7 Reasons Murder is Evil: The Doctrine of Murder 3

Killing is a great evil.

Killing is evil for at least 7 reasons.

  1. It is forbidden in Scripture repeatedly and explicitly.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy explicitly condemn murder. Also, the Sermon on the Mount, the Synoptic gospels (Rich Young Ruler), and the epistles (Rom. 13:9; James 2:11) all condemn murder. Murders is listed as one of the 7 sins that God hates (Pro. 6:17)

2. It is punished in the heaviest way.

The death penalty is the punishment for murder. Since the punishment must fit the crime, and God has told us the equivalent punishment, we know the severity of the crime.

3. It includes a great many other sins.

Murder includes temptation to other sins. How many laws did Jezebel break when attempting to kill Naboth?

Murder includes other sins by default.

The 6th Command = The 8th Command: Murder (the 6th) is a kind of theft (the 8th) because it takes away someone else’s most scarce possession.

The 6th Command = The 9th Command: Murder (the 6th) is a kind of lying (the 9th) because it is a plain statement that his life is not valuable or dignified; further that I have the authority and right to take that life. The passions that tempt to murder often tempt to lying. See Jezebel and David who both lied in the efforts to murder.

The 6th Command = The 10th Commdn: Murder (the 6th) is a kind of coveting (the 10th) because it is a lusting for a world without this other man in it (James 4:2).

The 6th Command = The 5th Command: Murder (the 6th) is a kind of dishonor to parents (the 5th) because there is no more public dishonor in society than this sin.

The 6th Command = The 7th Command: Murder (the 6th) is adultery (the 7th) because it is the most basic kind of unfaithfulness (James 4:4) to God.

The 6th Command = The 1st Command: Murder (the 6th) is placing yourself as god above Jehovah (The 1st).

The 6th Command = The 2nd Command: Murder (the 6th) is making an idol (the 2nd) of a life without that person in it.

The 6th Command = The 3rd Command: Murder (the 6th) is a taking of God’s name in vain (the 3rd) since His name rests on His image which is found in each man.

The 6th Command =The 4th Command: Murder (the 6th) is the opposite of resting (the 4th). It is a restless soul that refuses to rest in God as the final authority and Christ as a the Savior of sinners.

The 6th Command = All the commands because James 2:10 teaches that he who breaks one law bears guilt for all the laws.

4. It cannot be undone.

5. It takes away what men by nature desire most.

Satan correctly said, ““Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life” (Job 2:4).

“And might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Hebrews 2:15

Men desire life for at least 3 reasons. They are afraid of meeting God in judgment. They secretly love this world and its pleasures. They love their sin, and only during this life may they go on freely in their sin.

6. It leads to eternal torment in the lake of fire. Rev. 21:8

All sins separate men from God. But to prick the conscience, God explicitly connects this sin and a few others with the Lake of Fire.

7. It marks a man as a follower of Satan.

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning…” (John 8:44).

Satan murders souls (John 10:10). He entices men to murder one another. He distracts us from doing the good of saving life. “No murderer has eternal life…” (1 John 3:15).

All sins are evil, but murder is particularly so.

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The Doctrine of Murder 2: Wrong Views and the Right View

Five wrong views of murder

  1. The sin of killing is not the death of animals because they were not made in the image of God.
    Since animals do not have souls, killing them is not murder. Eating meat is not wrong. Peter was even commanded to eat meat (Acts 10:13; Mark 7:19). It is a species of paganism to forbid meat because of killing.
  2. The sin of killing is not justifiable self-defense.
    Taking the life of a home invader to guard your family (1 Tim. 5:8) is not murder. Joshua Gianavello (1617-1690) was a godly Baptist (according to Orchard’s research) who killed Catholic soldiers as they attempted to murder his family in the Waldensian wars in Italy.
  3. The sin of killing is not taking life by God’s decree in a divinely mandated war.
    There are none in this category today because the canon of Scripture is closed. Joshua and the Israelites were not guilty of murder because God Himself mandated the destruction of the Canaanites in Joshua 6, 8, 10-12.
  4. The sin of killing is not taking life in a defensive war for the safety of citizens against an encroaching power.
    Scripture records Israel’s defensive wars such as David’s 18 wars (all victories) against the Philistines, Ammonites, and Syrians. Great Britain and the United States fought defensively in World War II.
  5. The sin of killing is not capital punishment by the state.
    Before the law, but after 1,600 years of lawlessness, God told Noah that murder requires men to unite together in agreement in order to take the life of the murderer. Paul believed in capital punishment as a NT missionary (Acts 25:11).

The sin of killing is murder.

Murder is taking a life that you have no authority to take.

  1. Motive: Autonomy
    When you determine that your life would be easier without this person in it, you have made yourself king. Auto + nomos = self + law. Cain did this with Abel (Gen. 4). Then his grandson Lamech followed him (Gen. 4:23). Even though David was king of Israel, he had no authority over the life of Uriah.
  2. Action: Taking a life
    Murder can be either active or passive. Active: Taking steps to get the result. Passive: Restraining yourself from an action that would save a life.

    11 If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; 12 If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works? Proverbs 24:11-12

    Connected to murder and aggravating it are all the other sins that lead to it and support it. The Westminster Larger Catechism lists many sins that are counted in the command not to murder.

    Question 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
    Answer: The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defence; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

Murder is the unjustified taking of life. Clear definitions are foundational to clear judgments. Our world hates clear definitions (like “What is a woman?”) because it hates Biblical truth. But now we need to evaluate how bad this sin is. In the next post, we will see 7 arguments for the evil of murder.

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The Doctrine of Murder 1: Roe v. Wade

“Thou shalt not kill” is only 2 words in the original, 6 little Hebrew letters. The first word is a negative: Not or literally “never.” The second is a verb: Murder. This is the same pattern for several of the Ten Commandments. There is no discussion, no qualification, and no explanation. Of the 10 laws given on tablets of stone, Commands 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10 are explained. In these circumstances, He offers reasons and even motives. But with Commands 1, 6, 7, 8, and 9, there is bare authority on display. He demands that you bow to His will without so much as an explanation (at least here).

And in this we see God’s great wisdom. He sometimes speaks to our minds offering us logical arguments. But at other times, He sits on His throne and declares Himself to be King. Perhaps that is because these 5 commands have an immediate answering call inside of us—the law written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15). A man who breaks these is guilty of sinning against several layers of revelation.

Our nation has been particularly guilty of breaking the 6th command for 50 years. As Achan’s family was punished with him, we must weep over the murder that was protected by our government since 1973. In 1969, Norma McCorvey wanted to abort her third child. Two women decided to take her case, and it reaches the supreme court in 1970. The baby that began the case was adopted, and she lives today. Norma herself would eventually be converted to Christ from homosexuality and become a strong pro-life advocate. But the case itself was decided 7-2 in favor of abortion on 22 Jan. 1973. Here was the argument:

1. The Court decided that the 14th Amendment included a “right to privacy.”
2. They then argued that a woman’s choice to murder her baby was a private choice.
3. The conclusion was that a woman may therefore murder her own baby protected by this right to privacy.

It is difficult to determine how many babies have been murdered, but different studies estimate 1-2 million deaths per year in the US. On Friday, 24 June 2022, with a 6-3 vote, that unbiblical, foolish, and unconstitutional decision was overturned. This is an answer to prayer for many Christians around the world.

There is much more wisdom and truth in the command “thou shalt not kill” than we commonly realize. And we will try to look at that wisdom in the next few posts.

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A Review of Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly


Gentle and Lowly is an expositional attempt to tell us what Christ’s heart towards sinners and sufferers is. The answer provided in this book states that Christ is full of compassion toward those who are hurting. The key text for the book comes from Matthew 11:28-30, the only passage in the Bible, Ortlund says, in which Jesus reveals to us his heart.[1]

Because this book attempts to uncover Christ’s heart, it is not written in a cold, dry, academic style, rather it is more personal and warm. Since its aim is telling us what Christ thinks about sinners,[2] it is down to earth. The whole book explores 23 verses, each of which gets its own chapter, that are supposed to tell us what Christ thinks about sinners.

With this as background, we shall examine this book under four main headings: exegesis, audience, history, and the probable theological and practical effect on the modern church for whom this book is written.

If you are short on time, just skip to the conclusion.

I. Exegesis

His exegetical profoundness varies greatly. His chapters can be put into three categories: sometimes he states previously un-thought of and insightful truths; sometimes he states truths that nobody disagrees with, offering a desert with no main course; and sometimes he cherry picks passages and doesn’t state the whole picture, and at those times the exegesis is bad. The chapters that most thoroughly represent his argument I have chosen to deal with in this paper. The good chapters he has already stated well, so few comments are needed except to read him; but for those chapters that are weak or unbiblical I humbly offer a rebuttal.

1. Matthew 11:28-29 (Chapter 1)

In chapter one he gives the key text, from which the book gets it title: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-29) As mentioned before, he says it is the only place where we can find Christ’s heart. However, this statement is entirely subjective. It is only the only place where Christ reveals His heart because Ortlund wants it to be.

What about John 17, where Jesus prays to the Father? Doesn’t that reveal His heart? What about any one of the seven sayings on the cross? What about Matthew 23:37-39, prophesying judgment on Jerusalem for her rejection of God’s gracious revelation? To say that only one doctrine, or only one passage really cuts to what Christ truly thinks and feels and teaches often times leads to imbalanced, if not erroneous views of Him. The context for this passage is also vital. Jesus had just said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Matt. 11:12). And then he goes on to prophesy just seven verses earlier the complete destruction and judgment of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for disregarding God’s grace. Other than this, though, I agreed with him in this chapter.

2. Hebrews 5:2 and John 6:37 (Chapters 5 & 6)

Chapters 5 and 6 are two great chapters on assurance of salvation. His key text is Heb. 5:2, “He can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided.” The premises of this chapter basically teach that all who come to Christ in humility and repentance will gain the full salvation for their souls. In chapter 6 he uses the text, John 6:37, that is used of all times for those who doubt God’s grace, “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” He quotes Bunyan and others and overall makes a profitable chapter.

3. Hosea 11:7-9 (Chapter 7)

His text for this chapter is Hosea 11:7-9, which says, “So My people are bent on turning from Me. Though they call them to the One on high, None at all exalts Him. How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled. I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, And I will not come in wrath.”

He goes on to state that our sins do not evoke God’s anger but His compassion. God is not angry, but compassionate when we sin. He even states “at some level the presence of disease draws his heart out to the child all the more” (p.71). The disease in the context refers to a believer’s sin.

At the beginning of the book, God commands Hosea to go and marry a harlot, and tells him that she is a picture of Israel (Hos. 1:2). In chapters 1-3 God illustrates Israel through the story of Hosea and Gomer. Then, in chapter 4, He begins a sturdy rebuke of Israel. He even says that Israel will not be able to find Him, though they seek for Him (Hos. 5:6).

For the next five and a half chapters until Hosea 11, God blasts Israel for their sins. Their sins are evoking his great wrath, and not His compassion as Ortlund insists. He even says in 9:15 (emphasis mine), “All their evil is at Gilgal; Indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them from my house! I will love them no more.”

In chapter 13, God comes to climax explaining how sinful OT Israel was. And then in chapter 14 He says that even so He will leave a remnant. Now if an average Israelite at that time had read or listened to Hosea and had come away saying that God was full of mercy towards them despite their sin, he would have been totally confused, and would have missed Hosea’s whole point. The point of Hosea, and most OT prophets for that matter, is to beseech Israel to repent and to plead with them to forsake their sin in the sake of God’s judgment. A chapter similar to this one would be justified in a 400-page commentary on Hosea; but if you can only spend one chapter on Hosea, then you should focus on God’s wrath, which was clearly Hosea’s intent in the book, not God’s grace, which is only briefly mentioned.

4. 1 John 2:1 (Chapter 9)

In this chapter Ortlund moves to discussing Christ’s advocacy from 1 John 2:1. In the beginning of the chapter he makes some helpful comments about advocacy, such as differentiating between Christ’s role of intercession and His role of advocacy. The main problem with this chapter comes in the section of application:

“Consider your life. How do you think about Jesus’ attitude toward that dark pocket of your life that only you know? The over dependency on alcohol. The lost temper, again and again. The shady business with your finances. The inveterate people-pleasing that looks to others like niceness but only you know. The entrenched resentment that bursts out in behind-the-back accusations. The habitual use of pornography.” (p. 91)

What message could be more against John’s point in his first letter? “Don’t worry about your pornography,” although Jesus says to cut off our hand or remove your eye to kill those lusts? “Don’t worry about your anger,” although Jesus says it is murder? “Don’t worry about your people-pleasing,” although Jesus says that if you don’t confess him before men, he won’t confess you before His Father?”

And again this is clearly not John’s main intent in 1 John. In this short epistle, the apostle proclaims, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). Again, just two verses after Ortlund’s verse, John says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-6).

John has explicitly said in this letter, “No one who is born of Him sins” (3:6) and again if we hate our brother, we do not have eternal life (3:15). Numerous other verses throughout the book such as 1 John 2:9-11; 15-17; 3:23-24; 4:4; 5:2-5; and 18 contradict the point of this chapter. To cherry-pick the particular verse you want out of a book that clearly teaches Lordship salvation is not exegetically accurate. Again, as with Hosea, I would not mind such a chapter in a commentary on 1 John, but to take only this verse without the nuance of the rest of the book must surely turn out theological imbalance, if not inaccuracy.

5. Matthew 10:37 (Chapter 10)

Chapter 10 was one of the best chapters in the book on child-evangelism. He talked about how we need to teach our children the truth, and quotes extensively from Edwards’ sermon to the children of his church. Ortlund balances penitence with grace, and makes a very good formula for child evangelism. “Our job is to show our kids that even our best love is a shadow of a greater love.” (p.100) He brings out the importance of instilling doctrine and the biblical principles in our kids from the time they are young, so that when they leave the house they will never forget what they heard in their youth. If you can only read one chapter, this is the best.

6. John 14:16 (Chapter 13)

Chapter 13 misrepresents the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit’s role, in summary, is to turn our postcard apprehensions of Christ’s great longing affection for us into an experience on the beach, sitting in a lawn chair, drink in hand, enjoying the actual experience. The Holy Spirit does this decisively, once for all, at regeneration. But he does it ten thousand times thereafter as we continue through sin, folly, or boredom to drift from the felt experience of his heart.” (p. 126)

      a. The passage itself

Ortlund’s main text is John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper.” However, this is a mistaken interpretation. The word used here is parakletos. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says that it is most commonly used when referring to an advocate, a defender, a helper, and an auxiliary. Philo uses of Joseph standing before his brethren at the end of the book of Genesis.[3]

When John Wycliffe first translated the Bible, the Catholic Church was persecuting him. He translated this word parakletos as Comforter (Com, with+ fortis, strength). The Holy Spirit is the One coming with more ammunition for the battle. He is the one buttressing the fort against the attacks of the devil. He is not making life as comfortable and leisurely as a holiday resort.

Throughout the book of John, Jesus was consistently persecuted. In a few hours, He would depart from his disciples, so He told His disciples that what they needed was strength from their Auxiliary, the Holy Spirit, to withstand the tough times after their master left.

      b. Examples from Church History

And this is exactly what happened in the book of Acts, the book that mentions the Holy Spirit more than any other in the Bible. When the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost, Peter boldly preaches. He can stand up to the scribes and Pharisees, when before he denied his Lord. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, can face ridicule, persecution, and stoning while praying for his enemies. The Spirit fills Paul with courage so he can sing in jail, and Peter so that he can sleep on the night of his execution.

Throughout all church history, those who were the most Spirit-filled did amazing and hard things. Their lives were far from easy, but God praised them for it. Blandina faced persecution after persecution without falling, Polycarp stood fast up to the very end,[4] Blanche Gamond endured years of persecution,[5] and so did countless others throughout church history, from the early church, to the Albigenses, to the Waldenses, to the Hussites, to the Huguenots, to the Puritans, to the Boxer rebellion in China, to the Iron curtain of Russia, to those suffering now in persecution. The Holy Spirit’s role is to give us strength to keep going, to keep fighting with our sin, and even to give us words to evangelize our persecutors with. “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).

      c. Other Passages Dealing with the Spirit

Thus, the Spirit-filled man is able to kill the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:22-23) and gives the power to put to death the deeds of the body. “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). John records Jesus later on in the Upper Room discourse using the same word parakletos, to saythat the Spirit will come to convict the world of their sins.

This best example of this is found in John Bunyan’s The Holy War. He is the Lord-high secretary whom Prince Emmanuel sends to put His hand overtop of our hands as we are struggling to kill our lying, and gossip, and our anger and our lust, and gives the extra power we lack to put the sins to death,[6] or to “mortify them” in old English.

      d. Conclusions

If we take Ortlund’s illustration of the Holy Spirit giving us a vacation at the beach as spiritual and metaphorical, then it is unbiblical, for spiritually we are to be killing, constantly active, and not resting and lying back; and if we take it physically and literally, then we arrive at the prosperity Gospel. In either case, this teaching is unbiblical. This is not to say there is nothing good in the illustration. If he is trying to say our experience of Christ’s love should be sweet, then the example might fit, but the primary role of the Spirit is to help us kill our sin.

Ortlund’s main problem is not in what he said about the Holy Spirit, but in the primary truths that he ignored. If one has only one chapter on the Holy Spirit, he should focus on killing your sin and strength to endure persecution, which are the primary roles of the Spirit in the believer’s spiritual life, and not his work allowing us to just lie back and let God.

7. Lamentation 3:33 (Chapter 15)

Chapter 15 on the book of Lamentations hid the true meaning of the text. He quotes from Lamentations 3:33, “For He does afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.” This verse, Ortlund says, is “the literary high point to the letter,” since “it is the exact middle of the book.” (p.137) This is only because he wants to teach his doctrine from Lamentations, and not because it is exegetically accurate as shall be soon seen.

First of all, the context of the book is mourning over God’s judgment. The words anger and wrath are used 14 times in this book, while mercy and grace are not used once. All of the eight references to heart refer to a heart that is overcome, a heart, that is faint and weary, and in the book the Lord’s offers no rest. The whole book God blasts Israel for her sins. Indeed, Jeremiah even says that, “We have transgressed and You have not pardoned. You cover Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have slain and have not spared. You have covered yourself with a cloud So that no prayer can get through” (Lam. 2:44). God will not even consider their prayers. He will not forgive them. He covers Himself in a cloud to prevent those who have had repeated warnings and have ignored Him from getting anything from Him.

Over and over throughout the book Jeremiah laments how God will not forgive His people. In his conclusion (which sounds much more like the high point of the book) he says, “Restore us to You, O LORD, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old, Unless You have utterly rejected us And are exceeding angry with us” (Lam. 5:21-22). In his conclusion, the truth that Jeremiah ultimately wants us to leave the book with is that it is possible for God to utterly reject His people, so that they cannot return. He leaves it hanging up in the air.

And we know that for a short time between the first and second advents God has rejected Israel his people. “For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either” (Rom. 11:21). God wearied of the constant rebellion of the Jews, and so He says, “As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’ ” (Heb. 3:11). God removes lamp stands, the symbol of light, which we should shine to the world (Matt. 5:13-16), from churches that lose their original fervor (Rev. 2:5).

Again, as with Hosea and 1 John, a chapter like this might not be out of place in a commentary on Lamentations, because all the comments about God’s wrath from the preceding sections of the commentary would balance out that chapter. But when one only devotes one chapter to Lamentations, focusing on the one section mentioning God’s love, and ignoring the rest of the book about his wrath and judgment, such a practice is exegetically incorrect. Lamentations, among all books of the Bible, should give us clear teaching on God’s wrath and judgment, which is precisely opposite to saying from Lamentations that His “natural” work is grace and His “strange” wrath.

8. Galatians 2:20 (Chapter 20)

In chapter 20, Ortlund really seems to have arrived his main point: if God is full of mercy, why then are we trying to work? This is conveyed in the title, which says, “Our Law-ish Hearts, His Lavish Heart.” He summarizes his main point thus, “We can go through the whole day trumpeting the futility of works to please God, all the while saying the right thing from an ‘of works’ heart. And our natural of works-ness reflects not only a resistance to the doctrine of justification by faith, but also, and even more deeply, a resistance to Christ’s very heart.” (p.185) This chapter is more exegetically sound than the previously discussed chapters because the book of Galatians openly and repeatedly attacks the law and focuses much more simple faith in Christ. However, this is not the only theme found in Galatians, and definitely not in the Bible.

      a. Audience and Author

First of all, let us note the author and audience to whom he was writing. Paul was writing to 1st century new believers, whose faith was being greatly challenged by false teachers of Judaism. Paul himself states that he was a champion of works both before and after his conversion (Gal. 1:14), so the author is one of the hardest workers ever; and the audience too is hard working, but the primary danger they face is losing justification by faith.

      b. Earlier References to Killing Sin by Killing Self

Secondly, Paul makes several references in the book to working hard and killing sin as tools in the effort to gain assurance of your salvation. Just three verses earlier, Paul makes it very clear that we must still work: “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!” (Gal. 2:17) And then in the same verse that Ortlund uses, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20) Paul killed the flesh. He was actively crucifying it.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus uses the same root stauros (cross) to say that we must take up our cross if we wish to be His disciples. This would have sounded to the Jew or Galatian of that time like the following saying sounds to us now, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his gun daily and follow Me,” and for Paul, “I have shot myself with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” What did Paul shoot and what did Jesus want us to shoot? They desired to kill our flesh and our sinful desires.

      c. Galatians 5

Thirdly, Paul has a lengthy section at the end of the book in chapter five, where he explicitly says, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Paul wants us to work. He wants us to be free, but he wants to use our freedom to actively kill the flesh. This is kind of like a man, who adopts a boy of 12 years,[7] and who when he turns 17, gives him the freedom to return to his old way of life, but knowing that now the boy will choose the much better life with his new family.

Paul continues talking about the works of the flesh, and openly states what they are, and how to avoid them. “These are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). And then he wraps up this section saying, “Now those who belong to Christ have crucified [from the same root stauros] the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

      d. Conclusions

In his page of conclusion at the end of chapter 20, he sums up the whole book very neatly, “Clouds, no clouds—sin, no sin—the tender heart of the Son of God is shining on me” and “we are perversely resistant to letting Christ love us.” (p.187) We could also add to that last statement “and to full obedience to His law.” The main problem with this chapter is that this does not reflect the actual heart of man. In actuality, we all love hearing a message of love. We enjoy hearing that we are doing pretty well like a six year old enjoys birthday cake. But, as Thomas Á Kempissaid, “All men are frail,” but “admit that none is more frail than yourself.” We all tend to belittle our sins, not realizing that we have not “lived well throughout one single day.”[8] So this chapter cannot be true because all “have gone astray,” and all think that their way is best (Isa. 53:6).

9. John 13:1 (Chapter 22)

In chapter 22 he really makes some excellent comments about John 13:1, “He loved them to the end.” If you can only read one chapter, read this alone. His comments about Christ’s bearing the Father’s wrath are inspiring. “What must it have been like for the sum total of righteous divine wrath generated not just by one man’s sin but ‘the iniquity of us all’ to come crashing down on a single soul? …I cannot believe it was physical extremity that killed Christ. What is physical torture compared to the full weight of centuries of cumulative wrath absorption?” (p.200)

II. His Audience

Having dealt with his exegesis, we found that while Ortlund may have a good goal, he often takes passages out of context, or otherwise ignores the true meaning of them. However, the main concern is his audience to whom it was written.

One of my elders, who greatly surpasses me in Bible knowledge and spiritual growth, read this book and said it helped him see the love of Christ. This friend is the most prayerful, probably the most dedicated Christian I know. If this book is written to an audience of godly Christians, then it could be profoundly helpful. If he is writing to the modern-day David Brainerd’s he sees, who spend days praying in the woods and who constantly doubt their salvation, then this may be a good book. But this is not is his audience.

On the first page of the introduction, he says, “This book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty.” (p.13) All these phrases are supposed to describe the “normal Christian.” He is writing for the average man, the man who does not have the nuances of theological training.

His problem arises because he makes no distinction between the normal Christian and the fake Christian. All the references to his audience do not have to apply only to the wheat. They could also apply to the tares. For the spiritually mature this book could be helpful, but to the carnal or fake Christian, it may, unwittingly to be sure, lead them into great danger.

Having handed out tens of thousands of tracts, in places as diverse as the suburbs of Chicago to the rural villages of Zimbabwe, it is apparent that there is not a multitude of modern-day Robert Murray McCheyne’s that are confessing their sins daily for hours. Instead, there are millions (this is not an overstatement) of goats pretending to be sheep while still living for the devil, and many more carnal sheep that still bear the marks of a worldly lifestyle. The middle-class, once-a-month Christian and the poor animistic fear-bound villager are the same in this regard. They both know what a worldly lifestyle looks like, and that it is sinful, and that they wish to excuse it.

What message then could be more damaging to a nominal Dutch-reformed Afrikaner than to hear, “Don’t worry about your sin, don’t worry about your cursing, your alcohol, your anger, your racism, your fornication. Grace has it covered”? What could harm the African more than to hear, “Don’t worry about your love of money, your fear of ancestors, the fact that you still are not married after ten years of living with her. Grace has it covered”? What could deceive the materialistic American more than to hear, “Don’t worry about your love of this earth, your setting of affections here rather than in heaven, and your hedonistic searching for entertainment. Grace has it covered”?

The carnal man would have little or no problem with this book. “Great, you’re telling me Jesus forgives me no matter what my sin is.” “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2) When you actually ask any of them about true Christianity, they all fail. All men are very comfortable with themselves, when they should be pricked by their conscience. In short, Ortlund comes with a book of consolidation, when the church needs a book of repentance; he comes with a book full of sunshine, when he should come with one shook by thunder. Even the average Christian will probably receive more harm than good because he will be tempted to neglect his spiritual duties rather than fight his sin.

III. His Use of the Puritans

The Puritans, whom Ortlund loves, could all be called doctors of grace, or doctors of repentance. He says in his introduction that he will quote from “the Puritans Goodwin and Sibbes and Bunyan and Owen and others such as Edwards and Spurgeon and Warfield.” But all these men clearly taught repentance.

Bunyan over and over balances his pleas of grace with scenes like the stately palace which must be fought for in the Interpreter’s house, the Old man whom Faithful must reject to enter heaven, the rough road on which Pilgrim must walk, the conversation with fakes like Pliable, Formalist, Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Talkative, By-Ends, Atheist, and others who are not willing to pay the price to kill their sin. Bunyan by no means focuses solely on grace. He openly teaches the doctrine of synergistic sanctification, or, in other words, we work with God to become more holy.

Owen wrote the work The Mortification of Sin, on how to kill your sin. Goodwin, whom Ortlund quotes probably more than any other author, wrote a whole book in his ten book series on faith on the subject of “Though faith be a difficult work, yet we ought to use our endeavors to believe.”[9] He gives one of those lists that the Puritans were known for, in which he gives many directions to obtaining faith.

Goodwin deals with this at length saying, “It is the most difficult matter in all the circle of theology to give both [faith and works] their limits; for whilst duties are only taught, faith is lost, and whilst faith is urged, carnal people dream (says he [Luther]) that good works are spoken against.”[10] The great problem with Ortlund’s work, according to Goodwin himself, would be that he offers no balance to his message of faith and grace. Goodwin says “We speak not against duties, but would reduce you to a right method and order in attaining to the right performance of them… good works do not bring forth faith, but faith brings forth good woks: Titus iii. 8, ‘These things affirm constantly that those which have believed may be careful to maintain good works.’ That is the right method, first to exhort men to believe, then to fall a-doing.”[11] He even says that good works are a “means appointed by God to convey Christ, as conduit pipes convey water; or to bring us to Christ.”[12]

My point is not to say that Goodwin did not teach what Ortlund said he taught, my point is to say Ortlund did not represent the full picture, or works and faith. James 2 tells us we cannot be true Christians without both. Philippians 2:13, which Goodwin uses to say faith comes along with works, commands us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

And Ortlund refrained from mentioning William Gurnall, who wrote The Christian in Complete Armour, a 1,200 page double column, small print book on spiritual warfare,and Richard Baxter who wrote The Christian Directory, on how to become holy in every area of life, who was constantly promoting holiness. And what shall we say of Thomas Á Kempis and John Wesley, who specifically dedicated themselves to holiness? To only quote the Puritans insofar as they promote free grace given to all sinners alike, but not when they mention warring with the flesh, is not presenting the whole picture.

This is not to say these men didn’t teach grace. The point is that they taught much more than only grace. They had much to say about holiness and killing sin, and if we would emulate them, we would become more non-conformist and less engaging to the culture.

Another reason why the Reformers and Puritans may have focused much on grace was their placement in history. The Catholic organization at this time was the main enemy of the Church, and it clearly taught synergistic justification, in other words, we work with God through our prayers to the saints, offerings to the church and needy, and other notable acts of devotion to bring about payment for our sin. If this were the case today, a book like this would truly be much more defendable. Nowadays an insurmountable amount of entertainment is increasingly causing modern Christians to be lazy.

IV. The Impact on the Modern Reader

1. Socrates’ Problem with Books

Ultimately, whether this book will be helpful or dangerous spiritually, boils down to the reader. In Plato’s dialogue “The Phaedrus”, Socrates ends the dialogue with an interesting speech where he argues against writing and books.

According to Socrates, Theuth invented the alphabet and writing. Coming to Thamus, he asks to give these gifts to the Egyptians to increase their ability to remember and record deeds. Thamus responds, “The specific [tool] which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be the hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”[13]

Socrates goes on to say, “Writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence…You may imagine that they have intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives an unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, and to whom not.”[14]

Socrates’ critique consists of two parts. 1. Writing will discourage memory, because it will give the reader the appearance of omniscience when he really knows nothing. 2. A teacher can help a student by giving him the exact piece of truth that will help him, but a book is a teacher without discretion, for a book cannot tell what truths the reader needs. I fear the second critique applies to this book.

This book is like a teacher that does not know its pupil, and therefore cannot tell him the particular truth he needs. If a thief read this book, he may say to himself, “Great, Christ is full of mercy, I’ve got this covered, I can go on with my stealing,” and everyone would say that he, deliberately or unwittingly, misunderstood the book. And yet, no matter how comical the misunderstanding, the book cannot reply to balance the false sentiments it had just imbedded in that man. That is what could happen with Ortlund’s work. Because it does not know its reader and does not know what truth he needs, the book could state some very unhelpful, and indeed damaging truths. Carnal Christians will read it, find an excuse to live sinfully, and thus a worldly church.

2. Objections

One might counter, “If something is true, then it can’t be harmful.” But in fact in many situations knowing truth is very damaging. For example, take the thief described above, and give him the truth that the next-door neighbors have $10,000 and that their doors are unlocked. Many truths are actually very unhelpful.

Or consider Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when she is on the duffer’s islands. As she flips through the magician’s book looking for the spell to make invisible things visible, she finds a spell to hear what others think of you, and she wrongly says the spells and to her dismay discovers what her friends truly think of her, and this ruins her relationship with them forever. This truth was very unhelpful.

And so it is with this book. Give a book like this, no matter how heartfelt, to a worldly church, to a group of carnal sheep and goats, and you are bound to give many an excuse for living in sin. If the readers were all mature, godly Christians well versed in the scriptures, the effect could be more positive, but in the era in which we live, these truths may do great damage.


“The heresies in church history are not universally upside-down depictions of Jesus, but lopsided ones” (p. 28). I fear the author’s words may apply to himself. Origen, who taught that Christ’s divinity was inferior to that of the Father, was a more godly man than you or I, and yet, by teaching this, he opened the way for Arianism, which still plagues the church to this day. Augustine, whose view of ecclesiology helped create the Catholic church, was called the “bright star in the firmament of early Christian history.”[15] Constantine, who began the state church, little realized into how much trouble his views would cause the church he so desired to help. And Zwingli, who persecuted the Baptists, little knew of freedom of religion. If all these men had seen the great error their well-meant teachings and actions would lead the church into, they surely would have changed their actions. Yet their deeds are done and we, their indebted sons in many ways, are also left with the consequences of these grave errors.

May it not also happen with this book? Sinners are always searching for an excuse for their sin. What better excuse could there be than to say that God does not care what your lifestyle is like and will always give grace? While it may be well intended, this book is like an unwieldy weapon, a double-edged sword that could end up doing significantly more harm than good.

Ortlund’s book may be helpful for some, and for that we must thank God. But when anyone examines this generation, one sees a church that is not as holy, not as godly, not as dedicated, not as diligent, and not as spiritually warm as in past ages, and to restore her to her glorious, Puritanic past we need a trumpet blast to awake the sleepy, dreary church, rather than a book to comfort her with God’s grace and her great successes.

Reviewed by Caleb Meyers

[1] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly (Wheaton, Illinios: Crossway, 2020) p. 28

[2] Ibid., p. 16

[3] James Orr, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘Paraclete’” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915) found at www.biblestudytools.com.

[4] Eusibius, History of the Church, c.303 AD, Book 5, Chapter 1, Section 17-30 and Book 4, Chapter 15.

[5] Blanche Gamond and Others, Stories of the Huguenots in France and Italy for Young People, (Harrinsonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 2004)

[6] John Bunyan, The Holy War rendered in modern English by Thelma Jenkins,(Grand Rapids, MI: Evangelical Press, 1976) p. 101.

[7] I took this example from one used by Ortlund earlier in the book.

[8] Thomas Á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Publishing Group), p. 59.

[9] Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Vol. 8: The Objects and Acts of Justifying Faith (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), p. 520.

[10] Ibid., p. 523.

[11] Ibid., pp. 528-9.

[12] Ibid., p. 529.

[13] Mortimer J. Adler, The Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 7: The Dialogues of Plato Translated by Benjamin Jowet (Chicago, London: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1952), p. 139.

[14] Ibid.

[15] S. M. Houghton, Sketches from Church History (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), p. 24.

Posted in Book reviews, Hermeneutics, Pastoral | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Hard Work for Christ: John Wesley


  • In 1732, a woman named Susanna wrote a letter describing how she raised her 19 children.
  • “When [they] turned a year old (and some before), they were taught to fear the rod and to cry softly. … that most odious noise of the crying of children was rarely heard in the house…” Journal 104
  • In the same letter she also wrote, “In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer the will and bring them to an obedient temper.” Journal 105
  • At home, she taught her children a catechism, the importance of the Lord’s Day, and how to read since there were no public schools yet.
  • In this home, they had 8 rules each child was taught including the private property of each child and strict observance of all promises.
  • What kind of man would be produced in a home with justice, fairness, and discipline like this?
  • From this home—as the 15th child, came John Wesley.
  • Church history has probably never recorded any man who evangelized as often or spent as many hours traveling as Wesley.


  • If we were to draw a portrait of a man given over entirely to evangelism and building the church, it is hard to find a better example than John Wesley.


  1. John was the third pastor in a row following his father Samuel and grandfather John.
  2. His home had the flavor of the Puritans since both of his grandfathers had been ejected as pastors from their churches.
  3. 1710 At 6, the family home caught fire and John leapt from an upper window to be saved.
  4. When all his children were found, his father Samuel “Let the house go, I am rich enough [with these children].”
  5. 1720 At 16 he entered Oxford University where he excelled in his studies.
  6. This would become his home for the next 15 years where he tutored students who were training to be Anglican priests.

The Holy Club

  1. On all sides of his day, he saw religion—
    1. training men for ministry,
    2. ordained as an Anglican curate,
    3. and living in a society marked by Christianity.
  2. Yet he doubted his own salvation—3 times in 3 months around this time, he records that he is not ready to die. Journal 34-35
  3. As an effort to gain assurance, he began to “be diligent to make certain of His calling and election.” 2 Pet. 1:10
  4. His brother Charles and other students joining him, they formed the Holy Club with special rules to help them deny themselves and focus on religion.
  5. They would meet 3 times per week to discuss their reading, fast, pray, wake up early, and visit the poor as acts of devotion.
  6. Then John invited George Whitefield who was 11 years younger than him to join the Holy Club.
  7. But the doubts were still in Wesley’s heart.

Missionary to America

  1. 1735 At 32 years old, Wesley accepts an offer to move with his brother Charles and two friends to the new colony of America.
  2. In his journals, he records, “Our end in leaving our native country was… to save our souls.” Journal 33
  3. While on the boat they continue their dedication:
    • Wake at 4 AM for prayer
    • 5-7 AM Bible study
    • 8 AM Bible study with other passengers
    • 9 AM-12 PM Study German or Greek
    • 12 PM Accountability meeting for the 4 missionaries
    • 1-4 PM Personal evangelism with others on the boat
    • 4 PM Worship service on the boat
    • 5 PM Private prayer
    • 6 PM Personal evangelism with other passengers
    • 7 PM Worship service with the Germans
    • 8 PM Second accountability meeting for the missionaries
    • 9 PM Sleep
    • This schedule opens a window into the mind of a Methodist. His whole day was devoted to religion.
  4. These Germans were Moravians who showed Wesley a living religion, not merely discipline—true peace and love, not merely self-denial.
  5. After two years, they return from America rejected and discouraged.
  6. 1738 “I went to America, to convert the Indians; but Oh! who shall convert me?” Journal 53


  1. The guiding hand of God brings Wesley back to the Moravians in England.
  2. Upon asking for their advice, Peter Bohler replied, “Preach faith [in Christ] till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith [in Christ].” Journal 58
  3. 1738 Four months after returning to England, John went to a Bible study with the Moravians where they read the preface to Luther’s Commentary on Romans.
  4. 1738 That night—at 34 years old—he felt his “heart strangely warmed.”
  5. Was he converted that night?
    • His doubts still returned to him. Journal 64-65
    • Three years earlier in 1735, Whitefield called Wesley “my spiritual father in Christ.” Could Wesley have been Whitefield’s spiritual father while Wesley was still a child of Satan?
    • 1733 He had printed a sermon on “The Circumcision of the Heart”—5 years before his conversion. At 75 years old, he said that sermon from 1733 when he was 30 could not be improved.
  6. From this night—24 May 1738, his labors suddenly produce amazing results.
  7. Within 4 months of this experience, he was found preaching 3 times per day.
  8. Previously, his self-denial was offensive, but now both that and his emphasis on conversion angered pastors and priests in churches.
  9. Soon, he found that his first invitation was usually his last.

Field Preaching

  1. 1739 the 35-year-old Wesley saw the 24-year-old Whitefield preach in a field.
    • He was so shocked that he wrote, “I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.”
    • The very next day, 2 April 1739, though he was only 5’6” Wesley stood just outside the town and began preaching.
    • Since field preaching was his main ministry for 50 years, let us look more closely at 7 descriptions of this practice.
  2. Audience size—Massive crowds came to hear him.
    • Soon a crowd of 3,000 gathered. Journal 68
    • From then to the end of his life, the records show him preaching to 5,000; 3,000; 10,000; until once at 70 years old, 30,000!
    • What can account for this ongoing steady interest of thousands of people from all over England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland?
  3. Sermon length: 1739 3 hours; 1742 3 hours; often 2 hours
  4. Preaching frequency: 2-3 times per day.
  5. Meeting times:
    • He preached nearly each day at 1:00 PM as well as 5 or 6 PM.
    • But most remarkably, very often he preached at 5:00 AM!
    • Where did he find the audience?
    • At this time, Bibles would have cost most people 3-4 weeks salary—R3,000-4,000.
    • This early preaching seems to have been a group devotional time before the common men went to work.
  6. Natural circumstances—He preached in all conditions.
    • 1739 36-years old, preaching in a large hall to 2,000 people, the main beam snapped. “…the floor, after sinking a foot or two… I went on without interruption.” Journal 79 (Happens twice to him)
    • At another time, “The violent rains did not hinder more, I believe, than 10,000 from earnestly attending to what I spoke…” Journal 83
    • People gathered in the street “in spite of wind and snow” and then they met again in the afternoon.
    • 1759 A pigsty nearby where the people gathered overwhelmed them as they preached.
    • At other times, he preached late into the darkness and in the hail.
  7. Demonic opposition—He was not surprised when hated by the world.
    • 1741 A mob of angry men try to drive a bull into the midst of the men and women who are listening to the sermon.
    • 1748 A mob of angry men follow him and his friend throwing dirt and stones at the preachers.
    • 1749 His friend is rolled in the mud by a mob. When they try to take the second preacher, he begins to preach to them on the “terrors of the Lord.”
    • Wesley then stood on a chair: “My heart was filled with love, my eyes with tears, and my mouth with arguments. They were amazed; they were ashamed; they were melted down; they devoured every word.”
    • Many years later he will return to this city and find it reformed and peaceful.
    • These scenes of mobs are so common, that I stopped after recording in the back of the book 20 separate incidents.
    • He is constantly hated, accused, and slandered.
    • This opposition continues until he is in his 70’s—about 40 years.
  8. Duration of ministry—57 years of preaching!
    • He was actively preaching the total number of years that Spurgeon lived.
    • His ministry was longer than the lives of Edwards or Whitefield.
    • An estimated 40,000 sermons!
  9. Summary: Preaching—especially in the open—was the chief tool that Wesley used to see thousands converted.

Itinerant preaching

  1. From the beginning of his ministry, Wesley traveled from town to town preaching.
  2. He averaged 5,000 miles per year: that is over 600 hours per year on the back of a horse—2-3 hours per day!
  3. Further, as other men were converted and joined him, he required all other preachers to travel.
    • So that they would be constantly evangelizing.
    • So that they would not be tempted to put their roots too deep into earthly comforts.

The Societies

  1. What was the result of all this labor? Travels, preaching, and suffering?
    • Many people were hungry for a religion that took the Bible seriously.
    • Many were converted by the gospel.
    • What should be done with these people?
    • They were not being fed in the churches, but Wesley did not want to separate from the Anglican church.
    • He formed “societies” for these dedicated Christians to meet together.
  2. Membership
    • The societies were like clubs inside the Anglican church.
    • But they had a clear membership.
    • To be a member in the Methodist society was to submit to the Rules.
    • 1738 Some of the original “Rules” for membership
      1. That we will meet together once a week to ‘confess our faults one to another, and pray for one another, that we may be healed.’
      2. That every one in order speak as freely, plainly, and concisely as he can, the real state of his heart, with his several temptations and deliverances, since the last time of meeting.
      3. That all the bands have a conference at eight every Wednesday evening, begun and ended with singing and prayer.
      4. That any who desire to be admitted into the society will be asked, ‘What are your reasons for desiring this? Will you be entirely open; using no kind of reserve? Have you any objection to any of our orders?’ (which may then be read)
      5. That after two months’ trial, if no objection then appear, they may be admitted into the society.
      6. That no particular member be allowed to act in anything contrary to any order of the society; and that if any persons, after being thrice admonished, do not conform thereto, they be not any longer esteemed as members.
  3. Leadership
    • Stewards were chosen to gather the offerings and watch over the members.
    • Eventually superintendents were placed over a group of societies.
    • As long as Wesley lived, he was responsible at the top.
  4. An Annual Conference was started whereby all the leaders could meet for spiritual refreshment and responsibility.
  5. Wesley formed the new converts into groups complete with membership, spiritual oversight, excommunication, and fellowship.
    • In these ways, he was very Pauline.
    • Traveling, preaching, and forming bodies of believers.
    • All done around the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  6. Summary: In other words he started churches without calling them churches.


  1. Wesley’s writing fills over 30 volumes and has not yet been completely printed.
  2. Most of this writing is sermons, journals, and letters.
  3. He kept a journal for nearly 50 years and published it to encourage others spiritually.
  4. He wrote letters constantly to others to strengthen their faith.
  5. He began a magazine in his 70’s.
  6. He wrote Notes on the New Testament which is really like the notes for a study Bible.
  7. He also wrote on various other topics including a book on medicine with advice for the sick.
  8. He wrote a Concise History of the English People.
  9. But his great strength was not theological precision or powerful writing.

His death and legacy

  1. Wesley’s life is in one sense very simple and uneventful because he repeats the same methods in every little town he can find.
    • He is consumed with evangelism.
    • He cannot stop thinking about eternity.
    • On 24 February 1791, he passed into eternity praising God at 87 years old.
  2. But amazingly, this seemed to begin the story.
    • At his death, 110,000 men and women were members of Methodist societies, following the Rules.
    • 50 years later, the membership was roughly 1.1 million—10 times greater!
    • J. Hudson Taylor came from the Methodists and many other missionaries.
    • They sent out 78 missionaries just to West Africa during this time. (30 of them died within 12 months of arrival.)
    • “The growth cannot possibly be attributed to Wesley’s personality… If Wesley’s leadership was the secret, then the success would have been greatest in his lifetime. The opposite was the case, Methodism spread further and faster after his death.” Murray, 252
  3. C. Summary: Wesley’s death almost seems like removing a cork from a bottle so that the grace may flow more freely.

Lessons to learn from Wesley’s life

  1. Dedication
    • Wesley’s life presents an almost unearthly picture of a man who seemed to deny all personal desires for the sake of evangelism.
    • He rose at 4 AM for 60 or more years.
    • He preached at 5 AM consistently for many of those years.
    • He took a salary of only 30 pounds per year when common laborers were receiving 40 pounds per year.
    • 1785 “Just as I began, a wasp, though unprovoked, stung me upon the lip. I was afraid it would swell, so as to hinder my speaking; but it did not. I spoke distinctly near 2 hours in all.” Journal, quoted in Noll, 227.
    • He was influenced early on by Thomas A Kempis, and his life reminds us of A Kempis words: “It is no small matter to dwell in a [single church] or congregation, to converse therein without complaint, and to persevere therein faithfully unto death.” B. I, Ch. 17
    • He walks through snow leading his horse so that he can preach.
    • Rejection by friends, mockery from the press, opposition from the Anglican church, and even mobs of angry people did not even slow him.
    • Martyrs were more dedicated in that they paid a heavier one time cost.
    • But who has paid so many individual decisions for so many years when so much comfort could have been his?
  2. Evangelism
    • The NT places an emphasis on evangelism over social ministry.
    • Wesley kept that balance.
    • He took offerings several times to help poor prisoners.
    • He received 1,000 Sunday School children at his house when he was 83.
    • But whatever he did for the poor, he did more for souls.
    • Repeatedly, he visits beautiful castles and cathedrals always writing at the end of the journal something like, “All this will burn up very soon.”
    • Listen to the way he preached in the fields:
    • “Thou ungodly one who hearest or readest these words. … I charge thee before God, the judge of all, go straight unto Jesus with all they ungodliness. Take heed thou destroy not thine own soul by pleading thy righteousness more or less. Go as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell… Thus look unto Jesus! … Plead thou no works, no righteousness of thine own! … No! Plead thou singly the blood of the covenant…”
    • And connected to that, Wesley was beyond his time in understanding that true evangelism must result in new churches.
    • In this way, he was beyond some of the Reformers who spoke more about the state and society than about NT evangelism and churchplanting.
    • He saw conversion as a great work that must be carefully produced and scrupulously guarded.
  3. Self-deception
    • Great men have great faults and this is sadly the case with Wesley. Some of his errors were doctrinal, but some were practical.
    • Baby sprinkling—Babies should be sprinkled to seal them in the New Covenant.
    • Arminian theology
      • God does not choose who will be saved.
      • Wesley and Whitefield disagreed on this point, but Wesley printed an attack on Whitefield.
      • Thankfully after 9 years they were restored even though they never agreed on the doctrine.
    • Perfectionism
      • Like Richard Baxter, Wesley hated antinomianism—the false teaching that there is no law for the one who is saved by faith.
      • In order to combat this false doctrine, he taught that men can reach a perfect condition through hard work.
    • Neglecting wife
      • Like Richard Baxter, Wesley also married when he was 47.
      • The month he was married he wrote in his journal, “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less in a married than in a single state.” 185
      • Eventually she left him, and he did not pursue her.
      • And he thought he had Scripture on his side (1 Cor. 7:15, 29).
  4. Wide learning
    • While riding on horseback, he read hundreds of books.
    • 1748 Of Homer “What an amazing genius had this man!”
    • He reads works of geography (such as Ireland), history (such as the English civil war), and biography (such as Richard Baxter).
    • He even read science and medicine. Journal 304
    • You can find him with unbelieving philosophers like Rousseau and Voltaire (who were alive with him). Journal 309
    • He also loves classical music, gardens, and ancient architecture.
    • The Journal has many references to his reading or reflections on art.
    • It seemed to me that he was enjoying all the things of earth, but keeping his enjoyment in proportion to the real, temporary value in comparison with eternity.
    • Godly men today would be more interesting and more sound in their faith if they could see how Christ governs the whole world.


  • Wesley was a dedicated, driven man.
  • But his story highlights the many men and women who were willing to stand in the snow, listen in the rain, meet at 5 AM, and evangelize in their own villages.
  • The story of Wesley is best understood as a wide scale revival of many unnamed Christians who denied themselves and took up their crosses to follow Christ.
  • In an age of half-hearted Christianity, we need Wesley’s example.

The Journal of John Wesley, edited by P. L. Parker, Moody Press.
Murray, Iain. Wesley and Men Who Followed. Banner of Truth, 2003.

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Tensions in Scripture

Preliminary Thoughts about Tensions in Scripture

  1. It seems to me that I and most other Christians are sometimes uncomfortable with certain passages of Scripture. This discomfort comes from the seeming contradiction or tensions when certain verses are compared with others. With a faithful commitment to the absolute inerrancy of the Bible, I want to understand how to reconcile all the statements God has given.
  2. Zoology would move at a slow pace if we could not first acknowledge the existence and identify the presence of new animals, and that seems like a wise first step in the Bible as well.
  3. I have tried to phrase these “tensions” using, as much as possible, Scriptural terms. Every time I substitute one of my terms for an inspired term, I am a slight step further into my own mind.
  4. Is a list like this a step toward heresy or Barthian neo-orthodoxy? These tensions can and should be explained as beautiful, complimentary, important revelations from God. They do not ultimately contradict, but they may appear so to us because we are ignorant, stubborn, or small. Christian truth can and must be stated in propositions. God has spoken in perfect Words. And pastors and fathers must labor to be able to explain these teachings with wisdom, consistency, and persuasion.
  5. Why make a list like this? The importance of this list lies in humbling us when we think we know more than we do, in inspiring us to study in areas where we had been negligent, and in measuring the force which we place on each judgment both of our conclusions and in the treatment of those who treat the tensions differently.

Categories of Tensions in Scripture

  1. God works on earth by immediate, powerful demonstrations of grace (Acts 4:4) as well as slow, steady steps of commitment (Matt. 13:31-33).
  2. Church discipline in its final form marks the man as an unbeliever (Matt. 18:17), but there is also a place for a man to be disciplined by the church and yet still keep his Christian designation (2 Thess. 3:15).
  3. We are saved by faith alone (Rom. 4:5), but we are also saved by faith and works (James 2:24).
  4. The Kingdom of God is a present experience for believers, but it is also a future expectation.
  5. God is entirely separate from His Creation, yet He is known by terms of Creation such as Father, Rock, Strength, Light, and Song.
  6. There is only one God (1 Cor. 8:4), but there are also many gods (1 Cor. 8:5).
  7. God ordains all things (Eph. 1:11), and yet man is entirely and justly responsible for his actions (Ez. 18:4).
  8. All believers are saints who have been changed and made holy (1 Cor. 1:2-8), and yet they are still great sinners (Psalm 130:3; 1 Tim. 1:15).
  9. The Law is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual (Rom. 7:12, 14, 16), but Christians are dead to it, delivered from it, and not under it’s authority (Rom. 7:4; 6:14-15).
  10. Christians are called to a humility that regards others as more important, neglects their own personal interests (Phil. 2:3-4), denies their own desires (Luke 9:23), follows the lowly pattern of slaves (Luke 17:9-10), and assumes the worst of their own fleshly impulses (Rom. 7:14-21); and yet they must be bold for the truth, confident in the divine grace that has been given to them, and able to see their own spiritual maturity (Gal. 6:1-5). God’s children must be like Paul who said he was the least and unfit and yet also worked more than any others (1 Cor. 15:9-10).
  11. Only God saves men (Jonah 2:9), but Christians can save men (Rom. 11:14; 1 Cor. 9:22).
  12. Faith in Christ is the sole requirement for salvation (Acts 16:30-31), but He only saves those who eagerly watch for Him (Heb. 9:28).
  13. God is love (1 John 4:16), and yet He has prepared eternal torment (Matt. 25:41).
  14. We gain assurance of salvation by looking at Christ (1 John 2:1-2), but we gain assurance of salvation by obeying His laws (1 John 2:3-4).
  15. Christians should fear God because of His authority to cast into Hell (Luke 12:4-5), and yet Christians have been saved from God’s wrath and do not need to fear (1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Tim. 1:7).
  16. Christ died for all men in the world (1 John 2:2), and Christ died for His sheep not the goats (John 10:11).
  17. The Church is victorious in this present age (Matt. 16:18), and yet the Church is struggling (Matt. 24:12).

Principles for Interpreting Tensions in Scripture

  1. Aware: We must be aware that these tensions exist and slowly place each verse in its appropriate category as we continue to read Scripture. If our minds are like storehouses, then we need to prepare shelves with fitting labels and then place individual verses on the right shelves.
  2. Interpret: We must arm ourselves with the phrase “in one sense” and then practice explaining the individual “senses” or perspectives as we read Scripture and discover verses that present some tension with another verse.
  3. Listen: We must listen to others in the most patient way, placing ourselves in their shoes so that our listening will really be a fulfilling of the law of love and not merely an exercise in catching them for using the wrong words. Some do not yet know the best words even though they carry the best meanings, and it is Christian love to see this.
  4. Meaning: We must understand the real doctrines and meanings at stake in each of these revelations so that we will be able to find and expose false doctrine when it really crosses the line from being a valid or clumsy statement of truth into an error or false teaching. Both the skill of exegesis and familiarity with church history are the best guardrails to keep us on the right path.
  5. Acceptance: We must not only not be afraid of any of the truths stated by these tensions, but we must love both sides of the truths stated herein because it so pleased God to reveal His mind in these ways that to us seem hard or complicated. If He saw these specific words as the best possible words to us in the setting forth of these realities, then let us happily approve of these words and use them.
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Bible Word Count

Some years ago, Jeff Kranz used Logos to prepare a list for the number of words in each book of the Bible. Having used that list often, I eventually compiled a list of the most prolific authors of Scripture.

Longest books by word count
1. Jeremiah33,002
2. Genesis32,046
3. Psalms30,147
4. Ezekiel29,918
5. Exodus25,957
6. Isaiah25,608
7. Numbers25,048
8. Deuteronomy23,008
9. 2 Chronicles21,349
10. 1 Samuel20,837
Most prolific authors
124,91120.40%of Bible
37,9326.20%of Bible27.50%of NT
Jeremiah 33,002Jeremiah 
35,3265.80%of Bible
6,8301 Corinthians
4,4772 Corinthians
1,4811 Thess
8232 Thess
1,5911 Timothy
1,2382 Timothy
32,4085.30%of Bible23.50%of NT
Possibly Paul4,953Hebrews
37,3616.10%of Bible27.10%of NT
Ezekiel 29,9184.90%of Bible
John 15,635John
2,1411 John
2452 John
2193 John
28,0914.60%of Bible20.40%of NT
Ezra ????20,8371 Sam
17,1702 Sam
BookWord countAuthorGenre% of BibleTotal for TestamentTestament
1 Samuel20,837UnknownHistory3.41%473,204OT
2 Samuel17,170UnknownHistory2.81%473,204OT
1 Kings20,361UnknownHistory3.33%473,204OT
2 Kings18,784UnknownHistory3.07%473,204OT
1 Chronicles16,664EzraHistory2.73%473,204OT
2 Chronicles21,349EzraHistory3.49%473,204OT
Song of Solomon2,020SolomonPoetry0.33%473,204OT
1 Corinthians6,830PaulLetter1.12%138,020NT
2 Corinthians4,477PaulLetter0.73%138,020NT
1 Thessalonians1,481PaulLetter0.24%138,020NT
2 Thessalonians823PaulLetter0.13%138,020NT
1 Timothy1,591PaulLetter0.26%138,020NT
2 Timothy1,238PaulLetter0.20%138,020NT
1 Peter1,684PeterLetter0.28%138,020NT
2 Peter1,099PeterLetter0.18%138,020NT
1 John2,141JohnLetter0.35%138,020NT
2 John245JohnLetter0.04%138,020NT
3 John219JohnLetter0.04%138,020NT
Bible Total611,224
Torah Total124,911
OT Total473,204
NT Total138,020
Quran Total77,44977,79777,430

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Is Evolution True? A Book Review of Francis Collins’ The Language of God

What could possibly make a man see the incredible complexity of the DNA code in the human genome and still come away with any respect for evolution? Answering that question is Francis Collins’ burden in these 11 chapters although he switches the premises a little by pretending that belief in God is actually an uncommon and difficult position that needs to be nuanced, massaged, and buttressed with caveats in order to be accepted by a thinking audience.

Dr. Collins is obviously a thoroughly disciplined man in regards to his field of expertise (the human genome, chapter 5), but in this book he steps into the areana of theology, philosophy, and history and is not able to match his subject.

For example, he writes that Galileo was heavily criticized by John Calvin and Martin Luther (page 155), yet Calvin died the year Galileo was born and Luther was in Heaven laughing at the pope when Galileo was on trial.

Again writing as a historian, he tells us, “For the first million years after the Big Bang, the universe expanded, the temperature dropped, and nuclei and atoms began to form. Matter began to coalesce into galaxies…” (67). He knows that our sun was formed 10 billion years after the Big Bang (68) even though past events used to be considered as historical questions. Writing just before his death, the apostle Peter wrote that fools would argue against the history and prophecy of the Bible proclaiming that what we see happening today is sufficient to explain everything that happened in the past (2 Pet. 3:3-6).

From the church fathers, Augustine is made to serve evolution on pages 151-152 (and others) without acknowledging either the fact that the church fathers consistently taught literal 24-hour days or that Augustine himself held that the days of Creation were possibly shorter than 24-hour days, not long geologic ages. Further, Augustine believed that Scripture should have the authority to judge conclusions derived from our sense experience. I am not saying that Augustine was a young earth creationist, but I am saying that Collins went to history to use Augustine’s views selectively. Had Collins included more facts about Augustine’s views or the broader views of the church fathers, the author’s case would have looked much weaker.

Even though Dr. Collins cites 45% of American Christians believing in a young earth (less than 10,000 years old), he writes that “it is clear that the ultraliteral YEC views are in fact not required by a careful, sincere, and worshipful reading of the original text” (page 173). He does not interact with YE arguments or proponents. He does not deal at length with any Biblical texts in the entire book. He does not cite any Hebrew scholar believing or otherwise who would agree that Genesis 1-2 is “poetry.” He does not discuss the overwhelming Biblical problems with evolution such as death before sin, the NT teaching of Young Earth creation, the genealogies of Genesis 5 or Luke 3, or even the meaning of inerrancy.

I would like to believe better about Dr. Collins, but when he warns us about the “clear danger in unrestrained forms of ‘liberal’ [scare quotes from Collins] theology that eviscerated the real truths of faith” he immediately follows that pretended sympathy by declaring that Job, Jonah, and Genesis cannot be trusted historically because they “frankly do not carry that same historical ring” as some other unnamed passages of the Bible that can be trusted (page 209).

He was snide and dishonest with the true state of affairs regarding the many credentialed, published, and patented men and women who hold to a young earth (see the whole of chapter 8 and scattered references throughout). “No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution…” (page 99). Clever reasoning, Dr. Collins, all those scientists who doubt that chickens came from the Tyrannosaurus just lost their right to be “serious.”  

But even his scientific evidences were weak. Take for example, his evidence for the Big Bang (pages 64-65). In 1965, Penzias and Wilson found “an annoying background of microwave signals.” They “ultimately realized that this background noise was coming from the universe itself, and that it represented precisely the kind of afterglow that one would expect to find as a consequence of the Big Bang…” Collins only offers one other evidence: the amount of deuterium in nearby stars and galaxies. That’s it. Case closed. Less than a page because these outstanding reasons are enough to establish 14 billion years as the benchmark for every child’s historical studies. Into a bucket with Caesar crossing the Rubicon and Washington crossing the Delaware, goes an explosion of “infinitely dense, dimensionless point of energy” because of these two reasons. (And by the way, how could science ever measure something infinite or dimensionless?)

This is a bad book. It is bad because it makes historical, philosophical, and theological errors. And sometimes the dogmatism and terms he chooses cast a shadow even over his motives. Was he simply lazy when he called Augustine to his side or was he intentionally dishonest? Is he culpably unaware of the overwhelming Biblical scholarship regarding Genesis 1 and 2, or is he aware and deceptive?

On every tenth page of 234 pages of text, there was something that a well-read man could object to, and on every third page there was something for a well-read Christian to reject. This brief review just gives a few of the low-lights.

This book does not sell the farm, it hands it away free to the illogical (Collins calls it “counter intuitive”, page 147), unbiblical, unscientific, and ultimately ungrateful theory of history that says DNA wrote itself. That’s a pretty piece of work for a man who has the amazing skill to record the human genome but not the ability to show us its meaning.

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Eight Lessons from The Scots Worthies

John Howie was apparently an illiterate farmer (xii) who gathered the papers of many men and republished them. The Scots Worthies (627 pages, reprinted by Banner of Truth) covers about 200 years of great men from 1500-1700.

1. Many highly gifted men who may even have been celebrated in their time are yet entirely unknown today.

The book has 71 different biographies.

Of these, I was only familiar with Knox, Welch, Rutherford, and Wishart.

Sometimes, the book recorded that a certain man was the greatest preacher or the most educated or the most spiritual, and yet I never even heard of them.

Count it most likely that God will call you to a life of faithful obscurity, and be glad with that as long as He is glorified.

2. 22 of the 71 were martyred in Scotland for their faith.

David Hackston was appointed to be executed before his trial. Then they cut off his right hand, then his left hand, then they dropped him by a pulley three times, and finally cut his heart still beating from his chest.

“Whether his courage, constancy, or faithfulness had the pre-eminence, it is hard to determine.”

Hugh M’Kail was killed at 26 for political comments he made in a sermon at 22.

“Farewell father and mother, friends and relations; farewell the world and all delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon, and stars; welcome God the Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, and God of all consolation; welcome glory; welcome eternal life; and welcome death!”

Prepare your mind to suffer for Christ.

3. These Scotsmen preached about politics and even took up swords and guns for politics.

The king claimed to be head over the church so that he could bring in Catholicism.

Towards the end of the book, many of the men were preachers who turned to field marshals in order to fight for their religious freedom.

When Richard Cameron was executed for both political preaching and for taking up arms against the government, his enemy said, “There’s the head and hands of a man who lived praying and preaching, and died praying and fighting.”

Proclaim Christ king of the Church, but also the Lord of life who has His will for governments and kings as much as for pastors and people.

4. They spoke the truth no matter the earthly consequence.

William Row was called upon to preach in 1607 at the Synod, but the captain of the king’s guards told him that if he spoke one word against the king’s policies in the church, he would be shot in the face. Knowing the captain was a wicked man, Row preached against his sins and against the king’s policies but inserted the Latin names instead of the English. When the captain discovered what had happened he cursed Row in front of all the others. Row not disheartened began calling out the names of the true pastors, and the captain attempted to take it from him. But Row holding off the captain with one hand, went on reading from the list in the other.

Brothers Andrew and James Melville were invited to speak privately with the king of England about Scotland’s concerns with his authority over the church. When the king became angry, James began to speak very softly, but his brother interrupted, “This is not a time to flatter, but to speak plainly, for our commission is from the living God, to whom the king is subject…”

“Sire, I must tell you, that there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James, the head of the Commonwealth, and there is Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, whose subject King James VI is, and of whose kingdom he is not a head, nor a lord, but a member.”

Janet Geddes, when she was forced to hear a Catholic mass brought in to her Christian church in 1637, picked up the stool on which she sat in the church and threw it at the minister.

Take courage from their examples to speak the truth motivated by the fear of God and a living faith while remembering what a terrible sin it is to be controlled by the fear of man.

5. Special works of grace came to Scotland several times during the 1500-1600’s.

John Livingstone preached for 90 minutes in 1630, apparently in a field, and saw 500 converted. Before this remarkable event, they had spent the night in prayer. In the morning, Livingstone was overwhelmed with “his own unworthiness and weakness” yet he eventually was persuaded to preach. John Howie writes, “It is a question if any one, since the primitive times, can produce so many convincing and confirming seals of his ministry” as John Livingstone.

John Welch, the son-in-law of John Knox, “wondered how a Christian could lie in bed all night, and not rise to pray.” A Catholic friar was converted merely hearing Welch pray. “If either his spiritual experiences in seeking the Lord, or his fruitfulness in converting souls, be considered, they will be found unparalleled in Scotland.” A pastor friend once said, “No man could hear him and forbear weeping.”

The Scottish Presbyterians prepared a Covenant with God and then signed it on 28 Feb. 1638. Some families even signed with their blood.

Imitate their faith and zeal if by any means God may be pleased to send the same seasons of refreshing to their spiritual descendants.

6. These men revealed all the evils of spiritual compromise so that Satan would be robbed of one of his temptations.

Indulgences: In the 1660’s, the king offered to permit some true pastors to return if they would submit to his authority.

Robert Garnock disagreed even with his father and friends over the indulgences, and eventually suffered death rather than compromise.

Robert Blair wrote, “Then I found that the Spirit of holiness, whose immediate and appropriate work was to sanctify, had been slighted, and so grieved. For though the Holy Spirit had been teaching, and I had been speaking of Him and to Him frequently, and seeking the pouring out of the same, and urging others to seek the same, yet that discovery appeared to me a new practical lesson; and so I labored more to crave, cherish, and not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit…”

John Knox wrote, “I am not ignorant that many have blamed me, and yet do blame my too great rigour and severity; but God knoweth, that in my heart I never hated the persons of those against whom I thundered God’s judgments; I did only hate their sins…”

Be both discerning and unbending in the cause of truth.

7. They were men nearly intoxicated with the joy of Heaven.

The day of his execution, James Renwick told his mother and sisters who visited him, “O Lord, Thou has brought me within two hours of eternity, and this is no matter of terror to me… How can I contain this, to be within two hours of the crown of glory!”

Renwick had been strengthened a few years earlier when he was at the execution of Garnock whose last words included, “Oh! Will ye love Him, sirs? Oh! He is well worth the loving and quitting all for. Oh! For many lives to seal the sweet cause with! If I had as many lives as there are hairs on my head, I would think them all too little to be martyrs for truth. I bless the Lord I do not suffer unwillingly nor by constraint, but heartily and cheerfully.”

Train your soul to be satisfied with God until an exit from earth is a desirable blessing.

8. God protected them constantly in unexpected ways.

Donald Cargill was preaching morning and evening, and yet the authorities consistently missed him when they came to make the arrest.

Once as Cargill preached in a packed house, the police arrived. They stuffed Cargill into a window and closed it with books. The search was so exhaustive that while going through the ceiling of the house, one of the policemen fell through. When a policeman tried to move a book that covered the window the maid called out that they were trying to steal books, and so the policeman stopped and Cargill was spared.

Sometimes he even gave his name to the police, and yet for some reason they forgot that he was their man. Cargill escaped repeatedly in this way.

Robert Fleming made a list of 38 kind providences in his life.

While John Craig was hiding from the murderous soldiers, he had nothing to eat until a dog brought him a purse with gold in it upon which he lived until the soldiers had grown tired.

Settle your soul in God’s kind care for His children.


Courage, boldness, and devotion are best learned by living examples retold in the pages of history.

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Seven Reasons the Song of Solomon Refers to Christ and the Church

The Song of Solomon could save, strengthen, and sweeten many marriages. It is full of wisdom and pleasure to that end as the intent of it’s author, King Solomon, son of David who was probably describing marriage with his first wife. Preachers should use the Song as it was written and understood by its author as wisdom literature for marriage. But the Holy Spirit also inspired this lengthy poem to show us the beauty of Christian salvation.

1. Title: The Song of Songs means that this song is the best of all songs.

The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.
Song 1:1

Since Solomon wrote 1,005 songs, this one is better than all the others (1 Kings 4:32). The best of all songs must have the best subject matter, and there is no matter greater than God’s love (1 John 4:8, 16). More than that, the same love that holds between the Father and the Son is that with which the Lord Jesus Christ loves His bride (John 17:23).

2. Text: The actions and affections of the poem match those ascribed in the NT to Christ and the Church.

This reason bears the most weight because in it are discussed the actual words that were inspired by the Spirit. What does the text say? Certainly, there is a real marriage in the words, but are the the teachings of the NT regarding sinners being saved by their Lord also not brought to mind?

The actions of the bride:

  1. She responds to him. 1:4
  2. She adores him. 2:16-17; 6:2-3
  3. She thinks of him. 3:1-5
  4. She clings to him. 3:4
  5. She desires him. 4:16; 8:6
  6. She rejects him. 5:3
  7. She seeks him. 5:6
  8. She praises him. 5:10-16

She is delighted by his:

  1. Appearance
  2. Presence
  3. Love
  4. Works (Like his house 1:17; orchards 2:3-15; military 3:7-8; crown 3:11)

The actions of the groom

  1. He comes. 2:8; 3:6, 17; 8:14
  2. He sees only beauty. 1:8
  3. He pursues and takes her. 1:2-4; 5:1
  4. He affirms and encourages her. 4:1-15

Try replacing “She” and “He” in all the lines above with the Church and Christ. Can you not find cross references immediately in the NT for these? Do these not parallel the saving work of Christ and the process of conversion?

A metaphor is a word that links two ideas at the same time. The sun is both a star that lights our planet as well as the Messiah (Mal. 4:2). We know something is a metaphor by the real connection between the ideas. Our language has a rich collection of terms for the comparison of ideas: allegory, symbol, figure, picture, or metaphor. This is a common method of communication in Scripture, but even more so in poetry. God is a Rock, a Fortress, a Father, and a King. The real and often immediate connection that our minds make between objects reveals the metaphors.

Jesus is often revealed in metaphors throughout Scripture. Isaac Watts wrote 100 lines of poetry listing different metaphors for Christ used in Scripture. Here are the first four lines of one of the poems.

The whole creation can afford
But some faint shadows of my Lord;
Nature, to make his beauties known,
Must mingle colours not her own.

Watts’ then lists 27 different things found in life and nature that Scripture compares to the Lord Jesus. Why should we not see in the real marriage of the Song His love for His chosen race? 

3. NT: All marriages were created to picture Christ and the church.

Christ is certainly the Great Bridegroom as at least 5 different books of the NT portray (Matt. 25:1; Rom. 7:4; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:32; Rev. 19:7; 21:2).

  1. Proposition 1: Solomon had a marriage with the Shulamite in the Song.
  2. Proposition 2: Each and every marriage pictures Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).
  3. Conclusion: Solomon’s marriage in the Song pictures Christ and the church.

4. Eternity: Scripture’s fullest meaning and beauty will be seen and admired in Heaven.

In Heaven, there will be no marriage bonds except that between Christ and His church (Matt. 22:30). Therefore, what could the Song mean to us in Heaven? What beauty will we see in Heaven from this portion of Scripture? Is it possible that this passage of Scripture will have no glory for us in the real land? Was it only a pleasing poem with wise advice for a relatively brief life on earth?

5. Prophecy: Other important parts of Scripture have a double fulfillment.

  1. 2 Samuel 7:12-16 predicts both Solomon and Christ.
  2. Proverbs 8 written by Solomon a few years after the Song refers to both wisdom and the Lord Jesus (see especially 8:22, 30, 31, 32, 35, and 36).
  3. Isaiah 7:14 predicts both Isaiah’s son Mahershalalhashbaz (cf. Is. 7:14-16 and 8:3-4) and the virgin birth of Christ.
  4. Isaiah 14 predicts both the king of Babylon and Satan (14:12-15).
  5. Matthew 24 predicts both the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the Second Coming (24:15-31).

We can tell a revelation has a double fulfillment if the details require two fulfillments or if the NT has a second fulfillment.

6. History: Some of the greatest men in history saw in the Song Christ’s love for the Church.

  1. Charles Spurgeon preached 63 sermons on the Song—more than Galatians, or Philippians or 1 Timothy, or 1 and 2 Peter. He devoted six sermons alone to the words in 2:16, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.”
  2. Bernard of Clairvaux preached for 20 years on the Song.
  3. Many (all?) of the Puritans found in this book mutual Christian love—Richard Sibbes, Samuel Rutherford, John Owen, etc.
  4. When Jonathan Edwards was converted around 19 years old he wrote, “The whole book of [The Song of Songs] used to be pleasant to me, and I used to be much in reading it, about that time [of my conversion]; and found, from time to time, an inward sweetness that would carry me away, in my contemplations… on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person…” (Murray, 36).
  5. Matthew Henry thought it was “a very bright and powerful ray of heavenly light, admirably fitted to excite pious and devout affections in holy souls, to draw out their desires towards God, to increase their delight in him, and improve their acquaintance and communion with him.” (Introduction to his commentary)
  6. Hudson Taylor wrote a book, Union and Communion with Christ based off the Song.

Do we know more than these giants?

7. The Song describes the experiences of many Christians.

This reason would have no strength if the others were not rooted in the grammar and context of the words of the book itself. But if the other reasons are valid, then this reason may be the most compelling.

Have you never experienced such testimonies in your Spirit of Christ’s love so that you could say knowing Him was greater than life, more substantial than your wife’s affection, and more pleasing than any excitement or thrill on this earth? Is this not what the apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians in the third chapter that they might know the love of Christ which passes knowledge? That they might be filled up with all the fullness of God?

Has His Spirit born witness with your Spirit that you are a child of God? Have you some understanding of David Brainerd’s breathless wonder at the greatness and glory and love of God for sinners such as he found when walking in the forest as a young boy or when praying for the Indians in the snow before his early death?

If you have felt this great love of God, then don’t you long to see this kind of glory all through Scripture?


The Song of Solomon should be used in marriage counseling regarding communication, devotion, problem-solving, affirmation, and physical intimacy.

But the wonder of this revelation has a second and more glorious purpose. Through these pictures and emblems, we see the mutual love shared between the husband and wife of that marriage planned before the foundation of the world.

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