Joel Beeke – John Bunyan: The Faithful Tinker

Young John Bunyan (1628–1688) hardly seemed fit for preaching. He was a coarse person with little education and a mouth full of foul language. He had lost his mother and sister to death and was exposed to the evils of military service before his seventeenth birthday. As a young man, he worked with his hands as a tinker or worker in soft metals. His soul was probably much like his body after carrying his sixty-pound portable anvil: outwardly tough and calloused, though inwardly bruised and burdened. Marriage to a church-going woman brought some moral improvement and produced much self-righteousness, but it was not until Bunyan overheard a few poor women talking about the new birth and the grace of God in Christ for sinners that he realized his greatest need.

The faithful pastor of those women, John Gifford, taught Bunyan about the grace of God. Bunyan read Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians and learned how Jesus Christ made satisfaction to divine justice for our sins by His death. Bunyan was transformed, and others soon called upon him to speak in meetings for evangelism and exhortation. Feeling very unworthy, he nevertheless was able to speak from his experience of the truth: “I preached what I felt, what I smartingly did feel, even that under which my poor soul did groan and tremble to astonishment.” He was not a fire-and-brimstone preacher who looked down on unbelievers, but one who lived with a “fire in mine own conscience.”

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Joel Beeke – Marital Love Must Be Sexual

As we’ve seen, the Puritans had a rich understanding of Christian marriage (part 1, part 2, part 3). In this final post, I’d like to show that they also believed marital love must be sexual. Both marital partners should give themselves fully to each other with joy and exuberance in a healthy sexual relationship marked by fidelity. Reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin re-established this aspect of marriage by abandoning medieval Roman Catholic notions that marriage was inferior to celibacy leading to “religious” (clergy, monks, nuns) and “profane” (laity) classes of Christians, that all sexual contact between marital partners was only a necessary evil to propagate the human race, and that any procreative act that involved passion was inherently sinful. This negative view was rooted in the writings of the ancient church fathers, such as Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome, all of whom believed that, even within marriage, sexual intercourse necessarily involved sin (see Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 261).

Puritans preachers taught that the Roman Catholic view was unbiblical, even satanic. They cited Paul, who said that prohibition of marriage is a “doctrine of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Puritan definitions of marriage implied the conjugal act. For example, William Perkins (1558-1602) defines marriage as “the lawful conjunction of the two married persons; that is, of one man and one woman into one flesh” (“Christian Oeconomy,” 419). The Puritans viewed sex within marriage as a gift of God and as an essential, enjoyable part of marriage. William Gouge (1575-1653) said that husbands and wives should cohabit “with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully” (Quoted in Ryken, Worldly Saints, 44). “They do err,” added Perkins, “who hold that the secret coming together of man and wife cannot be without sin unless it be done for the procreation of children” (“Christian Oeconomy,” 423).

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Joel Beeke – Marital Love Must Be Superlative

Contrary to characatures, the Puritans had a lot to say about love, and marital love in particular. In our continuing series (post #1, post #2) we take up their teaching that marital love must be superlative.

A husband and wife are to love each other so dearly that both are persuaded that the other is “the only fit and good match that could be found under the sun for them,” William Whately (1583-1639) writes (A Bride-Bush, 8). Because of parental love, a godly parent would not trade his child for another parent’s child, even if that child were better-looking and had more ability or gifts; similarly, a godly husband and wife would not trade each other for a better-looking and more gifted spouse (A Bride-Bush, 8). Whately concludes: “Marriage-love admits of no equal, but placeth the yoke-fellow next of all to the soul of the party loving; it will know none dearer, none so dear” (A Bride-Bush, 9).

Surely, a wife is a man’s best companion and friend. Thomas Gataker (1574–1654) suggested that Adam was truly happy in Eden, but he was not fully happy until God had provided him with a wife, and he was joined to the woman as his closest friend and companion in all of life. Gataker said, “There is no society more near, more entire, more needful, more kindly, more delightful, more comfortable, more constant, more continual, than the society of man and wife” (Certain Sermons, 2:161). He was convinced that a house was “half unfurnished and unfinished, and not fully happy but half happy, though otherwise never so happy,” until it was completed with a wife (Certain Sermons, 2:161).

The Puritan ideal of superlative marital love appears in the poems that Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672) wrote to express her longing for her husband when he traveled away from home. She wrote to him,
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man was lov’d by wife, then thee….
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense. (Quoted in Nichols, Anne Bradstreet, 118)

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Joel Beeke – Marital Love Must Be Spiritual

Continuing with our series on the Puritans’ views of marital love (see introduction) we come to the theme of the spirituality of marital love, that is, that is must be in Christ and in accord with God’s commandments. Love must be rooted in the experience of being equally yoked together spiritually as believers. Richard Baxter (1615–1691) said that husbands and wives have the responsibility “especially to be helpers of each other’s salvation: to stir up each other to faith, love, and obedience, and good works: to warn and help each other against sin, and all temptations: to join in God’s worship in the family, and in private: to prepare each other for the approach of death, and comfort each other in the hopes of life eternal” (Practical Works, 4:234).

Although marriage is a universal institution ordained by God for the whole human race regardless of whether they are saved or not, marriage fulfils its deepest purpose and achieves its greatest stability only when grounded in Christian faith and the fear of God. If built on the sandy foundation of physical beauty or exceptional gifts and talents, it can easily be blown away by some storm.

The Spiritual Duties of the Husband

Marital love should be profoundly spiritual because, as William Gouge (1575-1653) observed, Christian marriage should conform to the pattern of Christ and His church. As Christ loves His church, so the husband must love his wife. He is to love her absolutely (v. 25), purposefully (v. 26), realistically (v. 27), and sacrificially (vv. 28–29). He must exercise a “true, free, pure, exceeding, constant love” to his wife, nourishing and cherishing her as Christ does His gathered people (v. 29) (Of Domestical Duties, 31).

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Joel Beeke – The Puritans on Marital Love: Introduction

Edward Taylor (c. 1642–1729), a pastor, physician, and poet of Puritan New England, wrote, “A curious knot God made in Paradise…. It was the true-love knot, more sweet than spice” (“Upon Wedlock, and Death of Children,” in The Poems of Edward Taylor, ed. Donald E. Stanford, abridged ed. [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963], 344). The writings of the Puritans are sprinkled with declarations of the sweetness of marital love. By “sweet” and “sweetness” they meant to describe “a pleasant or gratifying experience, possession or state; something that delights or deeply satisfies” (Webster’s Dictionary). They delighted in the love of God and in every form of love commanded by God among mankind. In particular, they rejoiced in the love shared by husband and wife, and called married couples to love each other romantically, wholeheartedly, and perseveringly.

This may come as a shock to twenty-first-century minds; not many people today would use “Puritan” and “love” in the same sentence. Though evangelicals have become much more aware of the positive heritage of the Puritans, thanks to scholars such as J. I. Packer and his book, A Quest for Godliness, and literature produced by publishing houses such as Banner of Truth Trust and Reformation Heritage Books, the common cultural perception of the Puritans remains negative, a perception informed only by what the Puritans opposed. One prominent dictionary defines the noun “Puritan” first as “a member of a Protestant group in England and New England in the 16th and 17th centuries that opposed many customs of the Church of England,” and second, “a person who follows strict moral rules and who believes that pleasure is wrong.” We are quick to overlook that fact that perhaps the most well-known sentence ever written by the Puritans is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 1).

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Joel Beeke – What Is Experiential Preaching?

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Experiential (or “experimental”) preaching addresses the vital matter of how a Christian experiences the truth of Christian doctrine in his life. The term experimental comes from the Latin experimentum, meaning trial. It is derived from the verb experior, meaning “to try, prove, or put to the test.” That same verb can also mean “to find or know by experience,” thus leading to the word experientia, meaning knowledge gained by experiment. John Calvin used the terms experiential and experimental interchangeably, since both words in biblical preaching indicate the need for measuring experienced knowledge against the touchstone of Scripture.

Experiential preaching stresses the need to know by experience the great truths of the Word of God. A working definition of experiential preaching might be: “Preaching that seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth how matters ought to go, how they do go, and the goal of the Christian life.” Such preaching aims to apply divine truth to the whole range of the believer’s personal experience, including his relationships with family, the church, and the world around him.

Paul Helm writes about such preaching:

The situation [today] calls for preaching that will cover the full range of Christian experience, and a developed experimental theology. The preaching must give guidance and instruction to Christians in terms of their actual experience. It must not deal in unrealities or treat congregations as if they lived in a different century or in wholly different circumstances. This involves taking the full measure of our modern situation and entering with full sympathy into the actual experiences, the hopes and fears, of Christian people.

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Joel Beeke – Attitudes of a True Shepherd

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Every morning for several months, my wife and I walked past an injured Canada goose, whose feathers stuck out in several directions. For all those months, several geese dutifully stayed with the injured bird.

Likewise, caring for the wounded is the church’s loving duty to her own. Paul teaches us that when one member of Christ’s body suffers, “all the members suffer” (1 Cor.12:26 KJV). Caring for the grieving promotes the unity of the body of Christ and fosters the communion of saints. Furthermore, grieving saints have a claim on our compassion for Christ’s sake (Matt. 25:40).

This is particularly true of pastors. We are called to be shepherd or pastor (Eph. 4:11), which means we are to “feed (literally, ‘be a shepherd to’) the church of God” (Acts 20:28 KJV). That involves avoiding certain attitudes and cultivating others, then putting those attitudes into action, remembering our great calling as Christ’s undershepherds.

Attitudes to Avoid

First, don’t regard grieving people as an interruption. I was in the ministry for more than ten years when I received what proved to be a life-changing call. I was working on the conclusion of my doctoral dissertation when the phone rang. I sighed as I answered: “Am I that much of an interruption?” asked the voice on the other end. “Interruption?” I asked meekly. “Yes, didn’t you hear yourself sigh?” Suddenly I realized that my dissertation, not the grieving caller, was the interruption. The grieving caller was my life’s work, my calling, my real ministry. My dissertation was the interruption of this real ministry.

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Joel Beeke – Jesus’ Threefold Office as Prophet, Priest, and King

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Reformed theology affirms that Scripture and its teaching on grace and faith emphasize that salvation is solus Christus, “by Christ alone”—that is, Christ is the only Savior (Acts 4:12). B.B. Warfield wrote, “The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Savior on whom it rests.”

The centrality of Christ is the foundation of the Protestant faith. Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible” — meaning that who He is and what He did in His death and resurrection is the fundamental content of Scripture. Ulrich Zwingli said, “Christ is the Head of all believers who are His body and without Him the body is dead.”

Without Christ, we can do nothing; in Him, we can do all things (John 15:5; Phil. 4:13). Christ alone can bring salvation. Paul makes plain in Romans 1–2 that though there is a self-manifestation of God outside of His saving work in Christ, no amount of natural theology can unite God and man. Union with Christ is the only way of salvation.

We urgently need to hear solus Christus in our day of pluralistic theology. Many people today question the belief that salvation is only by faith in Christ. As Carl Braaten says, they “are returning to a form of the old bankrupt nineteenth-century Christological approach of Protestant liberalism and calling it ‘new,’ when it is actually scarcely more than a shallow Jesusology.” The end result is that today, many people—as H. R. Niebuhr famously said of liberalism—proclaim and worship “a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

Our Reformed forebears, drawing on a perspective traceable all the way back to the fourth-century writer Eusebius of Caesarea, found it helpful to think about Christ as a Prophet, Priest, and King. The 1689 London Baptist Confession, for instance, puts it this way: “Christ, and Christ alone, is fitted to be mediator between God and man. He is the prophet, priest and king of the church of God” (8.9). Let us look more closely at these three offices.

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Book Review – Portraits of Faith: What Five Biblical Characters Teach Us About Our Life With God

Portraits of Faith

Faith is a term used throughout Scripture and one that in my humble opinion is often misunderstood, especially when it comes to understanding the dynamic between how a sound faith will result in godly behavior in the life of the believer. So what exactly does a godly faith look like in action? Do we have examples we can turn to in order to have a good sense of what it means to have a faith that pleases and glorifies God? The clear answer to that question is yes. There are numerous examples in Scripture of faith and in particular, faith in action. In his helpful book Portraits of Faith: What Five Biblical Characters Teach Us about Our Life with God, author Joel Beeke explores some of these examples we find in Scripture.

Beeke begins with a brief yet insightful introduction in which he defines faith. One cannot understand the examples set before them if they do not grasp what it is they should be looking for in those examples. Many are likely familiar with the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11. Beeke aptly points to how faith is traditionally defined in the Reformed traditions and confessions. With that said, I found his salient examples of how faith works to be a sound way of driving home exactly what faith is all about in everyday life. In summation, Beeke defines faith as “the activity of the entire heart expressed throughout life.” A simple yet pervasive approach to the topic.

The remainder of this book is spent examining the lives of five individuals, namely Adam and Eve who are looked at as a unit, the Shunammite woman, the Canaanite woman, and Caleb. As Beeke walks the reader through these individuals, one can observe a progression of faith unfolding. We begin with the childlike faith of Adam and Eve, then moving on to submissive and mature faith, concluding with a look at persevering faith.

We all begin our walk and relationship with God via a childlike faith. When we look at Adam and Eve, we are at the point in history where God had just concluded His six days of creative activity. He tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. An interesting and often overlooked aspect of what we find in the early Genesis account is picked up on by Beeke and that is Adam naming his wife Eve – the mother of all the living. Adam had faith that if they obeyed God and the covenant that was established in the Garden between God and man, they would indeed fill the earth and subdue it with Eve as the first woman and Adam as the first man being the parents if you will of all humanity. We also find an element of faith in the redemption of humanity after the fall with Eve naming her son Cain which as Beeke rightly notes means “the man from the Lord”. She believed this would be the progeny that would either bruise the heel of the serpent or through his line/seed, the Redeemer would arise. We of course know in hindsight that was not the case; however, the overarching point is she had faith God’s word and promises would come true.

The other examples Beeke utilizes to discuss faith are equally as interesting. He notes a number of events and actions in the lives of the individuals in question that truly point the reader to what childlike, submissive, mature, and persevering faith looks like in action. Faith becomes more than just a theological concept. In reading this book, one will begin to understand that faith and action go hand in hand. If we have faith in God and the promises made to us as His people in His Word, that faith will reflect itself in loving obedience to God’s commands we move to a place of maturity in the faith, submission to His divine rule in our lives, and as we persevere in the faith and our walk with God regardless of what life might throw our way.

This is a book I highly recommend. While there are certainly more lengthy tomes on faith that might explore each and every avenue of theological thought on this topic, Beeke’s book takes an approach that provides us with some helpful examples of faith in action. He helps the reader understand the progression of faith in our life as we grow in our relationship with God. We can use the lives of these individuals as a point of reflection. They are after all provided by God in His Word for a reason and perhaps that reason is for us to have some concrete examples we can relate to concerning godly faith in action. The material is biblically sound, the discussion questions provided at the end will give some more food for thought and aspects to study, and for that reason, I suggest if you want to grow in faith, pick up a copy of this book. It will be very helpful in your studies on faith and more importantly, it will serve as a seed that when planted, will cause your faith in God and your relationship with to blossom and grow to a place of maturity.

This book is available for purchase from Reformation Heritage Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books via Cross Focused Reviews and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Joel Beeke – 5 Methods for Fighting Half-Hearted Prayer

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The Puritans were prone to give five methods for fighting our natural tendency to lapse into half-hearted prayer:

1. Give priority to prayer. Prayer is the first and most important thing you are called to do. “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed,” John Bunyan writes. “Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.”

2. Give yourself—not just your time—to prayer. Remember that prayer is not an appendix to your life and your work, it is your life—your real, spiritual life—and your work. Prayer is the thermometer of your soul.

3. Give room to prayer. The Puritans did this in three ways. First, they had real prayer closets—rooms or small spaces where they habitually met with God. When one of Thomas Shepard’s parishioners showed him a floor plan of the new house he hoped to build, Shepard noticed that there was no prayer room and lamented that homes without prayer rooms would be the downfall of the church and society. Second, block out stated times for prayer in your daily life. The Puritans did this every morning and evening. Third, between those stated times of prayer, commit yourself to pray in response to the least impulse to do so. That will help you develop the “habit” of praying, so that you will pray your way through the day without ceasing. Remember that conversing with God through Christ is our most effective way of bringing glory to God and of having a ready antidote to ward off all kinds of spiritual diseases.

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