Speaker Interviews, Session 2

Desiring God 2003 National Conference | Minneapolis

Mark Dever: Jonathan Edwards says:

The spirit of charity, or Christian Love, is the opposite of a selfish spirit. The ruin that the fall brought up on the soul of man consists very much in his losing the nobler and more benevolent principles of his nature and falling wholly under the power and government of self-love. Before and as God created him, he was exalted and noble and generous, but now he’s debased and ignoble and selfish. Immediately upon the fall, the mind of man shrank from its primitive greatness and expandedness to an exceeding smallness and contractedness. And as in other respect, so especially in this. Before his soul was under the government of that noble principle of divine love, whereby it was enlarged to the comprehension of all his fellow creatures and their welfare. And not only so, but it was not confined within such narrow limits as the bounds of the creation, but went forth in the exercise of holy love to the creator and abroad upon the infinite ocean of good and was, as it were, swallowed up by it and became one with it.

But so soon as he had transgressed against God, these noble principles were immediately lost and all this excellent enlarged-ness of man’s soul was gone. And thence forward, he himself shrank as it were into a little space circumscribed and closely shut up within itself to the exclusion of all things else. Sin, like some powerful astringent, contracted his soul to the very small dimensions of selfishness. God was forsaken and fellow creatures forsaken, and man retired within himself and became totally governed by narrow and selfish principles and feelings. Self-love became the absolute master of his soul and the more noble and spiritual principles of his being took wings and flew away.

That’s Jonathan Edwards telling us a little bit about what total depravity is from his series of sermons, Charity and Its Fruits as he meditates on 1 Corinthians 13:5, which says, “Charity seeketh not her own.” The spirit of charity is the opposite of a selfish spirit. And that has no necessary relation to anything else we’re going to talk about. That was just to get your attention so we can begin tonight. John, you had something that you wanted to say.

John Piper: Oh, it has every relationship with what we’ve been talking about. That sermon is one of the most important ones in my understanding of why it is always right to pursue your own glory and your own happiness all the time, even though Paul says, “Love seeks not its own.” He labors to answer my question. I will not give you the answer, but go to that sermon. But the reason he turned it over to me was I just wanted to, before we get going, try to reclaim the value of your owning and struggling through The Freedom of the Will. Almost everybody said something discouraging about this book. This is one of the most important books that’s ever been written in the history of humanity. There is no more important treatment on the will than this book.

If it’s hard, it’s worth trying. So if we scared you away from The Freedom of the Will, I want to try to win you back. So that’s my effort. And then there is an unusual work of love done by Michael McMullen on this collection of sermons, not in the Yale edition and will never be in the Yale edition. These are previously unpublished sermons. They’re not in the two volume work and they won’t be in Yale. They were personally transcribed by him and his assistant.

Dever: While we’re making book plugs at the 9Marks booth, we have about 200 copies of the booklets left. We’ve run out of all the other stuff. But we don’t want to take those 200 booklets back to DC. So particularly if you’re a church leader and you want to go by the booth either during the session, if you want to walk out for a minute or maybe after the session for a few minutes before things clear out, feel free and take 10 or 20. Just ask the person at the booth before you do it. And if you’ll use them, please take them. Iain, you wanted to say something about a couple of John’s books?

Iain Murray: I want to recommend a book by Jonathan Edwards God’s Passion for His Glory, which has 100 pages or more of John Piper’s autobiography and introduction on the life of Edwards. It’s great material. And then you have the whole book by Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World. It’s a beautifully produced edition. I treasure this book, it’s there for $10 and this permanent hardback copy you can hand down to your grandchildren. So if you have any money left, get God’s Passion for His Glory. And while speaking, I’d like to put in a word about another Dr. Piper book, which is, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.

The only thing that worries me a little bit about this book is that it casts some doubt on statements that our brother sometimes makes because he sometimes says, I think quite erroneously, that he’s only got one theme. If you read this book, you’ll find he’s got a lot of themes and they’re all very important. And they’re sharply and convincingly put. It’s a very serious book on a whole range of subjects. I think it’s one of the most important books we’ve got here. Please don’t pass it by, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. And should I throw in another word? Because I got a rebuke from somebody today. Well, not exactly a rebuke, but they said when we were talking last night about ministries, Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones’s name wasn’t mentioned. I know there are many people here, and I’ve met them all over the United States, who say that it was the writings of Dr. Lloyd Jones that really led them to where they are now. And that is a thrilling thing for me, and I know it’s true for probably thousands of people. And his books continue to reach multitudes.

Piper: And he has a website and you can listen to him while you jog every week, though he died in 1981. If you want to hear some of the greatest 20th century preaching, it is there on the web. You don’t even have to pay to listen.

Sam Storms: Since we’re talking about books and we didn’t want to scare people away from Freedom of the Will. I also know last night some people may have been scared away from Religious Affections. Don’t be. But if you do read it (and read it first) and you still struggle, get Gerald McDermott’s book, Seeing God. It is kind of a modern interpretive application, an explanation of Religious Affections. And it’s very good.

Dever: I’m encouraged in a couple of ways as I was looking at this crowd and thinking about this. I’m encouraged — I know Iain always comments on this when he comes to the States — about the youthfulness of those people who are finding the doctrines of grace. That is an encouraging thing to know, in some places in the English-speaking world, it’s not that way, is it, Iain? And we’re so thankful for that. We’re also thankful for God giving examples of saints who’ve gone further decades beyond us. It is such a wonderful thing to be able to see God’s faithfulness in someone’s life and the way the American culture particularly idolizes youth, is not biblical and is not healthy. It is good for us to be able to see and thank God for examples of brothers and sisters who have experienced the faithfulness of God for decades and are walking with the Lord.

So those of you who are older and particularly are staying here for this conversation tonight, thank you so much. You’re an encouragement to us just by your presence. And while we’re thinking about encouraging the older ones among us, I think it’s amazing that we get to have Jim Packer here with us because of the work that your own writings have done in our lives. So many people have mentioned how Knowing God has been influential in their lives and I think we should just take a moment. John mentioned this in introducing him tonight, but Iain, you knew Jim 20 years before he wrote the thing. What did you think when you saw it come out? Because I know you’ve put it on a list of your 10 favorite books or 10 most recommended books. What did you think about your friend writing this book? Did you know it was coming?

Murray: Well, we read it long before he wrote it. You won’t quite understand that, but that’s not strictly true. He wrote a lot of it in magazines that many of us read in the 1960s. So the only surprise was it took a little while for someone to have the sense to put it all together. I suppose a little was added, wasn’t it? But the bulk of it was well-read in the UK in the 1960s.

J.I. Packer: A little was added, you’re quite right.

Dever: I think it took a while to come out because Jim was busy writing forwards, which we appreciate the ministry. Sam, was Knowing God important to you? You wrote The Grandeur of God, which is in that tradition of Pink’s Attributes of God, Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy, and Jim’s Knowing God. Sam, was that an important book for you?

Storms: Very. In fact, I actually structured the book The Grandeur of God to compliment Knowing God. I tried to avoid the themes that Dr. Packer had written on so that it wouldn’t be repetitious. But yes, the inspiration for that book was Knowing God. It certainly was.

Dever: And John, at least the title of your book, Desiring God, was related to that?

Piper: I piggybacked on it. There’s no doubt about it. Loving God had just come out and Knowing God had been out for 15 plus years and I just wanted to piggyback on those titles. And so I used Desiring God.

Dever: And was Knowing God a helpful book for you?

Piper: The parts of it that I read. I have not read it all the way through. I read it in pieces. I don’t read any book all the way through, except Jonathan Edwards.

Dever: Well, while we have you, what are you working on now? John, what are you working on right now? Just briefly, won’t take a lot of time on this, but I’ve had a number of people ask that question.

Piper: Tomorrow morning’s sermon is the main thing on my mind right now. It’s not quite finished yet. Let somebody else talk and I’ll try to think about what I’m working on right now.

Storms: I do have an answer. I just finished a manuscript called One Thing: Reflections on the Beauty of God. One thing is taken from David’s Resolve in Psalm 27:4, which says, “One thing have I asked that will I seek, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord.” And it’s largely, it’s probably 80 percent Edwardsian reflections on the beauty and the grandeur of God as revealed in creation and redemption. And in fact, the message this morning is the last chapter of the book. So it should be out I hope sometime next year.

Dever: Great. Iain, what are you working on right now?

Murray: I’m on holiday.

Dever: So do you have thoughts of writing something else?

Murray: Maybe, but thoughts don’t produce books.

Dever: Okay. Jim, what about you?

Packer: I have a big-ish project in front of me. You know that there are many books these days which give the A, B, C of doctrine for young Christians. There’s quite a sprinkling of fairly substantial systematic theologies that give all the latest discussions on biblical doctrines for clergy and MDiv candidates and members of the academic guild of those who teach theology. There are fewer books which come in at what I call higher-catechism level being written for people who’ve got the A, B, C of the gospel under their belt and they want to understand their faith a bit better. They are professionals out in the world. They’re not particularly interested in the arcane matters that members of the Guild discuss. They don’t particularly care what Dr. Barth said or Dr. Bultmann said or anything like that. They just want biblical faith spelled out to them at the level at which they’re working every day in their own professions.

I am trying to write out the body of divinity, the whole range of Christian doctrine, at the level at which those folk will appreciate it. I call it a higher-catechism level. And looking back over things that I’ve written in the past, I would say Knowing God actually was written at a higher-catechism level. And so this project, if it comes off, will be one answer anyway to the question, “What do I read after I finish Knowing God? Or after I have finished Concise Theology?” That is a sort of A, B, C, D for beginners and people who are a little way on but not quite at a higher-catechism level.

Dever: All right. John, have you thought of what you’re working on? Justin is actually telling John what he’s working on right now. Things like this happen in Washington, but I didn’t know they did in Minneapolis.

Piper: We are going to turn the messages of this conference into a book. So that’s part of what we’ll be working on. But I did think of the most urgent. Mel Gibson’s The Passion will be out next February. Do you know what I’m talking about? The movie and I’m going to write a little 64-page book to explain why Christ died to come out at the same time as that movie. I have a contract with Crossway. And so the goal is to try to blitz the culture with the meaning of what they’re going to be seeing on the screen with such stark horror.

Dever: Amen. Thank you for doing that. John, this morning after Ian and Sam’s talks, you said that the things that have been shared about Brainerd and his preaching about the love of God to the Indians and then their response made you think about some implications of heavenly mindedness we might want to consider tonight. What did you have in mind about that?

Piper: Right. I’d like to throw this out for anybody’s response because of what Sam’s message meant to me this morning. It was the kind of thing, I believe, that I read about in Edwards in which he comments in Brainerd’s journals that when Brainerd preached to the Indians, I think even the ones Crossweeksung, and experienced this revival where several hundred were remarkably converted, it was when he was dwelling on the beauties of Christ and the exquisite pleasures of heaven for the undeserving that they were sitting and tears were running down their faces rather than when he was describing the horrors of hell and the dangers of falling in there because we deserve it.

As I sat there and he was going through that litany of the alphabet of vices that are not going to be in heaven and the alphabet of virtues that are going to be in heaven, there was this moment when Sam came to the climax of that list and said, “And all that is for hell-deserving sinners.” And unbidden, tears came to my eyes. Now tears don’t come unbidden to my eyes very often emotions usually move up on me slowly so that I can see them coming and tell them yes or no. And they didn’t give me any chance, it was just there. So that was a sweet little window into what I think probably happens in genuine gospel, powerful converting preaching. I was being touched at a level where, as Edwards would say, it was without any long chain of arguments, a spiritual light, a spiritual sense that was sweetly painful happened.

So I just thought that would be worth exploring since I not only tasted it in this little moment, but I read about it in Edwards and especially the preaching of David Brainerd. So here was a man who was soaring with us. He just kept pressing them, pressing like further up and further in heaven. You thought, well that’s about all he’s got to say and then here comes some more and that’s about all he’s got to say and here comes some more. And then he gave that sentence, “And all that for hell deserving people.” So the lesson that I draw out and would perhaps like response to is that in our preaching, or perhaps in our witnessing, lots and lots of unspeakably good news followed by a brief description of how radically undeserving we are might have a more convincing power than lots and lots of descriptions of my lawlessness, followed by a brief description of good news.

Dever: Gentlemen, anybody want to take that up?

Murray: Well I wanted to take up the subject of his preaching to the unconverted. Is that sufficiently relevant, John, to do it now or should we follow your line more? As I understand Edwards, there are two prongs to his preaching, depending on who he’s preaching to. He regarded the first need from most individuals to be awakened, to be convicted, and to come under the fear of God. And to that end, he majored in preaching the law. I do think in that area he is very controversial to us because he did something which is very little done today and that is he preached the necessity of holiness to unregenerate people. He told them they had to stop sinning. He told them they had to love God with all their heart and soul and strength. He preached every duty of the law to them. And we’ve been conditioned to think that that sounds like legalism and salvation by works. But what he was actually doing was just what our Lord was doing when our Lord said to the rich young ruler, “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.”

So Edwards preached to careless people and indifferent people that they had to fully keep the commandments of God. Why did he do that? For the very same reason that our Lord did to the rich young ruler. You remember the end of the conversation when the disciples said to Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” The rich young ruler went away sorrowful and the Lord said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.” The purpose of the preaching of the law is to show people that they really are lost, that they don’t simply need to have some sins forgiven, but they actually need a completely new nature. All right, so let them try to keep the commandments, let them try to keep the law of God. It’s their duty to do so. God hasn’t rescinded the command first laid upon man when he created him. We have been created perfectly to obey God. That is still true. Let sinners begin to try to do that and what will happen? By the mercy of God, they’ll come to say, “I am lost.”

Now that element of preaching brings the fear of God, to really believe, “I am ruined, I can’t save myself.” Then the second prong is the attractiveness and the wonder of the love of God. So the modern academics accuse Edwards and the rest of just preaching terror and frightening people. That’s not the position at all. They did begin by seeking to awaken the careless, and that led on to the full proclamation. And this is what Brainerd was talking about in that wonderful passage that as he preached on the love of Christ to Indians who were convicted this message was altogether marvelous to them. But I don’t mean that we shouldn’t preach the love of Christ until there is conviction. I mean there’s a different composition in all our congregations, but I do think today we have a great deal of so-called gospel preaching to people who have never been alarmed and who never really knew that they were ruined. Conversion means an entire change of nature and that with man it is impossible and God has to do something that we can’t do. So I think it’s a very controversial subject.

Dever: Anything on this, Sam or Jim? Or John, do you want to pick it back up?

Piper: I think I agree with what was just said and I would just conclude then that probably there’s more than one way to preach the gospel to unconverted people because I’m not sure it’s true that he was preaching to convicted people when that passage was written, but that is what brought them to conviction, when they saw the vast beauty of what they were failing to attain and could not attain. And the other thing I would respond to is that the essential requirement of the law is love the Lord your God with all your heart. And if you ask what that is, it is delighting in him above all things. And in order to recognize that you don’t do that, you must see him as delightful. This is where I was the other night.

So there’s a paradox in whether good news follows or precedes the law in the preaching. I think we probably need to analyze this a little more deeply. If we only preach law as deeds, I doubt that we’ll get genuine repentance. We must preach the law as demanding love the Lord your God with all your heart. And that’s what feels impossible to people. Most people will manage deeds. They can not commit adultery, they can not steal, they can not do this or that, but they can’t love him. And why would they want to? If you say to get out of hell, that’s not love. If you say to go to heaven to be with your mother, that’s not love. If you say to get well from a disease, that’s not love. The only thing you can mean by loving him with all your heart is to enjoy him for who he is. But to help people enjoy him for who he is or see that they are guilty for not, he must be described as worthy of delight. And that’s really good news. So help me here.

Murray: I think the link is the point at which regeneration comes in. You were saying last night that evangelical repentance comes from a sight of the goodness and the love of God. But there is such a thing as legal repentance. Legal repentance is a view of God that makes me fearful and makes me realize who I am. What changes legal repentance into evangelical repentance is something out of our hands and that is the moment the Holy Spirit strikes in. And the same truths which are truths that the natural man, the unregenerate man cannot delight in are the very same truths that become a joy and delight. And at that point there’s evangelical repentance, there’s saving faith. But we know that regeneration is a secret work of God. It’s not in our hands, that time of regeneration is not ours. But when that comes, the same truths look altogether different. Is it something like that?

Piper: So if they’re going to look like what they really are, which is what regeneration enables them to appear as, then they should be presented that way. Beautiful.

Murray: Yes, but we can’t make God or the truth about God delightful to the unregenerate man, do we?

Piper: Here’s the way I’ve put it in evangelism. The Holy Spirit seems to me to be flying like one of these jets that comes alongside another het. He’s following like this and that 747 is the portrayal of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” Why? Because the Holy Spirit is given to magnify Jesus. So if you want the Holy Spirit to join you in your evangelism, lift up Jesus in all his offices and all his glory, which will include some pretty tough stuff.

Murray: But when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, righteousness, judgment. So those things aren’t opposite, are they? The Holy Spirit’s doing both. But you see, don’t you think because we don’t preach the necessity of holiness to unregenerate men, they don’t really know the kind of salvation they need. They think they just need forgiveness. But if a man sees that he cannot do what God requires him to do, that puts him into a position of realizing the salvation he needs has to be a salvation that brings holiness. And if it doesn’t bring that, it’s no use to me because I need to be made holy. So when real conviction of sin comes, you offer people forgiveness but they need more than that. I need to be a new creature and in Brainerd’s beautifully where that comes out, those Indians, they wanted more than forgiveness, which is just what you’re preaching.

Dever: Sam, what were you going to say?

Storms: I don’t know how much this applies. My mind is continually brought back to Philippians 3 where when Paul talks about the things in which he might put confidence, if anyone has a reason to boast in the flesh, I more than all. And yet he came to that point where he said, “And I count it all as dung, as refuse, as loss, and here’s why. For the sake of Christ, with a view to the surpassing excellency of knowing Christ, my Lord.” So I don’t know how much we make Paul’s conversion normative for all.

But it seems to me that Paul is saying, “It was with a view to the surpassing excellency of Christ and knowing him that I saw suddenly that which I used to treasure and prize as now a heap of refuse.” All that he cherished and had worked his whole life to build up didn’t magically transform overnight into that which was objectionable and a stench in his nostrils but only became such as he saw it in comparison to the surpassing excellency of what knowing Jesus and being arrested by him and having the righteousness of Christ really meant to him.

Dever: I would think some of Christ’s excellence we will only see as we perceive our own needs. I think this is part of what Iain is saying. Yesterday I was talking to a Somalia Muslim here and that person was quite willing to think that they, upon death, could probably argue with God that they had lived a sufficiently good life, that they’d be okay. So I can say everything we want about the beauty of God and that person might ascent to it. But if there’s not some sense that they are actually failing to meet what they must do in order to be declared not guilty by God, then all of the beauty that I’m speaking of, while of course they’re not perceiving what I mean, but part of the reason they’re not perceiving it and think they are is because they don’t understand how bad and desperate their situation is. True, false?

Storms: And at the very core of that beauty is the beauty of his holiness. And so I would say yes, I would agree with that.

Piper: I’ve never met anybody who thinks that they have delighted in God to a degree that he’s deserving of, anybody, ever, anywhere. So if you want to bring people to their end and show them their inability, you don’t just hold God up as aesthetically beautiful as some kind of objective fact that they’re to agree with or not. You display him and his heaven and then you ask them, “And have you delighted in that? Have you reveled in that more than pizza, more than sex, more than money, more than your girlfriend?” Nobody answers yes to that question. They’re all damned, therefore. I’m just saying you can preach the law if you understand the essence of the law as delight in the Lord your God with all your heart or be damned. And to show him as delightful, therefore, is of the essence of the preaching of the convicting element of the gospel. If you don’t do that, you really do wind up making a list of deeds that most evangelicals think they’re doing pretty well at.

Murray: But isn’t that because the law isn’t being spiritually preached? When Paul said, “I was alive without the law once,” he meant that he didn’t understand the spirituality of God’s law?

Dever: And it seems to me what Jesus did when he was making this very point is he drove people to see that in their hearts, even if the Pharisees thought they had obeyed sufficiently, he says, “But in your hearts, if you’ve hated someone, you’ve committed murder.” So he took some of the same issues, but he showed the deep roots in the heart about the specifics.

Piper: That’s all I’m doing. I’m taking the first and great commandment and driving it for all that it is. And the surprising result is in order to preach the law for conviction, God must be portrayed as really attractive — frighteningly, devastatingly, damningly attractive if you love anything more than him.

Murray: How do we relate this to the fact that in so many revivals in this country, in Britain, in Korea, they have so often begun with awestruck, fearful people, who are confronted with the majesty of God in a manner that is very far from comfortable?

Piper: Isn’t that what I just said? If you portray God as the Himalayas with its rocky crags and peaks disappearing into the sky and that for which you are made and contrast that with the puny, lousy, no good affections that people have for that God, they’re devastated.

Murray: But how did Peter preach on the day of Pentecost?

Piper: The one you should have loved with all your heart, you killed. He came, he was your Messiah, he was the fulfillment of all the promises. He was the Lord of glory and you killed him. How unbelievably corrupt must be your heart to cherish your own whatever to him?

Murray: And the anointing of the Spirit as we know then cut them to the heart. So the fact is, isn’t it, in the end if it’s biblical truth wisely preached, we cannot always determine exactly which truth the Holy Spirit will use.

Dever: It’s true. And in Edwards’s famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” there is some reference to God’s majesty. But we were talking over dinner. I just preached the sermon last Sunday and I can tell you the effect on my own heart and on many of the people who spoke to me in the congregation was one which wasn’t initially taken by the beauty of God. Though as Christians, they certainly could see the rightness of God’s judgment. So in that awakening sermon, which Edwards intended to be evangelistic, what he did was not fundamentally hold up to them, at least verbally, any kind of condemnation for their not loving God sufficiently. It was in fact, that they had sinned against him. Certainly that would be implied, but that’s not what he talked about. And then the judgment that was threatened because of that and the Lord seems, as Iain is saying, to own that and use it. Jim, did you want to say something?

Packer: All through this conversation, there’s an assumption being made which ought, I think, to become explicit. We ought to face it directly. “Go for the heart” has to be the guiding principle of that preaching. We call it preaching of the law, preaching of sin, that preaching which is intended to make people realize that they’re lost. The Pharisees, whom Jesus was very, very severe on were people who refused to look at their hearts. They reduced religion simply to external performance. Jesus went for their heart and all that happened was they got very angry with him, because they reckoned that he was diminishing their dignity.

But when conviction comes, it is conviction at the level of the heart, that is to say of the motives of the inside story of your life, your desires, your goals, your aims, your secret passions cherished, which you don’t tell anybody about. And it’s there that the Holy Spirit puts the boot in, if I can put it that way. Our preaching has to reflect that. I like all that you’re saying, John, just because it’s going to go to the heart. See, God is delightful, have you delighted in him? That’s a question about what’s gone on in the heart and one can extend that. One way of doing it is to present the pattern of heart service, heart response to God, joy in God, and service of God that you see in the Lord Jesus, who so obviously so single-mindedly delighted in fellowship with his Father himself and had no purpose, save to honor and glorify and exalt and please and serve and every way honor the Father.

He had a heart out of which that motivation spontaneously sprang. Question: Is that what happens in your heart? And it seems to me that we who preach with the purpose of, how can I say it, being channels of the Holy Spirit’s converting ministry, we have got to dig into the heart in that way. Real religion is always from the inside out, not from the outside in. It’s a matter of the right motivation. It’s right because it’s regenerate motivation, coming out of the heart so the people begin from their heart to desire and aim at and express the things that Jesus desired and aimed at and expressed. This is only a footnote to what my brethren was saying. But I think it’s an important footnote because it helps us to get our sights focused on what it is that we’re trying to do. Go for the heart.

Murray: And Brainerd and Edwards emphasize that no preacher can do that unless he is personally filled with the Holy Spirit. We cannot get at people’s consciences. We can talk to their heads, but we can’t get to their hearts unless we ourselves are possessed by the Holy Spirit.

Piper: It is interesting to me that in Romans 7:7, Paul says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” As I preached through Romans 7, I asked, “Why that one? Why that one?” And it’s because covetousness is the one that goes immediately to the heart. The 10th commandment and the first commandment are flip sides of the same thing. The first commandment says, “Love the Lord your God.” And the last commandment says, “Don’t love anything else anywhere in near comparison to him.” So he picks one commandment that the law if pressed on will slay you and it’s coveting. Do you desire anything besides God? So I think Paul is with me here on this idea. When I said evangelicals think they’re doing just fine when you give them the list, Iain said it’s because the law’s not being dealt with spiritually. I think that’s exactly what I’m saying and I’m just spelling out what that means. What does spiritually mean?

Murray: Do you think we might talk a little about praying for revival?

Dever: You certainly might, IaIn. Go right ahead.

Murray: Well, I could be a little controversial on this one. I am not sure that we should pray for revival in the way that it’s usually understood. Revival, since the 18th century has become a term with particular understandings attached to it. I suppose the general understanding in our circles would be, as Dr. Piper was saying tonight, a work of the Spirit which was community-wide which comes suddenly, touches many people and it’s a glorious day. I think our praying needs to be governed by Scripture. And Scripture promises that he will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him. It’s not that he may, or that he may next year or in 10 years time, but that he will. And therefore I think we find in the New Testament, Christians praying that they would do their duty.

In Acts 4 when they had been threatened, imprisoned, released, they went to their own company, they prayed that with boldness, we might speak thy word. That’s what they prayed for. The answer to the prayer was they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. Now we all have duties of different kinds and our business is to pray for the endowment of the Holy Spirit. And in so praying, to understand that there are times and seasons when the Holy Spirit is given in such overflowing grace and abundance that many, many people are involved. God doesn’t promise such times to us. Times and seasons are not in our hands. There have been many Christians who have come almost to a state of paralysis by praying for years for “revival” and have lived comparatively disappointed lives. That has to be sinful.

We have to rejoice in the Lord always and we have to do that because Jesus said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” So it’s not his other Holy Spirit is absent. We wouldn’t be here tonight if he was absent. But there are times when he is given in greater measure and we ought to believe that. But my point is it’s a sad thing in some churches when you hear people praying for revival and they’re thinking maybe of 1740 or what happened in Korea or they’re thinking of some great thing, and they’re not actually praying that tomorrow, next Lord’s day, our preacher will be filled with the Holy Spirit to do his duty and to speak with power. And that has to be wrong because it is a promise that Christ will fulfill.

I think we then have a duty to believe that having earnestly prayed, we will be given the help that we need for God’s glory. The measure of that help is not in our hands. Now you see, does that sound a little different from praying for revival as something that we’ve read about and heard about, we think would be wonderful for our land? It is in God’s secret will, George Whitfield said such things as that happen maybe once in a century. And sometimes a whole century goes by without anything quite like that happening. And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t mean we live in gloom. It means that God is carrying on his work in a different manner, more quietly, more slowly.

Dever: Jim, thoughts on praying for revival?

Packer: Well I think this is a case of both-and. I’m grateful to Iain for saying all the things that he’s said. They are the “and” because I didn’t mean to exclude or exclude them or to distract anyone from taking them to heart. Those things needed to be said, they’re right. Iain, I agree with you. I only would say that I think it is right at the same time as one prays for the specifics of doing one’s duty, fulfilling one’s calling today and tomorrow and so forth, it is right to bewail before God the low state of things spiritually in a community when that’s the real situation, and to ask God to change things for the better. That, I think, is part of the understanding, the exposition, the spelling out to the Lord of thy kingdom come and hallowed be thy name in the Lord’s prayer. And that if we didn’t ever pray along those lines, we should be, I think, complacent, complacent at the dishonoring of God all around us in a way that no Christians should ever be. So both-and please rather than not what Packer says, but what Murray says, you see.

Dever: John, do you want to say something about that?

Piper: Yeah, I’m not sure I get the reasoning. If I get it, it doesn’t work. That is, we’re to pray that God would enable us to do our duty. Surely then with biblical examples, we are to pray that others do their duty.

Dever: And that’s what you’re calling revival?

Piper: Yeah. If there’s 1,000 of them and they’re not doing their duty, they’re just neglecting God and dishonoring God and sinning, and I’m concerned that I don’t sin and that I speak boldly, then it seems like love your neighbor as you love yourself would imply that I would turn my prayer for my own doing of my duty out that others do their duty. And that seems to me to be praying for revival. When I feel the force of what Iain is saying — and we talked this over our dinner table years ago I recall — I was asking you the question at that time, how do you decide at a church when to call for extraordinary prayer, like fasting for seven days or staying up all night? Because you can kill yourself doing that.

You can say Minneapolis is in such a horrible spiritual state, let’s fast and pray until it comes. Now that would be something I think he’s warning us against because we are not God and we can’t make it come and I don’t know how to decide how much to fast and how long to pray for any given need in the world, because there are always absolutely horrific needs in the world. That’s where I hear a warning not to become paralyzed. Get up John Piper and do your duty tomorrow morning and preach here and maybe God will lead you to stay up all night and pray for these people to experience revival and maybe he won’t. And I don’t know how he will or not. So I don’t have an answer to the question of how extraordinary the prayer should be, but I wasn’t sure I got the reasoning for why we shouldn’t.

Dever: Well, we’re going to keep thinking about that another time. We don’t have a lot of time left. I want us to pick back up something that Iain said last night that caused some conversation among us and others. Iain, you challenged us at the end of our interview time last night not to leave out the positive role that the emotions have, particularly, I think you were saying in assuring us of the validity of our conversion. Have I understood you correctly there?

Murray: That’s right. Real regeneration is going to be accompanied by true spiritual affections.

Dever: Can we describe our assurance of salvation in a manner which is too subjective? This is for anybody, Iain, you and others.

Piper: Yes.

Packer: Well, I was going to say yes, only at much greater length. I think we need to draw a distinction between emotion, which usually is our word for gusts of feeling, which come and go and affection, which according to the Puritan definition and Edward’s definition are dispositional qualities — loves, hates, delights, fears, hopes. That’s the kind of thing.

Dever: A steady attraction?

Packer: Yes, steady at attractions or steady revulsions, positive or negative. In experience these don’t always have a heavy emotional content in the sense of a gust of feeling attached to them. But nonetheless, they are very much part of us, whatever they are. Edwards’s point is that it’s only if the dispositional qualities within us are the God-honoring qualities of delighting in God, enjoyment of God, God-centeredness, and longing for more of God and so on, only then are we entitled to say we are genuine.

And gusts of emotion, even religious emotion, don’t count at all if they’re not the expression of these dispositional qualities, which are the genuine affections of the will. And we have to be very clear on that. And I don’t think last night when we raised this matter for discussion, that we drew the distinction between emotions and affections. That’s the distinction. And as we carry on discussing the subject now, let’s see that we keep it clear. It’s vital.

Murray: I was just thinking about how when revival comes, it’s a characteristic of revival that often hundreds of people lose their assurance and it’s a very healthy thing. Some assurance needs to be lost. We’re far too jolly and healthy, and when revival comes, there’s a great deal more pain and conviction.

Dever: Okay, we have to hear from Sam briefly on this because we haven’t heard from Sam in about 30 minutes now. Sam, anything to say on whether or not assurance of salvation could be too subjective? Good morning, Sam. Good to have you here.

Storms: Yes.

Dever: Is that a concern? Anything you want to say to counsel us about that?

Storms: Yes, it can be too subjective. But at the same time, let’s not dismiss the fact that subjectivity is very much a part of assurance. I haven’t heard your sermon in your series in Romans, John, on the passage in chapter eight about the Spirit bearing witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God. But I’ve always understood that to be a reference to the assurance that the Spirit of God drives home to the human soul, that we really are as children.

I do know it is very interesting in Edwards that there was a shift in his thinking as a result of not only the glory but the crisis of the awakening where Edwards began to look in the latter part of his career, more to perseverance as the ground of assurance than to what he had earlier described as the new sense of the heart and the awakening of this intuitive awareness of the beauty and the excellency of God. It was because he saw so many backslidden professors who during the awakening had risen up like meteors through the sky and then disappeared. And he did begin to speak of assurance in terms of persevering faith so much more strongly in the latter years of his life. Which began obviously with Religious Affections and continued.

Piper: Let me add two things to my yes. What I meant when I said that the issue of assurance can be made too subjective. Number one, the book of 1 John gives tests of life and some of them are doctrinal. So if you skip those on your way to assurance, you have made assurance too subjective. If you deny that Jesus has come in the flesh and still have assurance, it’s too subjective. The second thing I would say is that when a person pastorally comes to you there is a way you can handle it too subjectively. I agree with you that it’s not a bad thing if people are losing some assurance, if they have it in an unwarranted way. When they come to you desperate to know if they’re saved and they’re not sure they are, you can give them a too subjective of an answer by simply saying, “You are or pray that you will be,” instead of holding up gospel, cross-exalting promises and then praying that they would see the objective truth that you’re sharing with them.

But bottom line, amen to Romans 8:16. Even Edwards might have gone too far in objectifying this verse because I think Edwards interpreted the witness of the Holy Spirit in terms of his giving objective evidence in life. And I think that’s true, like the fruit of the Spirit is part of the evidence, but I think the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit ultimately is a mystery. Ultimately it is a gift. You can preach the gospel till you’re blue in the face. You can give moral evidences till you’re blue in the face, and people, because of the painfulness of their background and the distorted nature of our psyches, can doubt their salvation no matter what you say. They can doubt it. They have the capacity to be fearful and that can only be removed by a work of divine gift. It’s a miracle. But you don’t say it’s a miracle and then say nothing. You hold up gospel promises. I could give you illustrations of that but we’re almost out of time.

Storms: One quick thing. Read Martin Lloyd Jones on Romans 5 and especially Romans 5:5. It is an excellent treatment of this issue on assurance and the question of subjectivity as well.

Dever: We have a number of good questions here to which I want one sentence answers, all right. So just a lot of things quickly, here we come, we’ll get done whatever we can. This way it shouldn’t take long because we’re only going to have one sentence answers. And these are serious subjects, but just try to give a compact answer. People can unpack it more as they think about it. John, is it more difficult for the melancholy to be enthralled by God?

Piper: Yes and no; no, because it is impossible for everyone and therefore, it’s equally impossible for everyone. You must be born again. Who can enter the kingdom of heaven? But yes, because once regeneration has quickened us and awakened us, the Lord works with us the way we are. And some people are wired to struggle and some people are wired not to.

Dever: John, another one, speaking of suffering. Suffering causes some people to doubt that God knows everything. Suffering leads others to affirm all the more certainly that God is sovereign. Can you explain why you have that different reaction?

Piper: The one word answer is sin. But that’s probably not what you’re looking for, is it? Why do we respond so differently, and some choose the erroneous response and some choose the correct response?

Dever: Well, I think of the example of Suzanne in Greg Boyd’s The Openness of God, which is that example that I’ve heard you use before. It’s in his book about this woman who gets into a terrible situation and the comfort that’s given to her is that God had led her to make what proved to be a bad choice, but he was just doing the best he could with what he knew at the time. And that was to comfort her. And I know from reading biographical sketches that you’ve done, let alone from your preaching, that you understand some similar times of suffering actually lead you, looking at Scripture, in an opposite direction to affirm all the more clearly that no, God knows exactly what he’s doing.

Piper: So I don’t know the answer to your first question, why do Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders find the denial of God’s foreknowledge so attractive? I don’t know the ultimate answer to that. What you’re really asking is why I find the sovereignty of God more, not only true but helpful in crushing situations of suffering. And the answer in as sentence, I’ll try, is that even though the affirmation of the sovereignty of God in the face of your prostate cancer, or your divorce, or your wayward child, or your eviction from your church is a theological crisis, it is also the affirmation of the one truth about God that can sustain you through the crisis.

So yes, it creates theological problems for us. We’re all aware of those and we struggle with them. The Bible helps us with them. But if you surrender the sovereignty of God, that he can’t blow an airplane about 30 feet to the right of a tower in New York, you have lost the very God that can help tens of thousands of people cope with the next three years of pain in their lives and bring them through it triumphant with a meaning to live for because He’s just helpless. He’s playing catch up ball every day in your life.

Dever: And biblical resources would be Job, Paul’s thorn in 2 Corinthians 12, and Christ in Gethsemane. Sam, I have a lot of questions today that people wanted me to ask you about this idea of increasing glorification. Some of the questions were saying, “Well, if 1 John 3 says that when we see him, we shall be like him,” what does that mean? Any clarification you want to make about that idea of continuing glorification?

Storms: Well, yes. We shall be like him but we won’t be God. We are still finite, we are still limited. I think we’ll be like him in that we will share the same glorified and resurrection body and frame that he experienced upon his resurrection and glorification. We will be like him in that we will, I believe, have instilled and imparted and infused within us the same values and principles and loves and joys and hatreds that he has, which unfortunately, oftentimes in this life we don’t. But that is not to say that we will have them as perfectly as they can be attained.

Piper: There’s just one verse that might help those of you who raised that question, because I agree with Sam and Edwards on this. Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered and he started perfect.

Dever: Here’s a historical question to Iain. Did Dr. Lloyd Jones move from preaching regeneration to justification by faith alone because of reading those volumes of Edwards you mentioned? Was Edwards a large part of that?

Murray: I don’t know any reason to think that.

Dever: Did he ascribe any particular theological development to Edwards in his own thinking, to reading Edwards?

Murray: I don’t recall him doing so, no.

Dever: Is there anything you’d just like to make up here on this last evening of the Edwards conference about Edward’s great influence on the doctor?

Murray: Well, Dr. Lloyd Jones said that he learned the sovereignty of God in revival from John Wesley.

Dever: Well, there it is. And you can get a great book on John Wesley by Iain Murray in the bookstore.

Murray: This may be my last word, so on behalf of all the speakers to say how thankful we are for the conference, for the organizers, for Dr. Piper and Desiring God Ministries, and for all the stewards. We’ve had a wonderful time. We’ve been dealt with so kindly. We’re so comfortable and I’m sure you all feel the same. We are thankful to God.

Dever: The last question appropriately goes to Jim Packer. If John Piper were at the Westminster Assembly, could he convince them to change that answer in the catechism to the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever? Try to remember.

Packer: It would be a specifying of the double-barreled thought, glorify him and enjoy him forever — a thoroughly scriptural specifying, I think, to change it in that way. The Westminster Divines listening to John Piper might very well have said, “Well, if we put it that way it will be difficult for the catechist to explain to the young person just what’s involved. What does it mean to glorify God by enjoying him? What exactly does that mean? It will be easier for the catechist if he’s given the two thoughts to explain there and the thought of how one glorifies God by enjoying him can be worked on later.

Remember, they were catechists and they were skilled catechists. The Westminster Shorter Catechism was designed for children and young people. Well, you get them to memorize it as early as they can. People grew up quickly in those days, probably they’d be learning the shorter catechism from age five, something like that. And it’s supposed to be the staple of their theological education, until they’re about 15. So I think they might have demurred a little bit on the grounds that this thoroughly orthodox notion is too deep an end to throw the young child into on the first question of the catechism.