Christ
I can remember the first time I saw the phrase “faith of Christ” outside the Bible. It was when the Scottish theologian T. F. Torrance, arguably the most famous Barthian in the world, wrote that we are not saved by our faith but “by the faith of Christ”. It shook me, to be honest. It showed an entirely new way of how salvation is out of our hands; it is what God does. It almost made me a Barthian. But thank God I was saved from this fatal error. Please read on.
I was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky when it was liberal. During that time I flirted a little with Barthianism. What saved me was when the Holy Spirit amazingly directed me at my most critical moment to Romans 10:9, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (KJV). I never looked back. What struck me about Romans 10:9 is the little word “if”. IF is truly the biggest word in the dictionary!
According to T. F. Torrance (whom I knew fairly well – and admired), all people are already saved for this reason: Jesus believed for all and we are saved by Jesus’ faith. But Paul said we are saved “if” we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. For Torrance people are saved whether they believe it or not. For Paul people are saved only if they believe.
That said, there was something about the phrase “faith of Christ” that still rang true. For one thing, the old King James Version – how I thank God for it or I may never have come to see the truth of this blog – carefully and literally translates pistis christou as “faith of Christ” (as in Galatians 2:16, 20). Or pisteos Ieesou Christou as “faith of Jesus Christ” (Rom.3:22). The grammatical issue is whether it is the subjective genitive – Jesus’ own faith – or the objective genitive – faith in Christ. All modern versions sadly translate pistis christou as faith in Christ. As a consequence, virtually a whole generation has missed what I believe is a most fundamental issue when it comes to justification by faith alone.
I begin with Romans 1:17, that the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith”: ek pisteos eis pistin. The NIV completely glosses over this, but at least the ESV translates it “faith for faith”. But even the ESV’s footnote suggests as an alternative translation: “beginning and ending in faith”. This is a dead giveaway that the translators of the ESV do not know what “faith to faith” or “faith for faith” means.
So what does it mean? See Romans 3:22 (KJV) where the phrase “righteousness of God” appears again: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”. Think about it for a moment. If Paul merely meant “faith in Jesus Christ” (ESV) why did he need to add “unto all and upon all them that believe”? It makes Paul redundant to say merely faith in Jesus Christ. The translators of the ESV do not translate every word but give their interpretation since they for some reason do not want to admit that Paul means subjective genitive by pistis christou.
Look at Galatians 2:16: a man is not justified by the law “but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even as we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ” (KJV). There it is. Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:22 cohere perfectly: we believe IN Jesus Christ in order to be saved by the faith OF Jesus Christ. What is Paul’s point? The meritorious cause of salvation is Christ’s own faith. The reason, then, that Paul said that the righteousness of God is “from faith to faith” (Rom.1:17) is because our faith must be ratified by His faith – or we will not be saved.
John Calvin talked about the meritorious cause of salvation (the atonement), the instrumental cause of salvation (our faith) and the efficient cause of salvation (the Holy Spirit). Calvin also stated that all which Christ did for the salvation of the human race is of “no value” until we believe. When Calvin says “no value” it destroys Barthianism. Torrance and Barth would claim that since Christ lived, believed and died for all, then all are saved. Wrong. This is why Paul says “faith to faith” and why he adds that we believe IN Jesus Christ to be saved BY FAITH OF Jesus Christ. That is the meaning of “faith to faith”. It also proves that the subjective genitive is the meaning of pistis christou.
When I had my viva at Oxford one of my examiners was T. H. L. Parker, a translator of Calvin’s commentaries – England’s best-known Barthian. He immediately commented – virtually at the beginning of my viva – that my thesis exposed the difference between Calvin and Karl Barth. He was so right. My thesis argues that Calvin did not believe in classic limited atonement teaching but that Jesus died for all men “indiscriminately” (Calvin’s words). This made some think that Calvin was a universalist. No. Far from it. He was no Barthian, if I may put it that way. The funny thing was, I got the distinct impression from Dr. Parker that he was himself surprised – if not sobered – by my thesis. For Barthians love to call themselves Calvinists – which they are not!
What then is so important about the faith “of” Christ, meaning His own faith? I answer: Jesus did everything for us – he was baptized for us, kept the Law for us, believed for us, died for us. But until we believe all He did is of “no value”. This teaching simultaneously shows the glory of the life and death of Jesus but the need of evangelism to get the Gospel to the world – the greatest failure of Barthianism. Karl Barth produced no evangelists, only those who would spread his teaching. Once Barth’s views are embraced the need for evangelism dies.
God’s Servant or His Friend?
Would you prefer to be known by God as His servant or His friend? I put this question on my twitter and I think most who have responded have said they would prefer “friend”.
Abraham was called God’s friend (2 Chron.20:7; Isa.41:8; James 2:23). Moses was also referred to as His friend. For “the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exod.33:11). Near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, it is written that “no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut.34:10).
Moses and Abraham – the two most acclaimed servants of the Lord in the Old Testament – were called God’s friends. God imputed righteousness to Abraham when Abraham believed the promise that his seed would be as the stars of the heavens (Gen.15:6). Later on God swore an oath to Abraham when he became willing to sacrifice Isaac (Gen.22:16). Such faithfulness led to Abraham being called God’s friend, although there is no indication that Abraham knew this. There is nothing in the book of Genesis that shows God called Abraham His friend. This was said of Abraham later – long after he died.
Jesus said to the Eleven disciples (after Judas Iscariot left them, as in John 13:30), “You are my friends, if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15).
The implication is, that being called “friend” is an upgrade from being “servant”. This is obvious or Jesus would not have said that they are “no longer” called servants. And yet Jesus stipulated that they were friends if they do what He commands. That is what servants do – obey. This means that friendship has obligations. I would add that “the Lord confides in those who fear him” (Psa.25:14). The King James translation: “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him”. The English Standard Version: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him”. This means that friendship with God is on offer – upon a condition: that we fear Him.
Why do I raise the question? One reason is because we all would prefer to be regarded by God as His “friends”.
However, there is something that moves me – sometimes almost to tears – when I read these words that open the book of Joshua: “Moses my servant is dead” (Josh.1:1). Why does this grip me so? Why is it that I would almost prefer to have God call me “servant” than “friend”? Is it because these words authenticate Joshua in a very special manner? Or does it not show what lay behind their friendship? “My servant” is the way the Lord chose to refer to Moses when announcing his death to Joshua. Why not “my friend” is dead? Could it be because we should aspire to be God’s servant before we could presume to be His friend?
Martin Luther said you must know God as an enemy before you can know Him as a friend. It seems to me we must be known by God as servants before He would call us friends. The Eleven had been servants of Jesus. But toward the end of their time together He calls them friends.
I would be thrilled no end if I knew that God called me his friend. And yet if I knew that, when I am gone, He called me His servant, I would feel so unworthy but so thankful. It would mean that God accomplished in me what He envisioned for me. That is the way I read God’s affirmation of Moses after he died. Surely it couldn’t be better than that.
Does man have a free will? Answer: yes and no. Martin Luther (1483-1546) said “No” in his book The Bondage of the Will. Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) said “Yes” in his book Freedom of the Will. But Edwards’s thesis is that, whereas man is free to do what he wants to do, what is it he invariably wants to do? Answer: by nature he always has a proneness to evil. We love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil (John 3:18). So Luther and Edwards came to the same conclusion: man is not free after all.
We must bring St Augustine (354-430) into the mix. His famous “four stages” of man are very relevant:
Stage One: man was born posse pecarre – able to sin.
Stage Two: after the fall man is non posse non pecarre – not able not to sin.
Stage Three: after conversion man is posse non pecarre – able not to sin.
Stage Four: after glorification – non posse pecarre – not able to sin.
It is Augustine’s second stage that we should be mainly concerned with: the state of humankind after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is granted that Adam and Eve had free will when they were first created but that was before their Fall. Everything changed after the Fall. So what of their seed – as in Able, Cain, Seth – and all of us? The answer: we are all born unable not to sin.
So is man free? Before the Fall, yes. After the Fall, no.
Does this teaching upset you?
Paul says were born “dead” in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1). A dead man can do nothing unless infused with life from the Sovereign Redeemer. Try speaking to a dead man! He cannot answer because he cannot hear.
Paul also says we were born “blind” (2 Cor.4:4). A blind man cannot see unless given sight by the Sovereign Redeemer. Try trying to get a blind man to see! He cannot see because he is blind.
The issue regarding the free will of man is: are people born as Adam was before the Fall? No. We are all born in sin. I was shaped in iniquity, in sin did my mother conceive me (Psa.51:5). We were born speaking lies from our mother’s womb (Psa.58:3). This is why you don’t need to teach a child to do wrong. You do have to teach him or her to do what is right.
The only way we come to faith is for God Himself to impart faith.
Question: does one believe before he is regenerated? If regeneration means being “born again”, it means one must be given life before he or she can believe. It is not believing that precipitates the new birth; it is the new birth that enables one to believe and repent.
After Adam and Eve sinned they were ejected from the Garden of Eden. The cherubim were placed their to keep them out (Gen.3:24). We have been kept out ever since. Only God can bring one to faith.
But does God bring everybody to faith? Apparently not. Not all people believe, not all have faith. Who has it and who doesn’t have it? Those who have faith are given it by the gracious hand of a Sovereign God. A man can receive nothing unless it is given him from Heaven (John 3:27). “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (Jas.1:18 – ESV).
Does this surprise you? Does this offend you? And yet it is clearly what Jesus taught. No one can come to Him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). The Son lives life to whom He will (John 5:21). No one knows the Son except those to whom the Son “chooses” to reveal Him (Matt.11:27). According to Luke, those who were “ordained” (KJV) or “appointed” (NIV) to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48). Some think that Luke meant that those who believe were ordained to eternal life. Had Luke said that it would have been true. But that is not what he said. He said that those who were appointed to eternal life believed.
I pointed Acts 13:48 out to a Greek professor at my Seminary many years ago. He insisted that all who believe are appointed to eternal life. But I pointed out that Luke said only those who were “appointed” believed. He replied: “I know, but I don’t agree with Luke”.
The question is: will you believe the plain reading of Holy Scripture? Or do we read in what we want to believe into Holy Scripture?
You will ask: If God makes the choice, why does He not choose everybody? You tell me. The nearest you get to the answer to that question is Jesus’ own response to this: it was the Father’s will – it seemed “good” in His sight (Matt.11:26-27).
Don’t try to figure this out! Do you understand the Trinity? No. But do you not believe that God is in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I hope you do.
Dr. J. I. Packer (one of my mentors at Oxford University) called all this an “antinomy” in his classic little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. An antinomy is parallel principles that seem irreconcilable but both being true. For example, is Jesus 50% God and 50% man or 100% God and 100% man? The answer is: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. So too with the sovereignty of God and man’s moral responsibility: God is 100% the Author of salvation, and yet man is 100% responsible for his or her condition.
Whosoever will may come. Whoever is thirsty comes. But who makes a person thirsty? God. Who disdains the way of salvation? Those who refuse to believe.
As for the popular idea that man is a “free moral agent”, I would point out: (1) man is not free; he is in dominion to sin. (2) He is not moral; the heart is deceitful above all things and incurably wicked (Jer.l7:9). And (3) man is not the agent; the Holy Spirit is the agent (John 6:63).
If we get to Heaven, it will be by the sheer grace of God. If we refuse the Gospel we are to blame – not God. It is an antinomy.
I have written this blog partly because it has come to me of late that many of those who read my tweets and blogs have not been aware of my views of the sovereignty of God. Perhaps this should not have surprised me, but it did.
Now you know. After delivering His “hard sayings”, Jesus asked, “Do you take offense at this?” (John 6:61). Many of His followers did. “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
I originally wrote Thorn in the Flesh sitting in a boat on the bonefish flats in Key Largo some 15 years ago. What started out as a series of sermons became a book. It went into reprints both in the USA and UK and also has been translated into several languages. Paul Crouch chose it as a giveaway for TBN viewers – I believe he said they gave away 197,000 copies.
I got interesting responses, mostly from offended people enamored with ‘prosperity teaching’ and the notion that you should never be sick or poor. A follower of a well-known prosperity teacher wrote me, “Satan loves your book man” but he did not sign his name or give address. Yogi Berra said “Never answer an anonymous letter” so I didn’t! The anonymous writer followed the man who said, “If the Apostle Paul had my faith he would would not have had his thorn in the flesh” – possibly one of the most despicable, reprehensible, sick, disgusting and theologically unsound statements I have heard in my (almost) 79 years.
Paul said that he was raised up to be an example – pattern – for those who would receive eternal life (1 Tim.1:16). How dare some man disregard Paul and imply he is more spiritual than Paul! This is what happens when you deny the supremacy, infallibility and finality of Holy Scripture when it comes to sound doctrine.
In any case, Paul testifies to a thorn in the flesh. I am glad we don’t know what it was; otherwise, we would dismiss the idea and say “only Paul had that”. But because he used an “umbrella term” – we an all get under the phrase “thorn in the flesh” – and know that God sends such to all believers! The Greek word likens Paul’s thorn to getting stuck with a fish hook; you can’t get it out and if you try it hurts all the more – so you live with it. That is the idea.
We won’t know until we get to Heaven (of course) what Paul’s thorn was. It could have been his bad eyes. Health. Enemy. Living single. Who knows? I am glad he admitted to praying “three times” that it be taken away – for God who gave it could have taken it away; if Paul doesn’t get all his prayers answered why should I feel bad if I too experienced a lot of unanswered prayers?
Do you have a thorn in the flesh? I do – latest count: three.
The thing about the thorn in the flesh is that it is painful – and you can’t not think about it all the time. It is “in your face” (so to speak) – so intrusive. But it is God’s way of keeping us humble.
No single translation explains the purpose of a thorn in the flesh. One translation is “lest I be exalted above measure” (KJV) – implies that it kept people from thinking too much of Paul. Other translations – to keep him from being “conceited” (NIV ESV) – shows how human Paul was (does this surprise you?).
If you had a choice between the removal of your own thorn in the flesh and a double anointing of the Holy Spirit, which would you choose? Paul wasn’t given a choice but God answered his prayed with the promise of “sufficient grace” – which surely is better than having the thorn removed. I would prefer a greater anointing of the Spirit on me than anything. So if this is why I have my three thorns, I say “YES LORD – leave things as they are”.
We are selling Thorn in the Flesh at the discount price of $8.97 this month!
Theology and worship
Having had one foot in the reformed camp and the other in the Charismatic-Pentecostal camp, I have been increasingly alarmed at the trend in some of the worship among the latter camp. The early Methodists got their theology mostly from their hymns. This made them theologically-minded – a trait you and I must never lose. Whose hymns did the early Methodists sing? They sang those written by such people as Isaac Watts (1674-1748), Charles Wesley (1707-1788), William Cowper and John Newton (1725-1807). Read them. Sing them. Have you had a look lately at the words of hymns like “And can it be that I should gain and interest in my Savior’s blood?”, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died”, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform”, “How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds”, “O for a heart to praise my God, a heart from sin set free”? I would plead for the present generation of all Christians to sing the new as well as the old. Jesus spoke a parable about “the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matt.13:52), a truth that could readily apply to new and old hymns.
What worries me most about some contemporary worship is its lack of good theology. Some seem to have almost no theology at all! This is not good. I fear that we are producing a generation of people who are vulnerable to heretical movements partly because of a lack of good grounding in the truth. That said, I thank God for hymns like Chris Bowater’s “Jesus shall take the highest honour”, Graham Kendrick’s “Restore O Lord the honour of your Name”, “Knowing you, Jesus”, “Such love”, Stuart Townend’s “How deep the Father’s love for us”, “In Christ alone”, Matt Redman’s “Blessed be your Name”, “Ten thousand reasons”, Stephen Fry’s “Oh the glory of your presence”, Darlene Zschech’s “Shout to the Lord” and others.
But there are pitfalls in conservative Evangelicalism too. One teaching that is common in reformed theology is called “cessationism”. The idea is that the miraculous “ceased” sometime after the last apostle died or when the canon of Scripture was complete. Cessationism is not a fad. It has been around for a long time. Those who uphold this are not heretics. They are good people. But cessationism quenches the Holy Spirit as much as the previously mentioned teachings that displease him. You will not likely convince a cessationist to believe that the living God heals supernaturally today. A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still! I just don’t want some of these people to convince you! So do not let those who hold to their views that God will not manifest his power today deter you from seeing the God of glory show himself in our generation. That is why I wrote Holy Fire.
My own theological stable is reformed. But I came into it not by reading reformed theology. My purpose in writing this book however is not to change your theology but make you hungry for the Holy Spirit. If you walk in the Spirit, know your Bible and spend sufficient time alone with God, your theology will take care of itself. My greatest mentor was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Through this book I want to make him better known and a blessing to you as much as he was to me. The greatest thing he ever said to me was this: “The worst thing that can happen to a man is to succeed before he is ready”. This statement is what helped me “keep my head” when God did not manifest his power in my own ministry as quickly as I hoped. But I never gave up. I don’t want you to give up!
We are selling Holy Fire at the discount price of $11.99 this month!
Today I feel like the man who dropped the first atomic bomb. It is said that the bombardier who released the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 put his head in his hand and said, “My God, what have I done?”
When I first conceived the thought that the Pentecostal – Charismatic Movement is Ishmael and that the greatest outpouring to come is Isaac, I had no idea that one day I would be saying this to some of the most important leaders of this movement. Today I addressed the Board of Oral Roberts University. This board is made up of some of the most influential and highest profile people of the Pentecostal – Charismatic Movement, including the leading historian of this movement. It is the nearest equivalent I can think of to a “Pentecostal-Charismatic Sanhedrin”! Imagine facing these powerful men and women and calling their precious tradition Ishmael.
When I finished my talk I had the exact same feeling as I had when I first unveiled my thoughts along this line at the Wembley Conference Centre in London in 1992. I feared I had offended some of the best people on earth. In a similar way, some twenty-two years later, on the plane back to Nashville I kept asking, “What have I done?”
Some readers of this blog will recognize that the final chapter of my book Holy Fire is called “Isaac”. The idea is this: for thirteen years Abraham sincerely believed that the promised child was Ishmael. But one day God said to him, “Ishmael is not the promised child. Isaac is coming”. This did not please Abraham. At first.
I once asked a Charismatic leader in England, “If you were to decide whether the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement is Ishmael or Isaac, which would you say it is?” He replied: “Isaac”. I then said to him, “What if I told you it is Ishmael?” He said, “I hope not”. In 1992 I gave my talk at the first Word and Spirit Conference at Wembley Conference Centre in London in which I purported that what we have experienced up to now is Ishmael – but Isaac is coming! As the promise to Abraham concerning Isaac was a hundred times greater than the promise to Ishmael, so what is coming down the road will be a hundred times greater than anything we have seen in the historic Pentecostal-Charismatic movement. Many Pentecostals and Charismatics have understandably assumed that the power and success of this vast movement is as good as it gets before the Second Coming. After all, over six hundred million – some say it is a lot more than that – believers scattered throughout the world could be called Pentecostals or Charismatics. This to many is proof that the greatest outpouring of the Spirit has already happened. “We are it”, many might well say.
I believe many have underestimated what God is going to do next. It is my view that the next thing on God’s calendar is the Word and the Spirit coming together as seen in the book of Acts. Smith Wigglesworth prophesied three months before he died in 1947 that the next great move of God would be the coming together of the Word and the Spirit. That is what I am saying. I have given it the name Isaac. I plan to write an entire book on this.
The members of the Board of ORU had no way of being prepared for what I shared with them today. They knew of many of my books but had no time to read Holy Fire. I was honored to be asked to address them. They responded with a polite applause. But I could not help but wonder what they really thought!
I do not think it will be long before it will be seen objectively whether my word is truly from God. There is not much more I can say at this stage. Only wait. I only know it is a perspective I have held for some forty years, reaching back to the days when I talked about this with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Many Charismatics were initially offended when I first gave this position in 1992. But afterwards some have embraced my position. There is a widespread feeling that “We need something – desperately”. The world has no respect for the Church of God. They laugh at us. The church is in a deep sleep. It is my view that when the Word and Spirit come together – resulting in the awakening in the middle of the night (Matt.25:6) – the simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion. It will mean Isaac. Isaac means “laughter” or “he laughs”. But as the old saying goes, “He who laughs last laughs best”.
What you might learn from my book HOLY FIRE
I wrote HOLY FIRE for the young Christian, the new Christian, the theological student, the new pastor but also the seasoned minister who aspires more than ever to be jealous for the honor and glory of God. I wrote it also for the fence straddler out there who is sincerely baffled and unsure of what to believe about the Holy Spirit.
Jonathan Edwards said that the one thing Satan cannot produce in us is a love for the glory of God. So if the reading of Holy Fire results in a greater love for the honor of God and deeper reverence for the Holy Spirit, you may be sure that the devil did not put that desire and respect there. This is also why Edwards stated that when the church is revived, so is the devil! So you may count on the devil putting every obstacle in your way to rob you of the joy that comes from intimacy with the Holy Spirit.
“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hos.4:6). In this connection I would mention (1) lack of knowledge of God’s word and (2) lack of knowledge of God’s ways.
The first thing is the reading of the Bible. The devil does not want you to read your Bible, much less spending a lot of time reading the Bible. How well do you know your Bible? To understand the Bible you must be on good terms with the Holy Spirit. You also need a Bible reading plan.
Second, the way you know someone’s “ways” is by spending time with them. You show your esteem of a person by how much time you give them. So I will come right to the point: how much do you pray? The devil does not want you to pray, much less spending a lot of time praying.
“Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees”
– William Cowper (1731-1800).
I urge at least thirty minutes a day in your quiet time – including Bible reading and prayer. For the person in full-time Christian ministry I suggest a minimum of an hour a day (two is better) and this should be for private devotions and quiet time without using any of this time for sermon preparation. Martin Luther spent two hours a day in prayer. John Wesley spent two hours a day in prayer. According to a recent poll taken on both sides of the Atlantic, the average church leader (pastor, priest, evangelist, teacher) today spends four minutes a day in prayer. And you wonder why the church is powerless? You get to know God and his ways by spending time with him.
A defective view of the God of the Bible has resulted in dangerous teachings in some circles. One is called hyper-grace teaching. The view comes to this: since Jesus dealt with all our sin on the cross there is no need to confess sin – it has already been dealt with. No need for repentance in the Christian life, say these people. This is tantamount to antinomianism [anti– law] and can so easily lead to ungodly living. The people who uphold this kind of thinking have actually had to eliminate certain books of the Bible, for example, Hebrews and 1 John. Imagine that! To uphold a teaching they have to cut out part of the canon of Holy Scripture! I warn you, this teaching grieves the Holy Spirit. It is a fad. It will not last. But it can do incalculable damage in the meantime.
Another deadly teaching is called open theism. This view of God brings him down to the level of man so that such a God does not know his own mind without our input. The idea is, we actually help God know what to do next; without us he cannot move forward. This is sub-Christian teaching. It has astonishingly crept into certain Charismatic circles. When one leader of this teaching was asked publicly in London, “With this view of God, is it not possible that God could lose out in the end?” The reply was: Yes. Imagine a God like that. For the God of the Bible wins! But such a weak view of God is the ultimate consequence of denying his eternal sovereignty.
On the heels of open theism is the notion that we can virtually make God do anything. We can “decree absolutely true that God promises to bless the tither (Mal.3:10) – for we cannot out-give the Lord (2 Cor.9:8), beware of those who pitch this point of view mainly to advance their personal ministries. Some leaders go so far as to claim that their “words of knowledge” are superior to Holy Scripture. Some deny the Bible as being the complete and final revelation of eternal truth. One leader said, “If the Apostle Paul had my faith he would not have had a thorn in the flesh”. I’m sorry, but this kind of doctrine has emerged in Charismatic and Pentecostal settings. Be wise to teaching that exalts any man or woman and even appeals to a person’s greed. They emerge from strange fire, teachings that are alien to Holy Scripture.
We are selling Holy Fire at the discount price of $11.99 this month!