Brief Analysis Of A Puritan Poem

I’ve picked on the Puritans before here and here.  But I thought it might be helpful to take a look at a Puritan poem and see how it applies to what I think was the Puritans’ defective view of the New Covenant.

Here’s the poem:

——————————————————–

O Lord of grace,
All Your lovingkindness is in Your Son,
I bring Him to You in the arms of faith,
I urge His saving name as the One who died for me.
I plead His blood to pay my debts of wrong.

Accept His worthiness for my unworthiness,
His sinlessness for my transgressions,
His purity for my uncleanness,
His sincerity for my guile,
His truth for my deceits,
His meekness for my pride,
His constancy for my backslidings,
His love for my enmity,
His fullness for my emptiness,
His faithfulness for my treachery,
His obedience for my lawlessness,
His glory for my shame,
His devotedness for my waywardness,
His holy life for my unchaste ways,
His righteousness for my dead works,
His death for my life.

—————————————————————

This is a perfect example of why I no longer recommend the Puritans except to the most discerning who already have a strong grasp on the radical nature of Grace and the New Covenant.

The Puritans were often confused on “it is finished” (tetelestai), a
nd tended toward an odd form of legalism, wherein their “holiness” and “humility” were their “works” which mingled with grace (making it not grace at all, Rom. 11:6).

We’re not to “plead His blood to pay my debts” — it is paid already on the cross. Tetelestai.

We’re not called to beg the Father to “accept His worthiness” — He has already done so. Tetelestai.

So what’s important about these distinctions? 

Simply that the Puritans did not understand the New Covenant, nor the obsolescence of the Old.

And the promotion of their pseudo-humility clouds and confuses the glorious New Covenant for those who already may have a hard time grasping the difference between the Old and New.

I say “pseudo-humility” because it’s really the “earning” of God’s favor by self-abasement disguised as humility. 

It’s not humble to deny the “done” of the New Covenant by pleading for God to do what He has already declared that He’s done. It’s a twisted self-righteousness disguised as real righteousness.

The often-lauded “Valley of Vision” is full of this kind of stuff, which should frustrate the New Covenant grace-oriented believer, because it sounds so holy, but isn’t.

Humility is not “I’m nothing, I’m nothing”. It’s closer to “I am in Christ, a new creation, with all the wonderful things that entails — BUT, ‘what do you have O man, that you did not receive?’” — and so all glory goes to Him who did it — and who continues to sustain us and renew our minds until death, or until His return.

“Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement…” — Col. 2:18

“These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement…, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” — Col. 2:23

The Legalistic Tendencies Of The Puritans (Part 2 of 2)

thomas_watsonPart 2 – by Michele Rayburn
(Part 1 is here)

It seems as though Thomas Watson had an unhealthy preoccupation with sin, causing him to heap unnecessary condemnation upon himself, and leaving little or no room for himself or other Christians to experience the grace of God toward their sinful condition.

It seems as though Watson was collapsing under the weight of his own heavy yoke.

I was quite thrown by the words Watson used to describe God’s behavior toward His children. “A godly man loves the menaces of the Word. He knows there is love in every threat.”…”God…mercifully threatens us, so that He may scare us from sin”…”There is mercy in every threat”…???

Was Watson’s definition of “menace”, “threat”, and “scare” different from that of today? Is it to be interpreted differently, or did he really mean what he said?

Then I thought, “Where is the Scripture to support his belief that God menaces, threatens and scares His children from their sin?” The Scripture that Watson used to support how the believer “loves the threatening part of the Word” I found to actually be supportive of how God regards His enemies in Psalm 68:21, and regarding evil in 1 Kings 3:26 and Zechariah 5:1, and not supportive Scripture regarding the believer.

So, it became increasingly unclear to me as to who Watson was talking about…the Christian or the unbeliever. It seemed he was mixing the two. How God uses the Word on the unbeliever and how He uses the Word on His children is quite different.

How God speaks to the unbeliever, or brings the unbeliever to repentance through His Word is different than how he teaches His children to grow in that grace by which they have now been saved.

Watson says, for instance, ”The Word has a double work: to teach us and to judge us. Those who will not be taught by the Word shall be judged by the Word.” Was he talking to the believer here regarding being judged, or the unbeliever? Or both? I’m guessing he meant the unbeliever because it refers to “those who will not be taught by the Word”.

Watson says, “We do not want sin covered, but cured. We can open our breast to the bullet of the Word and say, ‘Lord, smite this sin.’” I am not sure what kind of remedy for his daily sin he is looking for here. The sins of the people of Israel were “covered” in the Old Testament by the blood of bulls and lambs.

Under the New Covenant, our sins were not “cured” but the Lord did “smite this sin” on the cross with His own blood. “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all…” (Romans 6:10)

As Keith Green sang, “The work is already done.” Our sins are no longer temporarily “covered”, but now we have been permanently “redeemed” by the blood of The Lamb.

There is no “cure” for sin in our daily life but in Romans 6:11-14,17-18 it says, “…reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord…do not let sin reign in your mortal body…present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead…for sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace…though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

And 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 says, “…our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

And finally, Galatians 5:16 says, “…Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

Watson says, “The Word is a spiritual mirror through which we may see our own hearts…When the Word came like a mirror, all my opinion of self-righteousness died.”

That is true, but the Scripture goes further. It says in 2 Cor. 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

When I read the Word I do not feel threatened, because I love and trust the Lord. I feel challenged to grow in His grace…but not threatened.

I do not need to be scared away from sin. I am already repulsed by it, because I have been given a new nature. I am a new creation in Christ who is alive to God and dead to sin.

- Michele
.
.
.

The Legalistic Tendencies Of The Puritans (Part 1 of 2)

thomas_watsonPart 1 – by Terry Rayburn
(Part 2 is here)

Since there are certainly a large number of Christians who read the Puritans, I wanted to make some comments about the Puritans in order to bring attention to a form of Legalism that they are prone to, largely because of their Covenant Theology.

No one likes to pick on such esteemed men as the Puritans, but Grace is too important to neglect the subtle spiritually-detrimental influence that the Law-based message of the Puritans can bring on an unsuspecting reader.

The following link is to a fairly representative message from Thomas Watson, entitled “A Godly Man Is A Lover of the Word”:

http://www.puritansermons.com/watson/watson2.htm

I urge you to read it before reading comments by me in this post (“The Legalistic Tendencies of the Puritans, Part 1″), and by my wife Michele in the next post (Part 2).

Part 1, Comments by Terry:

Warning: Sin-centered Christians will not like the following comments. But sin-centered Christians love warnings, so I knew it would be an attention-getter :)

Watson, like other Puritans in general, thought he was being Christ-centered by being sin-centered.

This is a result of his not cutting straight (rightly dividing) the Word of Truth.

He didn’t understand that the Old Covenant was made obsolete by the New (Heb. 8).

He didn’t understand that sin shall no longer be master of us because we are no longer under Law but under grace (Rom. 6:14).

While he acknowledges grace in a vague way, his *focus* is on himself and his sin. This is unbiblical under the New Covenant.

Our *focus* is to be on Christ, and walking by His Spirit. Keeping our eyes on Him, fellowshiping with Him. Not examining our spiritual navel 24 hours a day to see if we’re more sinless than we were yesterday, and wringing our hands and hankies when we’re not.

“If we walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). The love of Christ constrains us to walk this way, and the love of Christ is grown in our hearts and minds as we look on Him, not our fleshly wretchedness.

And the Puritans didn’t get it, because they were reactionaries, reacting to a decadent immoral secular English church. And they reacted with a law/sin-focused life and study.

They rightfully gloried in the greatness of God, and this is the one value of reading the Puritans, but it’s a big mistake to go to them for tips on Christian living.

They are the Emperor who has no clothes. Greatly admired, almost worshiped like they were Christ himself, they were Law/Sin nerds who never got out of Old Covenant thinking, and into the bright light of Gal. 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

And yet, I mean no disrespect to them as men. They were influenced by their peers and their times.

But we are in another time, friends. A time in which we have an opportunity to bring the light of the New Covenant to a generation of believers who still think that their performance is the point.

A time when we can shake off “Religion” and replace it with Christ Who is our Life (Col. 3:4), and leave “Religion” for the World.

A time in which we can build true “…fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3), because “…the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)

We all want “true revival”. But true revival is happening now in the hearts of those who understand the radical nature of Grace, who understand the freedom which is in Christ, and I don’t mean Antinomianism.

The Performance-Based Believer can never have the revival he thirsts for, because his *focus* is himself, and he doesn’t even know it.

He thinks he still has a wicked heart, and doesn’t realize that he’s been given a *new* heart, a heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone. (He has no idea what Paul means in Rom. 7:17, when he says, “…it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”)

His goal in a good sermon is to be “convicted”, so that he can head back to his laboratory of Performance and maybe get it right this time.

“Tetelestai!” It is finished! He has done it! Life conquered Death! Our sins, beloved are *all* forgiven. We are free to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on the Author and Finisher of our Faith.

And the Catch-22 is that then we will sin less.

And it’s all of Grace.

That’s the New Covenant.

I expressed my reservations at recommending reading the Puritans here.

I would like to expand that somewhat by looking at the well-known Puritan John Owen and some things he has written.

Much as I have loved and profited from the Puritans in their pressing for a close communion with God, I have concluded that the average Christian will be more harmed than helped by reading them.

Fortunately, they are so tedious in their writings that most Christians in our fast-paced age will not bother with them.

The problem is that the Puritans in general were so influenced by creedal Law-based tradition, that they couldn’t see the forest of Grace-After-Salvation for the trees of Covenantal Legalism.

The result is that the Puritans were strong and accurate on INITIAL salvation by grace, but weak and inaccurate on our death to the Law, and grace AFTER salvation.

To be brief, I’ll just quote a couple of passages from Owen’s Mortification.

In Chapter 11, he writes:

“Load thy conscience with the guilt of it [one’s sin]….Charge thy conscience with the guilt which appears in it from the rectitude and holiness of the law. Bring the holy law of God into thy conscience, lay thy corruption to it, pray that thou mayst be affected with it. Consider the holiness, spirituality, fiery severity, inwardness, absoluteness of the law, and see how thou canst stand before it. Be much, I say, in affecting thy conscience with the terror of the Lord in the law, and how righteous it is that every one of thy transgressions should receive a recompense of reward.”

And…

“Tell thy conscience that it cannot manage any evidence to the purpose that thou art free from the condemning power of sin, whilst thy unmortified lust lies in thy heart…”

Romans 6:14 says, “Sin shall no longer be master over you, for you are no longer under Law but under Grace.”

Like other Puritans, Owen allowed Romans 6:14 to go over his head, without the slightest understanding of the Cross as regards our death to the Law, in Christ. Not just CHRIST died, but WE died WITH Him. We died to sin (Rom. 6:11), and we died to the Law (Rom. 7:6; Gal. 2:19).

That’s why there is longer any condemnation to the one in Christ (Rom. 8:1), contrary to Owen’s “condemning power of sin”.

To quote Owen in Chapter 12 of Mortification:

“Use and exercise thyself to such meditations as may serve to fill thee at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of thine own vileness.”

This is in direct contradiction to other scriptures which Owen’s Legalistic Tradition blinded him to.

Colossians 2:18 says, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement…”

Colossians 2:23 says, “These are matters which, to be sure, have the appearance of wisdom in…self-abasement…but are of no value in fleshly indulgence.”

The Puritans rightly delighted in Christ Himself and what He did FOR us on the Cross as it related to our justification. But they missed the delight of what Christ did TO us, in giving us a new spirit, making us a new creation, old things having passed away, all things having become new!

Sin is still IN us, that is, in our “members”, but sin is not US (that is, a part of our new nature), Paul said (Rom. 7:17, 20).

Bottom line: the Puritans will tend to bring condemnation, self-abasement, lack of joy and peace, and MORE sin to all but the most discerning Christian reader.

P.S. I’m well aware that this is a radical view, but only because most readers of the Puritans are blinded by their own creedal Law-based tradition.