• Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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  • December 2011
    M T W T F S S
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The United States And Calvinism

From the desk of David Steinmetz:

Calvinism, as it is commonly called, has a rich European history, but it finds its most striking influence during the foundation of these United States. Owing to Martin Luther’s commitment to reform, the church that bears his name was founded on the teaching of God’s election and determinate predestination. John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church, held these doctrines. Early American history reveals that the vast majority of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock were Calvinistic Presbyterians. The Congregationalist Churches of early America were once bound by these doctrines. And the original Baptists were avid predestinarians, which is why their modern counterparts advertise themselves as “Freewill Baptists” to distinguish themselves from their ancestors.

This English Calvinist strain was strengthened by the Dutch Calvinists of New York and New Jersey, the German reformed of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the Scots-Irish Presbyterians who settled in the mid-Atlantic and southern colonies. While not all settlers in the New World were Protestant and not all

Protestants were Calvinist, nevertheless there was from the very beginning a strongly Calvinist influence on American thought and institutions. Calvinists founded universities, pioneered the New England town meeting, insisted on the separation of powers in the federal government, played a prominent role in the movement for the abolition of slavery, and even promoted such characteristic institutions of frontier revivalism as ‘the anxious bench’ and the ‘camp-meeting’… In short, although Calvinism is not the only ingredient in American intellectual and religious history, it is such an important ingredient that no one can claim to understand American history and culture without some appreciation of its Calvinist heritage. (Calvin in Context. New York, N.Y. Oxford University Press. 1995)

Charles H. Spurgeon On The Old Doctrines

In the words of Charles H. Spurgeon:

It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, that are called by the nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage into the past, and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in the doctrine of free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic of no very honorable character might rise up and call me brother. But, taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren; I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church.

Prepare The Way

Take a moment to think of all the energy people are putting into Christmas this year. What do they hope to experience as a result of all their efforts? What are they expecting to happen? Dr. M. Craig Barnes offers us some thoughtful insights into the Advent season:

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6 ESV)

When the word of God came in biblical times, it was usually through people who had little power or influence, but who had learned to listened to God. It came to people like John the Baptist who could rekindle our great dreams for life because he found them out in the wilderness. And thus, history has proven that it was John the Baptist who was truly great. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Nations have great men and women only in spite of themselves. In fact, nations direct all their efforts to not having them. Thus great people must have, in order to exist, a force of attack greater than the force of resistance developed by their society.”

Society has always encouraged mediocrity rather than greatness. That is because society cannot give us dreams. It gives us only plans: political plans, economic plans, religious plans. These plans become well worn over the years and they lead us only to repeat the mistakes of the past. But dreams, great dreams, are the things that prophets bring to us. Today we have far too many plans and not nearly enough dreams.

It had been 400 years since Israel had heard God’s word. For centuries the people had been waiting, and searching and dreaming for his word. They wouldn’t settle for more political words. They wouldn’t settle for more economic words. They wouldn’t settle even for religious words. All those words were little more than plans for dwelling in the darkness. They yearned for great dreams that could only come from one inspired with the word of God. . . .

[People today] yearn to find a compelling dream to which they can commit themselves. They yearn even for God, but they just have too much despair about society and about themselves. So instead they settle for little hopes, like all the generations before them.

I think that is why every year we knock ourselves out at Christmas. Despairing of making sense of our world or even our own lives, we travel to visit family that we think may have changed since last year. We buy a few more presents. We go to a few more parties. Yearning to hear a word from God, we settle for Muzak versions of Silent Night in the malls. It won’t work for us. It never has. It never will.

If ever there was a relevant moment to hear John the Baptist, it is today. People are searching, and they will come to anyone who has an authentic word from God. As John began to speak God’s word to people, we are told that great crowds developed. It reminded them of the prophecy of Isaiah that someday one would come who would be, “The voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord'”. . . .

Week after week as we light the candles and read the lessons, we remind ourselves that a Savior is coming. We remember that we have to prepare the way. We have to make his paths straight. The valleys have to be filled in. The mountains have to be made low. The crooked have to be made straight. The rough ways made smooth. Just as Isaiah and John the Baptist counsel us. . . .

Well a king is coming. And his name is Jesus Christ. That is what Christmas is about, and you have prepared the way for his arrival into your life. But John was not telling us to start doing road repair. He was telling us to repair the road into our hearts. He was telling us that we have to hope again.

The crookedness that needs straightening out is your own soul that has been bent and turned by too many false hopes. The only way to get your soul straightened out is to turn it toward the coming Savior. A vague search for God isn’t going to do it. Anybody can search. What our society desperately needs are people who have found God. The only way to do that is to confess your need for him. Don’t overlook your fears, hurts, or even your despair. Don’t cover them up with a few fleeting moments of holiday. Confessing your need for a Savior is the best preparation you can make. (“Straightening out Christmas”)

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