What To Do When Your Sin Makes Enemies Pounce

“It is a marvel that any man escapes ruin, the dangers which beset even the best being many and terrible.” –W.S. Plumer

Have you noticed 90% of news stories necessitate a person being ruined? Occasionally the ruin is not a result of a bone-headed decision or immoral choice. But more often than not, it is because sin has caught up with someone. And if you and I are being honest we’d have to admit that our absence from the front page isn’t for lack of opportunity but rather because of grace.

Psalm 38 is a painful Psalm. David is the guy on the front page whose life is ruined because of a personal transgression. And his whole world is coming apart. His relationship with God feels strained, his friends are keeping him at a distance, and his enemies are using this as an opportunity to pounce. The worst part is that David isn’t an innocent victim, he’s a guilty sinner. His conscience is not on his side.

Thankfully, I have not had an experience which totally fits King David’s scenario. I have said and done things which are dumb and/or sinful. I have had to endure consequences of my mistakes, but I do not believe I have experienced fully what David is going through in Psalm 38, at least not to this depth. And I hope I never do.

Of the many lessons we could learn from Psalm 38, one I’d like to consider is what to do when you’ve legitimately blown it as a leader and now your enemies are using this to pounce on you. This could be applied when you’ve front-page-of-the-paper blown it and when you’ve messed up and you’ve given those who are enemies a bit of fodder for their cannons. I see at least five things to take from this passage on that topic:

  1. Don’t try to spin your sin, own it. David’s response in verses 13-14 is the correct posture for being in this position. He doesn’t give excuses. He doesn’t, at least at this stage, try to plead his cause against those who “seek his heart” and “speak of ruin”. He doesn’t attempt to save face or launch a PR campaign. He becomes as one who is mute, even while his enemies are laying snares for him.
  2. Repent where necessary. Not all the accusations the enemy threw at David had merit. But some of them did. Where he was actually guilty David pleaded with God for mercy. He confessed his sin (v18). It’s tempting when folks are lying about us to move from the position of sinner to that of victim and ignore our very real guilt and sin. Let the Lord deal with the lies and repent of the truth in their fodder.
  3. Acknowledge you are overwhelmed and cannot get yourself out. David’s sin was over his head. His friends weren’t able to help, and his enemies certainly weren’t going to be there for him. Dealing with actual sin is difficult enough, when those who are against you pile on unreasonable accusations, and often with violence, it becomes too much to bear. David became as a “deaf and mute man”. He was so overwhelmed that words escaped him, so he turned to prayer. When you’ve dug a hole you cannot get yourself out of it’s time to cry out for a hand of rescue.
  4. Wait upon the Lord to vindicate you. It’s generally a good principle to let the Lord plead your cause. How much more is this the case when your sin has brought reproach upon you? You’ll sound like a real schmuck if you say, “I’m guilty of this, but I’m hurt that you’d accuse me of that”. Pray that God will allow the full truth to come out.
  5. Rest in God’s character. In verse 9, David takes great comfort in the fact that God knows every bit of his crying. Though God also knows the depth of his sin, David is comforted by the truth of God’s omniscience. It also helps to know that God is merciful. As one has said, “It is both an affliction and a comfort to a good man to see the hand of God in all his troubles—an affliction, inasmuch as it shows us how vile we must be to need such sore corrections from the loving One:—a comfort, because we may be assured that mercy shall order everything.

I pray that I’m never in the depth of a Psalm 38 situation, but I know I’m not above it. Though our situation might not rise to the magnitude of Psalm 38 we can find help for our lesser trials. Because of the gospel we know that even if our sin puts us on the front page, the greater news story is that Jesus washes us clean.

Even If The Foundations Are Destroyed Fear-Mongering is Not an Option

“if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” –Psalm 11:3

In America we are seeing many of our foundations destroyed. There are godly principles upon which for hundreds of years we have stood. These pillars of our society are being decimated by an increasingly liberal and progressive culture. So, what should people of faith do? What will happen to this great nation when these foundations are destroyed?

The answer for many of our evangelical leaders is to fight for these foundations while they are only tottering. In their mind, we must keep fighting for these foundations of our society, so that our freedoms will be preserved. If we do not fight then we will be left with the same question as the Psalmist. If our foundations are destroyed what hope will the righteous have here in America? So we must preserve these foundations no matter the cost.

I believe a good argument could be made for working to preserve the Christian foundations of our nation. But the fear-mongering which comes from this logic is unhealthy. In fact, this way of thinking is the exact opposite of the point of Psalm 11:3.

Psalm 11:3 is connected with Psalm 11:2 and is to be placed on the lips of the cynic who is telling King David he ought to flee to the mountains. The cynic is the voice of the modern hand-wringing evangelical. But the Psalm begins with a rebuke of such a thought. The king is trusting in Yahweh as his refuge, therefore it is not fitting to say that he ought to flee to the mountain because the foundations are destroyed.

Those who peddle fear would have us believe that it is on some particular point that the foundation is still teetering. To not follow the party line on this issue will be to surrender every foundation and if this one falls then to the mountains we must go. And so if we desire to protect the foundations then we must hold our nose and vote for immoral men. We must overlook sexual immorality and accept pride and narcissism as a necessary evil to maintaining our foundations.

All the while we do not realize that when we buy what the fear mongers are selling and begin to peddle their words ourselves we are grabbing a sledgehammer ourselves and swinging at our foundations. The gospel is not made of fear but of hope. And hope has no home in a world driven by fear.

Psalm 11 paints a different picture. Here we see a world in which the one who trusts in the LORD can be immovable even when the foundations crumble. The mountains are no refuge, nor are they an option. Our foundation is immovable. Psalm 11 reminds us that we can be assured that God will vindicate His own righteousness. Was this not the point and hope of the religious right? To see God’s righteousness realized within the world. If this is the case, if it is not power but love for a life patterned after God and His Word which we seek, then we can res assured that God’s righteousness will win the day. He is not blind to the ways of the wicked nor deaf to the cause of the righteous.

Furthermore, Psalm 11 confirms for us that God will continually respond to His children in love. Even if it’s tough and painful love in the midst of the wreckage of a broken society. But he is a sure and certain refuge. This means that hope is never gone. We do not have to flee to the mountains, nor do we have to resort to cynicism or use a fear of fleeing to the mountains to engage in fear-mongering.

“If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?” is not intended to be a call to arms. It’s the desperate plea of a cynic. The words of hope are those of David: “In the LORD I take refuge”. This Psalm is realistic in that the foundations may crumble. But it’s also realistic in it’s hope and trust in the omniscient and omnipotent God of history. He will never crumble. This is a much better path to follow because David Murray is correct, “Christian hope has never been dashed on the rocks of reality.” (The Happy Christian, 93)

The Cautionary Tale of John Rockycana

With a name like Rockycana (pronounced Rockitsanna) you have to be destined for greatness. Had competivie bobsledding or battle rapping been invented by 1448 perhaps John Rockycana would be a name that more people would know. But as it stands he’ll have to settle for having been a 15th century Archbishop-elect of Prague.

Rockycana was a fiery preacher. In a time when the Bohemian peoples were experiencing great civil unrest Rockycana’s voice cried out against the injustices and hypocrisy of the Catholic priests in his day. He was carrying on the mantle left by John Hus. Many considered the stirring preacher to be a second Hus.

The only problem, though, is that “for all his fire in the pulpit, he was only a [coward] at heart.” (Hutton, 44) He built an entire ministry on railing against priests. And it worked. His congregation took his word to heart and desired to escape these wicked priests by leaving Catholicism. But Rockycana folded. He responded by saying, “I know you are right, but if I joined your ranks I should be reviled on every hand.” (44)

His ministry of the Word was only words.

There isn’t a ton of material on the life of Rockycana. But we do know that his growing ministry was soon gutted as several of those members went to follow a man who wasn’t just talk (Gregory the Patriarch). Rockycana continued to use his political influence to assist these Christ followers—even rescuing Gregory from the rack at one point. But it appears that his assistance eventually died down and Rockycana remained an establishment man all the days of his life.

It’s a sad tale. It’s also one of which I can partially identify. I’m familiar with some of the temptations that he must have faced. It’s easy to reason with yourself that not taking a stance on certain issues is living to fight another day. It’s easy to convince yourself that the greatest part of your ministry of the Word is on Sunday morning and not putting those fiery words in action on Monday morning.

What I’m attempting to say is that it is impossible to sustain a prophetic ministry that only happens on Sunday morning. If we take up the voice of a prophet on Sunday morning we can’t become a coward on Monday. Eventually our people will discover that we are all bark and no bite. As the apostle Paul said, “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

We must be like John Hus, who willingly put his life behind his words. Following a crucified Messiah will always take us from the sermons on the mount to the hill of Calvary. We cannot be in love with our life or our ministry. If we aren’t willing to lay down both, then our fiery messages are just words without power.

You might even get by with a powerless ministry of words for all of your life. There will always be people who happily live their whole life under a ministry of words. The preacher can gain quite a following with words. He can make a living for himself and set up a comfortable existence. He can get plaques and recognition and not be reviled by a single soul. But will such a ministry not be licked up by the flames?

Some days I’m afraid my heart desires the varnished plaque more than the Father’s pleasure. God help me…

How a Presbyterian Principle Reinforces My Baptist Conviction

My son and I went to a community wide service the other day. This began an interesting conversation about the difference between denominations. I tried as best as I could to explain to him all of the different distinctives which both unite us and separate us. Part of our discussion centered around why we’ve been given the name Baptists. This led to an interesting discussion about why I believe in credobaptism (believer’s baptism) and not paedobaptism (infant baptism).

While I hold a good many things in common with my Presbyterian brothers and sisters, I remain a Baptist by conviction. And one of the main reason why I remain a credobaptist actually comes from a principle I’ve learned from Presbyterians (or perhaps more accurately from the Reformation). That principle is the regulative principle.

This principle is defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith:

the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture. (21.1)

Put simply, the regulative principle teaches that everything we do when we gather for worship must be sanctioned by Scripture. This includes the way we administer the ordinances (like baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Westminster outlines this as well:

Prayers: The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths and vows, solemn fasting, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religious manner (21.4-5)

The regulative principle is a hallmark within Reformed churches. Many churches have slid towards the normative principle of worship—which allows anything not forbidden by Scripture. The regulative principle argues that unless Scripture tells us we should do something within our worship gathering we should not do that thing.

So where does this leave infant baptism?

I stumbled upon these words of Balthasar Hubmaier the other day. He was drowned in the Danube for his views on baptism, hopefully by agreeing with him I do not suffer a similar fate:

It is clear enough for him who has eyes to see it, but it is not expressed in so many words, literally: ‘do not baptize infants.’ May one baptize them? To that I answer: ‘if so I may baptize my dog or my donkey… I may make idols out of St. Paul and St. Peter, I may bring infants to the Lord’s Supper, bless palm branches, vegetables, salt, land and water, sell the Mass for an offering. For it is nowhere said in express words that we must not do these things. (The Anabaptist Story, 90)

Hubmaier is arguing from the regulative principle and the principle of sola Scriptura. This is why I am amazed that good Presbyterians like B.B. Warfield can say,

“It is true that there is no express command to baptize infants in the New Testament, no express record of the baptism of infants, and no passages so stringently implying it that we must infer from them that infants were baptized. If such warrant as this were necessary to justify the usage we should have to leave it incompletely justified. But the lack of this express warrant is something far short of forbidding the rite” (Quoted here)

Warfield goes on to argue that a sign of the covenant was instituted in the Old Testament and therefore must be expressly denied in the New Testament. That to me appears to be the crux of the argument—is baptism the continuation of the covenant of circumcision. Warfield then quotes Lightfoot: “It is not forbidden” in the New Testament to “baptize infants, — therefore, they are to be baptized.

I suppose my Presbyterian brothers and sisters will disagree, but I cannot find an explicit place in Scripture which shows that baptism replaces circumcision. Yes, there is a connection from Colossians 2:11-12, but again what we are doing here is arguing from a good and necessary inference. This is the language of John Murray who says, “Surely the inference is one of good and necessary consequence that infants should be given the sign and seal of that which, by the authority of Christ, they are to be accounted.” Friends, this is the argumentation and the very language of the normative principle and not the regulative principle.

It is not upon these grounds alone, but as one who holds to the regulative principle I simply cannot move from my Baptist conviction that baptism is meant for believers and not for infants who cannot yet believe.