Saturday, June 30, 2012

On My Brother's Wedding Day, I Remember George Matheson

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
Sandra McCracken's rendition


Many conjectures have been made regarding the cause of the mental distress which prompted the author to write this text. A very popular account, although never substantiated, is that this text was an outgrowth of Matheson's fiancee's leaving him just before their marriage when she learned of his impending total blindness. Although this story cannot be documented, there are many significant hints in this hymn reflecting a saddened heart, such as the "flickering torch" and the "borrowed ray" in the second stanza, the tracing of the "rainbow through the rain" in the third stanza, as well as the "cross" in the last verse. Fortunately, Dr. Matheson did leave an account of his writing of this hymn: 
"My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882. I was at that time alone. It was the day of my sister's marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression rather of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rythm. All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high. I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse."
101 Hymn Stories
Kenneth Osbeck 


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Love That Must Be Stopped (an exposition of 1 John 2:15-17)

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17, NIV 2011 update)
There is this idea that love is a matter of the heart and not of the head. That it is an emotion beyond the power of the will. The cultural usage of the phrase "falling in love" suggests that it is uncontrolled and inevitable. In his book What Jesus Demands From the World, John Piper confirms that love is indeed an emotion, but he adds: "Jesus does command the feelings. He demands that our emotions be one way and not another".1

To support  his assertion, Piper marshals these Bible proofs:
a.With regards to rejoicing, he demands that we rejoice in persecution (Matt.5:12)

b. With regards to fear, he demands and that we fear not those who can harm only our bodies but fear him who could kill the body and send you to hell (Luke 12:5)

c. He demands that we not feel shame over him (Luke 9:26)

d. He demands that and that we forgive from the heart (Matt. 18:35)
In verse 15 of our text, God through his apostle John issues another command regarding our affections: "Do not love the world or anything in the world". Since this is a command, it demands our obedience. As followers of Christ we are told to not love the world, and if we feel we are having some sweet affair with the world, we have to stop2 it at all cost.

But first we have to clarify what this command does NOT mean. The command to not love the world and the things in the world does not mean that we are to hate the physical created universe. After all, it is God who created this universe and was delighted to see its beauty (Gen.1:31). It does not mean we cannot enjoy works of art like secular music and movies (there could be expressions of worldliness in them but not necessarily). It does not mean we have to distance ourselves from pop culture. This is not about hairstyles or fashion. It does not also mean we have that we hate the unbelieving world. After all, we were commanded to love our enemies even those who persecute us. We are mandated to reach the world with the gospel of grace.

What does it mean then? The word "world" in this context means:
"an organized earthly system controlled by the power of the evil one that has aligned itself against God and his Kingdom" (Daniel Akin)3

"This is not a reference to the physical, material world but the invisible system of evil dominated by Satan and all that it offers in opposition to God, his Word, and his people." (John Macarthur)4
Whenever you see the prevalence of anti-God ideas and anti-God agenda, that is a part of worldliness (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Wanna feel the power and influence of this system? Go to U.S.A. and speak against the evils of the LGBT agenda. They will surely gang up on you.

Another verse to consider is Romans 12:2a "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." The Greek word translated as "world" here is different from the Greek word translated as "world" in 1 John 2:15. Some say that it should be translated as "age". Yet when correlating bible verses, you just don't match words; you also match concepts. The concept Paul is conveying here is the same or at least very close to the Johannine concept of worldliness:
"Better translated “age,” which refers to the system of beliefs, values—or the spirit of the age—at any time current in the world. This sum of contemporary thinking and values forms the moral atmosphere of our world and is always dominated by Satan"5
In his exposition of Romans 12:2, James M. Boice mentioned several -isms of worldliness. The -ism of course is a suffix added to a word conveying distinctive doctrines or ideas. Not all -isms are worldly like Calvinism or Dispensationalism, but many of them are. Below are some of the -isms in Boice's list6 :

humanism-- humanity is of prime importance, not divine or supernatural matters.
relativism-- no absolute truth; it may be true for you but not for me.
hedonism-- the pursuit of pleasure is the highest goal
materialism-- physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life
pluralism-- all belief systems are valid; Christianity is okay but it needs supplement from other systems

These are just examples of worldly expression of man's hostility to God and his revelation in Scripture. If you subscribe to any of these ideas, you love the world. 

You Might be a World-lover if...

1. You want to fulfill your desires outside of God's revealed will ("the lust of the flesh"  verse 16)

The lust of the flesh is "any sinful desire, any sinful interest, that draws us away from God or at least makes continuing fellowship with him impossible"- Gary Burge7

There is nothing wrong with the desire to earn more, for the sake of your family and for the needs of others; but if you earn by dirty business deals or other corrupt means, then you might be a world-lover.

There is nothing wrong with the desire to have a partner but if you want to fulfill it by marrying a unbeliever, then the world could have had captivated your heart.

There is nothing wrong with watching movies, surfing the net or playing video games; but if these activities cause you to neglect prayer, personal bible study and other spiritual disciplines, you  might be in love with the world.

2. Visual delights arouse your desire for sinful acts ("the lust of the eyes" verse 16)

This point is closely connected to the previous one because the eyes are "often the means by which sinful desires are introduced into the mind of the individual." (Danny Akin)8 -- Sinful desires could be awakened by sound or smell and other senses but the most often means is the sense of sight.

~ Eve stared at the forbidden fruit and it was pleasing to the eye (Gen.3:6).
~ Achan stared at a luxury robe, silver and gold, and kept them against the Lord's instruction (Joshua 6-7)
~ David stared at bathing Bathsheba, and ends in adultery (2 Samuel 11)
~ The trick is so effective the devil even tried it on Jesus (Matt. 4:8)

Two Philosophers could be helpful here: Plato and Augustine9

For Plato: the good, the beautiful, the true, the real is essentially the same thing. That is if there is one beautiful, it must also be good, and true, and real. Using this criterion, the woman on the magazine cover may be visually pleasing but if her appearance is devoid of goodness and truth, then it is not beautiful

Augustine added a Christian flavor to Plato's musings. For him, there is only one good; only one real; only one true; only one beautiful. In saying this, he was not denying that there are other things good, true, real and beautiful. They do exist but only as reflections of God's infinite perfections. Because of that:

a. God is the SOURCE of anything good, true, real and beautiful
b. God is the JUDGE of what is good, true, real and beautiful
c. God's glory is the CHIEF END of all things good, true, real and beautiful.

Thus, when you are captivated by what you see but fail to honor God, you are in love with the world.

“The problem is not that God created the material things in the world. The problem is that people have made these things into idols” (Daniel Akin)10

3. You measure the worth of yourself and the worth of others by possessions and accomplishments ("the pride of life" verse 16)

The pride of life is "an attitude of pretentious arrogance or subtle elitism that comes from one's view of wealth, rank, or stature in society. It is an overconfidnce that makes us lose any notion that we are dependent on God"-- Gary Burge11

I'm somebody because of my assets and income.
I'm somebody because of my degree and alma mater.
I'm somebody because of my position.
I'm somebody because of good looks.
I'm somebody because of my medals and trophies.

Some Biblical examples
~ Nebuchadnezzar's pride on his projects (Daniel 4:30)
~ Herod's pride on his oratorical skills (Acts 12;21-22)
~ Even religious people can be guilty of this like the Pharisees who were proud about their religious standing and looked down on others(Luke 18:9-12)

Reasons for Breaking this Kind of Love

1. Because if you love the world, you don't love God

I John 2:15b "If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them"

The text says that you either love God and hate his rival or love his rival and hate God. Take one of the world's ideas-- materialism for example, "the idea that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life"12. The Lord Jesus says,

"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:24)

James 4:4 says "... don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God"

If we are divided between loving God and loving the world, it will not end in a 50-50 division. Rather, it will end 0-100, that is zero for God and 100 percent for the world. And if you have two hearts, you will not give one heart for God and one heart for the world. Rather, you will give both hearts to the world.

The Psalmist seems to have understood this, so he prayed "... give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name". (Psalm 86:11)

2. Because of this love's unhappy ending

Fairy tale endings are quite predictable. When the Prince finally marries his Princess, expect the last line to be "and they lived happily ever after". I guess it is a time-tested formula for fictional love stories. People like happy endings.

Soon, unbelieving people will realize that they pursued worthless things. Soon they will see that they have invested in the wrong place. The text says "the world and its desires pass away" (verse 17 a). It's like enjoying your stay at Sodom and hoarding possessions there, only to realize later that you will perish with them. For one of the reasons why God burned Sodom and Gomorrah is to make them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly (2 Peter 2:6).

If you want a happy ending to your love story, love God. Scripture says, "but whoever does the will of God lives forever" (verse 17b). What he prepared for those who love him is not just a happy ending but an eternity of endless joy in his presence.
"May thy dear Son preserve me from this present evil world, so that its smiles never allure, nor its frowns terrify, nor its vices defile, nor its errors delude me."  (The Valley of Vision)13

-----------------------------------
NOTES
1. John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World
2.  In his online free bible commentary on the Johannine corpus, Bob Utley says that the grammatical construction conveys the meaning "to stop an act that is already in progress"
3. Daniel Akin, 1,2,3 John, New American Commentary
4. The Macarthur Study Bible
5. The Macarthur Study Bible
6. James M. Boice, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Age
7. Gary Burge, The Letters of John (NIV Application Commentary)
8. Daniel Akin, 1,2,3 John, NAC
9. See Albert Mohler's "A Christian Vision of Beauty, part 1"
10. Daniel Akin, 1,2,3 John, NAC
11. Gary Burge, The Letters of John (NIVAC)
12. American Heritage Talking Dictionary

13. The Valley of Vision's Facebook Page, March 5,2012