The Bourbon Baptist: A Look at Elijah Craig’s Life

Church History

[By: Mark Nenadov]

Introduction

The vaults of church history are rich storehouses that should be plundered regularly. We have an embarrassment of riches and yet at times large swaths of history lay on the shelf, dusty.

It can be tempting for us Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians to jump from the New Testament times to the 16th and 17th century and then into the 20th century. And yet, the American Baptist community of the 18th and 19th century is, in my opinion, comparatively neglected. I love and appreciate the life and theology of the 17th century Particular Baptists, but sometimes I think we’ve underestimated the legacies of those who came after them.

As an independent, amateur researcher, I’ve been writing short biographical sketches of some noteworthy and yet sorely neglected individuals in 19th century American Baptist history. For instance, I’ve written two soon-to-be-published papers on John Newton Brown: “A Recipient of Inestimable Legacies”: The Early Life of J. Newton Brown (1803-1868) and “Sweet Temper, High-toned Piety”: The Life of John Newton Brown (1803-1868). They should be appearing in Kettering soon. And I’ve focused in on S. Dryden Phelps in “An Eloquence in Nature’s Voice” The Pastor-Poet S. Dryden Phelps (1816-1895).

11748618_10153214268454342_914956416_nMost of my writing has been about Baptists in New England. The Baptist community there was surprisingly vital just a couple centuries ago! As of late, though, there is an intriguing character who takes me further down South: the 18th-19th century Virginia and Kentucky Baptist preacher and entrepreneur Elijah Craig (1745?-1808).

This article is much less formal than the other ones I’ve written recently. Also, I do not pretend to have researched Elijah Crag’s life as thoroughly as John Newton Brown or S. Dryden Phelps. Nevertheless, I aspire here to a lighter, more casual treatment of his life, which brings into focus some interesting angles in an age of perennial concerns about religious liberty!

Early Life and Conversion

Though Elijah Craig was “one of the most remarkable of the early Kentucky Baptist preachers,” very little is known about his early life in Orange County, Virginia. We don’t even know whether his birthdate was in the 1730s or 1740s and have essentially no details dating before 1764.

By the mid-1750s, colonial American Baptists were often identified as either “Regular” or “Separate.” Both were solidly Calvinistic in their theology, but the “Separate Baptists” closely identified with the Great Awakening and are known for emphasizing evangelism and heart-felt religion, whereas the “Regular Baptists” in some ways distanced themselves from this orientation.

In 1764, Elijah was converted while sitting under the preaching of the Regular Baptist David Thomas (1732-1812), who had organized one of the first Regular Baptist churches in Virginia. Almost immediately upon conversion Elijah “began, at once to exhort.” In the early days, his chapel was located in his tobacco house! By 1766, he became a Separate Baptist.

Ministry in Virginia

Elijah’s preaching was “of the most solemn style,” often bringing listeners to tears. He had “a thin visage, large eyes and mouth” and was “of great readiness of speech.” His voice was melodic, and both his preaching and singing were so loud that it “bore all down.”

At some point, Elijah married Frances Smith and had three children: Joel, Simeon, and Lucy. When Frances died, Elijah married a widow, Margaret, and had three more children: Lydia, Polly, and John.

Baptists were persecuted in 18th century Virginia. Like the Carolinas, Georgia, and Maryland, Virginia had an established church—the Church of England. The principle of religious liberty had not taken hold in the social culture of the day and “the rage of the persecutors had in no wise abated.” Baptist pastors were often mocked, slandered, and jailed. In 1779, over 40 pastors were placed in jail. Elijah was arrested twice.

While ploughing his field in 1768, Elijah was arrested and imprisoned for seventeen days for preaching “schismatick doctrines.” Apparently, prison couldn’t keep Elijah down and he preached the gospel through the bars of his jail window and, consequently, the authorities built a high wall around the prison to keep people from hearing.

After release from prison, Elijah pastored Blue Run Baptist Church, which gathered just a few miles from the Madison family plantation. The church chose him as their pastor upon constitution in 1769, and formally ordained him into the ministry in 1771. Under his pastoral care, the church flourished.

Though political upheaval began earlier, it wasn’t until 1775 that the American Revolutionary war began. During the war, Elijah served as a chaplain. He also “played a vital role in communicating the views of the Virginia Baptists to the new state government.” It is highly likely that Elijah Craig played at least an indirect role in some of the early musings that eventually led to the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Life in Kentucky

In early 1786, Elijah brought his congregation, the Great Crossing Church, from Virginia into the vicinity of present day Lancaster, Kentucky. It was a large group of perhaps half a thousand people. Persecution hastened the move. Hence, Virginia’s established church appears to have brought many Baptists to Kentucky.

While in Kentucky, Elijah got busy. He laid out plans for the town of Lebanon, later renamed Georgetown. He also founded one of the earliest classical academies in the state, the Rittenhouse Academy, which according to some would evolve into Georgetown College, though the connection is somewhat debatable. An advertisement for the academy in the Kentucky Gazette observed that it “will teach the Latin and Greek languages, together with such branches of the sciences as are usually taught in public seminaries.” Legend has it that the “stately columns” of Giddings Hall at Georgetown College hide “a keg of whiskey belonging to Elijah Craig.”

Speaking of whiskey, Elijah distilled whiskey. He may have begun as early as 1789. Yes, Baptists used to distill whiskey. Just two years earlier, a Baptist minister, James Garrard, was indicted for retailing whiskey without a license. One source notes that John Schackelford received thirty-six gallons of whiskey for his preaching in 1798. In 1796, the Elkhorn Baptist Association, a Kentucky association (constituted in 1785), ruled that denying a member church membership because he sold intoxicants was unjustified. It should also be remembered that it wasn’t until 1886 that the Southern Baptist Convention began passing resolutions against alcohol.

11721425_10153214268419342_1283120141_nBaptists who enjoy reading this article and are not teetotalers may like to know that they can indeed drink the Elijah Craig brand bourbon whiskey this very day. There is a bit of legend swirling around about Elijah’s involvement in the whiskey trade. It is commonly stated that he was the first person to make bourbon, but that is likely untrue. The legend states that Elijah accidentally charred some white oak staves and, due to frugality, stored the whiskey in them anyway, noticing the taste difference and afterwards producing it that way purposely. This legend seems to have its origin in a history of Kentucky from 1874 and has been further propagated by Heaven Hill Distillery who produces the Elijah Craig brand bourbon whiskey.

In reality, Elijah was probably making the same sort of whiskey that others in Kentucky were making at the time. Whatever we may make of the legend, it is clear that Elijah was a prominent distiller and one of Kentucky’s earliest and most zealous “industrialists.” Beside his whiskey production, Elijah kept busy building a saw mill, a grist mill, making paper and rope, and fulling cloth. He also got caught up in some land speculating, which involves risky financial transactions which attempt to profit from fluctuation in real estate prices. As we shall soon see, the speculating seems to have had a negative effect on him.

In 1791, for some reason Elijah became “obnoxious” to his church and was excommunicated. Very little is known about the specific circumstances, but we can infer a few things from what was going on in Elijah’s life at the time. He remained excommunicated for some amount of time, but was eventually restored to fellowship. We may speculate that Elijah’s excommunication was related to a spiritual decline which may have been in some way connected to his involvement in land speculation, a trajectory which appears to have dragged down his ministry. Robert Baylor Semple, who wrote A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia, observed that Elijah had a “censorious” temper, a temper that was kept in check as long as he was “warm in religion.” However, Semple opines that a period of religious decline in his life connected with his land speculation involvement might have caused his censoriousness to become unchecked.

Semple cites Elijah’s two published works as examples of his censoriousness. While in Kentucky, Elijah published A Few Remarks on the Errors That Are Maintained in the Christian Churches of the Present Day (1801), in which he argued that “pastors…are precluded by the Scriptures from receiving any compensation for their services,” and A Portrait of John Creath (1807), which is the account of some private dispute between a Mr. Creath and a Mr. Lewis. The later pamphlet is no longer accessible. Semple described it colorfully as having been written with a pen “dipt in poison.”

We do not know when and under what circumstances Elijah was restored to fellowship, we merely know that he was a member of the congregation when he died in 1808.

Whereas John Newton Brown, who also ministered for a time among slave-owners in Lexington, Virginia, spoke loudly and clearly against the institution of slavery, Elijah Craig, like many Southern Baptists, seems to have quietly profited from the cruel institution of American slavery. According to tax records from 1800, Elijah owned “over 4,000 acres of land, eleven horses, [and] thirty-two slaves.”

His Death

For one reason or another, Elijah lost a good deal of his wealth by the time of his death. According to his last will and testament, he had only one slave left to leave for his children, a slave boy named Harry.

On May 13, 1808, Elijah was “in a low state of health but of sound mind & memory,” and penned his last will and testament. He died by May 18, 1808. On May 24th, the Kentucky Gazette wrote the following eulogy:

“He possessed a mind extremely active and his whole property was expended in attempts to carry his plans to execution—he consequently died poor. If virtue consists in being useful to our fellow citizens, perhaps there were few more virtuous men than Mr. Craig.”

Conclusion

You will find the story of Elijah Craig’s life unsatisfying if your use history to cherry-pick laudable heroes in which you expect to find no wrinkles or complications. If you want a hero, I’d argue you can find much more unalloyed hero material in someone like John Newton Brown or S. Dryden Phelps.

Nevertheless even this slave-owning and allegedly censorious Baptist makes for a fascinating historical study in our Baptist heritage. In particular, his involvement in pre-Revolutionary happenings concerning religious liberty and his location at the early development of the Baptist church in America makes him a remarkable character. He also provides a fascinating early case study for a variety of other reasons. He provides us with an early example of Baptist church discipline being put into practice. He shows how the earliest Baptists were generally not teetotalers or prohibitionists. He is an early example of a Baptist entrepreneur. He is involved in debates for and against bi-vocational pastorates.

We do not know enough about Elijah Craig to form a substantial impression of his theology and piety. There are, however, a number of fascinating aspects of his life which would make him an interesting study, if more information could be found.

I don’t pretend to have done Elijah Craig’s legacy justice, nor do I claim to well-suited to be the individual to uncover and connect further details about him. I merely hope I can stir up some interest in him. We can only hope that some more information is uncovered in the future! Such is the optimism of history, there is always the hope that more will be discovered some day.

Mark Nenadov blogs regularly at All Things Expounded.

The Rhino Room | 3 Most Important Christians

Church History, Rhino Room, The Church

Rhino Room

Curious about the Rhino Room? Read our introduction here.

You can find previous Rhino Room responses here.

Who are the three most important Christians from the time of (and not including) the apostles until today?

Wayne Brandow (Pastor, Bible Baptist Church of Galway, New York)

The three most important Christians from the time of the Apostles until the present day no doubt vary from person to person, however, for me it is Augustine, Luther, and Edwards. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo died as the barbarians were at the gate of his city. It was an ominous time, yet Augustine served the church well with his Confessions and The City of God.   Instead of being the end of the church, His works helped in its triumph over the barbarian threat. Martin Luther was the obscure monk who shook his world to its foundations. Catapulted into fame, he brought the church back to a biblical foundation and the evangelical truth of justification by faith. Jonathan Edwards brought forward Puritan heart religion. Evangelical and reformed, his writing on revival and the publication of Brainerd’s journal stirred the imagination and created a thirst for missions and revival.

Robert Cole (Pastor, Berean Baptist Church of Ceres, California)

The three most important Christians, in my opinion, all share something in common (other than Christ, obviously). They were all used by God in awakenings of the Christian faith.

1. Augustine(354-430).  He was used by God to shape the way people think about God. In the midst of an extremely hedonistic, secularist world, he challenged the manner in which people think. Jerome said Augustine,”established anew the ancient Faith.” An awakening. Important indeed.

2. Martin Luther (1483-1546). He was used by God to challenge the heresy of the Roman Catholic Church and begin what would become a world wide reformation. Turning the attention back to the Word of God as the source of truth and authority over all of life. This was indeed an awakening. Important indeed.

3. Carolyn Walker (1974-present). She was used by God to bring an offensive gospel to an offensive, perverse sinner.  To most, an ordinary girl. To this writer, an instrument in my salvation. Used by God in my own awakening. Important indeed.

Matt Foreman (Pastor, Faith Reformed Baptist Church of Media, Pennsylvania)

Pretty standard for the first two –
1) Augustine – The most influential theologian of the early church.  His ecclesiology became the baseline for the Roman Catholic Church; his soteriology for the Protestant church.

2) Calvin – The premier theologian of the Reformation.  Many outside of Reformed circles are simply unaware of how much Calvin’s thought influenced subsequent history – not only in theology, but in politics, economics, ethics, etc.

3) Martyn Lloyd-Jones – This one may be obscure and surprising, and certainly reveals a theological bias.  But since I believe that the recovery of Reformed theology and the Reformed Resurgence is a good thing, there is simply no figure more historically important in that recovery than Lloyd-Jones.  At a time when the influence of Reformed theology was at its weakest, Lloyd-Jones was used by God to provide an example of powerful preaching and church practice, and to begin a movement that has reshaped the current landscape.

Nicholas Kennicott (Pastor, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

Augustine is at the top of the list. Augustine’s City of God is unmatched in Christian writing. He was foundational in clearly articulating biblical soteriology and showing a true example of experiential divinity.

Martin Luther is either loved or hated. While there are certainly many things that could be said about some of Luther’s ideas and practices, he is undoubtedly a man that God used in a way that can be said of no other in the recovery of true biblical teaching in the face of great apostasy. He is, in my opinion, a hero of the faith.

William Carey is known as the father of modern missions. His challenge to the church to engage in world evangelization set a course for missions that has remained relatively unchanged since the late 18th century. Without Carey, we would be much further behind in our task to fulfill the great commission.

Chris Marley (Pastor, Miller Valley Baptist Church of Miller Valley, Arizona)

Hendrix, Dylan… wait. Wrong list. Everyone is going to say Augustine, which I have to follow. He is the one who soteriologically founded reformational doctrine and ecclesiologically established medieval Roman identity. Just to be different, I’ll put Anselm as my second, because of the influence he had in centering Western Christianity (I believe rightly so) on forensic justification. For the Reformation, which you have to choose someone on that topic, it’s hard to choose between Luther, whom God used to catalyze the whole thing, or Calvin, whom God used to systematize it, but in the end, I think Luther was more essential even though I agree far more theologically with Calvin. I do hope someone chooses Spurgeon or Carey though, as cases can be made for either, and we need some Baptists on the list.

Keith Thompson (Pastor,Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania)

  1. Emperor Constantine.  I know there are still debates as to whether his “conversion” was motivated by genuine faith or political savvy, but either way, the Lord used him to legitimize the Christian faith allowing the message of the cross to spread freely. Ramifications of his conversion have echoed through the centuries resulting in Christian thought and morays being the foundation of Western Civilization.
  2. Although not an individual Christian, my #2 goes to the British Navy which defeated the Spanish Armada.  Had it not been for that naval victory, it is widely speculated that there would be no protestants.
  3. How can I not put John Calvin in my top 3? Although Luther is credited with starting the Reformation, Calvin’s Institutes gave invaluable intellectual credibility to the Protestant cause. Even secular historians often put the Institutes in their list of the top 5 most influential books of all time.

Douglas Van Dorn (Pastor, Reformed Baptist Church of Northern Colorado)

3. Martin Luther. I wanted to pick Calvin here, but though Calvin systematized Protestant theology, it was Luther, standing on the backs of previous martyrs and reformers, who had the nerve to stand up to the entire medieval system of abuses and perversions that was the Church in his day. Are there any more famous words than “Here I stand?”

2. Constantine the Great. I know that many question whether he even was a Christian. I don’t put him here because of the brilliance of his own personal faith, but rather because without Constantine, there would be no Nicea—the bedrock of all orthodoxy. Also, Constantine—for better or for worse—changed the course of Christianity forever, turning it from a backwoods sect where believers could very possibly be put to death, to the official religion of the greatest Empire in world history. Plus, he has a great city named after him. Or wait, is that Istanbul? No, its Constantinople.

1. Augustine was perhaps the most prolific writer of the first thousand years of church history. His City of God was the cornerstone of shaping Western Christian thought, his views of salvation and his Confessions were profoundly biblical and experiential. He was the full package and the most influential Christian outside of the New Testament.

Jesus Drives It All Away Part 5 of 5: Two Worlds Imagined

Christian Living, In Praise of Old Guys, Law, The Gospel

Part 1: Wherein Augustine and Chalmers Lead Youth Group (read first!)

Part 2: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Part 3: Our Hearts Have Thrones

Part 4: Slay the Beast

svRELIEF_wideweb__470x312,0Sanctification is the progressive increase of holiness a Christian experiences in their life. It is not instant when a heart is born again, and it is never fully complete while we still live in this world. That is why this message about the expulsive power of a new affection is so necessary- the Christian will continue to battle sin everyday of his life. But by grace, it is a battle in which we are called to engage, and in which we can have the sure hope of progressive victory.

And the beautifully unexpected way the grace of God works in our lives is this- the freer the gospel, the more sanctifying the gospel.

The more the gospel is received as a doctrine of pure grace, the more it will be felt as a doctrine of real life change.

This is one of the greatest secrets of the Christian life- the more a man clings to God completely, seeing himself as one who has nothing to offer and in absolute need of grace, the more he is able to achieve in growth and service. If your hope is a legalistic command of “do this and you will live,” then a spirit of fearfulness will flood your heart. Your relationship to God will be one of hopeless bargaining that will destroy your confidence and crush your hope. You know your own heart too well to hope in your own abilities to keep these bargains. You know you will really be perusing your own selfish desires rather than His glory. Such a foolish system cannot and will not save.

kneel-before-the-crossIt is only when the gospel is received as a true gift, without money and without price, that our hope can be genuinely secure. It is only then that true rest in God can be experienced. It is only then that real Christian relationship to God can flourish. A radical truth must be grasped: that because of what Christ has accomplished God rejoices over us and desires to do us good. The truest earthly joy lies in the Christian heart that has grasped that truth well. The gospel wakes us up from something like a bad dream and shows us the real happiness of the redeemed life in Christ.

Salvation by grace- salvation by free grace, not of works, based solely on the mercy of God- is indispensible both to the deliverance of our souls from God’s just condemnation and the deliverance of our hearts from the chilling weight of worldliness. If even a whisper of legalism is allowed to remain in the gospel then all is lost. The Gospel is like a fire that melts our icy hearts- and so the freer it is the better.

Some fear that a gospel this free will lead to Christians who don’t care about worldliness and have a casual attitude toward their sin. Actually, the precise opposite is true. A truly free gospel makes the Christian hate his sin all the more. Along with the light of a free gospel there is love for that very same gospel. If we decrease the freeness of the gospel we dim the light. We will likewise decrease the love it produces in our hearts, chasing it away with our misplaced fears.

The redeemed sinner will never find a greater motivation to real life change and growth than the belief that he is saved by grace alone. That is the truth that will fuel his fight. That is the truth that will motivate him to offer his heart completely to the Lord and to deny sin a hold within. To do this work well, ought we to give the Christian the best weapons? There is no sharper sword than the truly free grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is not just theory or good ideas, this is the way we are called to live. If you are struggling to fall out of love with the world in faithfulness to 1 John 2:15, see in these things a ray of hope. There is no other way to keep the love of the world out of your heart than to keep your heart full of the love of God. And there is no other way to fill your heart with the love of God than by building yourself up in gospel faith. The denial of the world, which is impossible for those who deny the gospel, is possible to those who believe. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

Trying to fall out of love with the world without falling more in love with God is trying to do hard work with ridiculously wrong tools. It is like trying to dig a ditch with a noodle instead of a shovel; it will never work. And it is tragic, because the more effort poured in the further away from grace you will feel. Faith works by love (Galatians 5:6) and the only way to expel lawbreaking worldly love from your heart is to replace it with that love which delights to pursue God’s Law, because it loves God the Lawgiver Himself.

Two Worlds Imagined: A Closing Dream

Imagine yourself in a vast and empty expanse. Before you there is a world. As you look toward it you see that it is a world full of wealth and riches. The people have pleasant faces and live in pleasant places. The sun lightly plays upon them and you see that they are living together in peace and harmony. Imagine that happy world in your mind, and then imagine another along side it. It is dark and unknown to you. Whatever it holds is shrouded in mystery.

Which world would you choose? Would you leave the bright world of love for the darkness of the unknown? Would you leave the joys of family for lonely isolation? Would you leave your home to be a stranger? Would you not cling tightly to the bright lights you know over the fear of an unexplored darkness?

Sunrise-In-The-Sea-WallpaperBut imagine in your dream that a new and brighter light suddenly breaks out from the previously darkened world. It does not come slowly, but rather it nearly blinds you as it explodes in a brilliance you have never seen. Colors you did not know existed blend together with indescribable effect. And with this new and brighter light comes music, playing a melody you have never heard but will now never forget. Here you see a more pure beauty, a more heartfelt love, a sweeter peace, a real kindness, and a true joy. It is the joy of a world united and reveling in the shared experience of redeeming grace. Over this world is stretched like a banner the love of God. The God of the universe has fixed his attention, care, and mercy upon this world and He will never pull back from it. This is a world of no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears. And it is calling you to join them. It is calling you to come home.

Do you now imagine that what was once to you a wilderness has become the world to which your heart runs; and the world that was once so attractive to you is now the true wilderness by comparison?

What an unknown wilderness can never do, a world of true love can most certainly accomplish. So also, if we only fix the affections of our heart on the world we see around us, we will always remain a slave to it.

If this world is all we see, we will love this world and we will not relent, no matter how hard we try. We will never pry its grip from our heart by direct effort alone.

But if we through faith fix our sights upon a greater world, we will naturally fall out of love with the old one as we fall more in love with the new.

It is then that we will truly know the expulsive power of a new affection.

It is then we will learn this central and crucial truth:

When through the gospel Jesus shows us a greater love, Jesus drives all else away.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

(1 John 2:15)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

(John 16:33)

(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)

 

Jesus Drives It All Away Part 4 of 5: Slay the Beast

Christian Living, In Praise of Old Guys, Law, The Gospel

Part 1: Wherein Augustine and Chalmers Lead Youth Group (read first!)

Part 2: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Part 3: Our Hearts Have Thrones

SmaugmoviestillNow we can begin to see what sort of preaching will bring real change in the lives of people. We don’t just need a mirror held up to show us how imperfect we are. We don’t just need to be told how worthless and destructive the world is. We don’t just need to be told how dirty our hearts are and how false our love for the world is. Real gospel preachers need not have the skill or the desire to accomplish those tasks. A man may not be able to describe such sorrows with vivid and soaring speech, he may not be able to practically identify with those who so struggle at every point, but God may use him still to expel the very lies he may struggle to understand or explain. A preacher should faithfully explain the depths and the beauty and the riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A suffering sinner doesn’t need a poet to describe his sorrows to him; he needs a pastor to apply the healing balm of Jesus Christ. Rather than be one who catalogs and then rails against the manifold dragons of the world, let the preacher of the gospel wield the sword that can actually slay the beast.

The preacher cannot know all that is bound up in every heart before him. He is not a magician. But he can shout out the truth, which when it gets into your heart will be like Aaron’s staff in the Exodus account- the staff that turned into a snake and ate up the others thrown forward by the false prophets of Egypt. The preacher need not be a master of describing the condition of the natural heart, nor must he be intimately acquainted with your individual struggles. He is entrusted with the description of that greater love which withers up the old and leaves in their place a new creation in Jesus Christ. Let the church never cease to preach like this. We have the only power that can pry the love of the world out of a human heart.

Reader, I urge you directly- open your heart to the love of Him who is far greater than the world. Let the gospel clear away the stifling fog of unbelief that is hiding and clouding the face of God. Hear this plea- He claims your love! Everything he has done and is doing in the world by the power of His Spirit has been about reclaiming a sinful world to Himself. The God of love has so clearly made His heart known, that only faith and understanding are needed to call your heart back to love for Him.

Doctrine and Demand in the Worldly Heart

In light of all we have seen it becomes plain how little credit we should give to those people of the world who despise our Christian beliefs. By now you surely see that to describe them as “people of the world” is most accurate. A worldly person (as they may be called) thinks that the new birth is a complete fiction. All of his love is wrapped up in the world around him, and he sees nothing there of new births, spiritual hearts, the crucifixion of the old man, the blessings of the gospel, or any other of our most precious doctrines. He sees all of this as totally opposite to what he has observed around him, and by that standard he rejects it. When he sees the changed life of the Christian, when he sees a friend or family member turn away from worldliness and fall in love with God, he simply dismisses it as a religious fervor- a nice distraction to the simple minded, but far beneath him personally.

wealth-addict-702x336Such a man continues unmoved and undaunted in his worldliness. Love for the world does not always look sinister and depraved- often it is exposed through a simple apathy toward the gospel and a total preoccupation with the things of a limited earthly horizon: how much will I make and who will I be seen with? If the thought of death or what comes after ever intrudes into the worldly man’s sights, it never does so with any power to bring conviction or change. Typically such a man will have a vague concept of “living a good life” and being at least better than those around him, and on that foundation he rests his hope- if hope is not too strong a word for the casual attitude so many adopt towards eternal things.  If they believe in God at all, they seem to believe that they will be happily transported from a world in which they have had almost nothing to do with God into a world in which they will have everything to do with God for all eternity. To the worldly among us all this talk of love for God, walking by faith, knowing our hearts, and the expulsive power of which we speak means absolutely nothing.

Christianity demands that we fall out of love with the world, but such a person has no interest in the demands of Christianity. This is because they have no interest in the doctrines of Christianity. Why would they care about doing the work (falling out of love with the world) described in the Bible when they don’t even believe the words of the Bible? The work will always be beyond your reach when the words are beneath your attention.

They cannot see spiritual truth because their eyes are bound tight with the blindfold of unbelief. They do not see the love of God in sending Jesus into the world. They do not see the Father’s mercy in delivering over Jesus to die for us. They do not see the power of the cross to save, that Christ has suffered in our place, bearing all the punishment that we deserved to endure. They do not see that God is both perfect justice and perfect love- passing over our sins, but only because they were paid for in full by Jesus. The new birth is a mystery to them- that God would take a spiritually dead heart that is in rebellion against Him and breath in the Christ-loving power of new spiritual life. If they would only look to Christ with believing eyes all mysteries and troubles would vanish. As it is, they will remain locked in to their love of the world because they have never looked with faith to the one who can drive it all away. They have never gazed at that brighter light of a greater love. And in this there is at least consistency- they do not fall out of love with the world because they do not love God more, nor do they care to even try.

Doctrine and Demand in the Born Again Heart

But if there is a consistency in error, is there not a like consistency to be found in truth? The man who actually believes in the doctrines of Christianity will be ready to submit to the demands of Christianity. When a man is told to love God supremely, to love Him more than all others and to give Him alone the throne of the king in his heart- the worldly heart is shocked and offended. Yet this will not shock or offend the person to whom God has been revealed as the One who offers peace and pardon through the reconciliation of the gospel. Shutting out the world from your heart is impossible if you have nothing to replace it with, but it is not impossible for the one who has found God to be his sure and satisfying portion. Turning the heart away from things below is not a grief to the one who has seen the beauty of the things above. When all you have is love for the world, turning away is like blotting out the light. But when you love God more you know and experience that brighter light of heavenly glory. Through the gospel Jesus Christ has dealt with our sins, destroying the wall blocking out the joyous heat and near blinding glow of the love of God for us. This light is treasured not with physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith and in the heart that has been born again by this very same power.

The holiness of life that Christianity demands is hollow unless it is preceded by the doctrines of Christianity. In fact, it is worse that hollow. It is a false gospel that leads only to despair. And the answer is never to minimize the holiness to which we are called, for to do that we would have to minimize the Holiness of the One who is doing the calling. Rather, we must see and believe this doctrine- that on the cross Jesus Christ has reconciled the vast gulf between the holiness of God and our sinfulness. He has atoned for our sin through his own sufferings in our place. He has paved a road for a new influence to break into our hearts. He has brought us back to God, not in slavish fear but in glorious gratitude. The Holiness of God can now be our cherished friend rather than our terrifying enemy.

If the demands on our lives that Christianity makes are separated from these central Christian doctrines you will either have a legalistic and pointless life-code or a dead traditionalism. But when doctrine and demand are brought together, the true Christian with a truly born again heart is able to grow in the one by the strength of the other.

The gospel is the only possible motivation in living the Christian life that actually works.

The demands of the gospel upon your life are not beyond your strength if the truth of the gospel is not beyond your acceptance.

You can change, not because you are strong enough, but because the gospel is true enough.

gothic_armour_smallThink about the language used to describe the Christian’s spiritual armor. Think about those very words- the Christians spiritual armor! Why would we need armor? Because we are called to fight. We are called to strive and work and grow. Christianity involves personal effort. But look at what sort of armor we are called to put on: the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:10-20). The power of our weapons lies not in our own strength, but rather in those things that have reference to our God- faith, salvation, truth and the Spirit through His word. These are the weapons with which the battle is won, new heights are conquered, and a Christian is able to look out on new vistas of God’s grace from places he previously never would have known nor hoped to achieve.

Christianity demands powerful life-change, but it supplies a power equal to the task.

The Christian life can only be sustained by the power of Christian truth.

The gospel brings both pardon and purification, and it is important to see the relationship between them. The best way to cast out an impure love is to replace it with a pure one, and by the love of what is good expel the love of what is evil.

(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)

 

Jesus Drives It All Away Part 3 of 5: Our Hearts Have Thrones

Christian Living, In Praise of Old Guys, Law, The Gospel

Part 1: Wherein Augustine and Chalmers Lead Youth Group (read first!)

Part 2: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

The Natural Heart

Perhaps now you see why it is that your heart clings to its present loves with so much strength, and why you may feel powerless to overcome whatever sinful desire the world is currently holding out to you. Your heart will never cooperate with you if you hold out to it only the prospect of a lonely denial. It will not consent to be desolate; it will not welcome emptiness. As we have been saying, a new and greater love is required to dislodge the old one. The neon attractions of the world will not be overshadowed by retreat into darkness; they must be overwhelmed by something even brighter.

mario-3d-world-neon-lights-690x388It is not enough to argue against the world’s foolishness.

It is not enough to point out the world’s lies.

It is not enough to even threaten violence.

All these the heart will resist to the bitter end.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

1 John 2:15 is perhaps the most direct charge in the entire Bible against the desires of our sinful nature. To say to someone who has never been born again, “do not love the world or the things in the world,” is to ask him to give up every love he knows. Prior to grace, the world is his all in all. He has neither taste nor desire for anything beyond the narrow horizons of this visible world. He loves nothing above it and cares for nothing beyond it; and so to ask him to remove these loves is to ask him to remove his very heart itself and cast it away.

We might as well ask him to throw away his life savings and burn down his house. He might do this if he saw that his life somehow depended on it, but only with great sorrow and reluctance- for although his life would be saved it would be greatly reduced in comfort. But even this he would do willingly if only he saw that from those ashes would instantly emerge wealth of ten thousand times greater value than that which he burned, and all this from the very scene of his previous loss. In this second case there is a new and greater desire to displace the old one and make what was once a treasure seem an easy thing to burn. But to the man with no such hope, there can be no good reason to burn down what he now loves.

If falling out of love with the world is truly essential to the Christian life, then we begin to see why it is necessary to describe the experience of salvation with words of stark and extreme distinction. It is true that by grace we are “born again,” but we also “crucify” our old selves. The new spark of Christianity is both the dawn of a new life and the dusk of an old one. Something is born; and something dies.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

By this time you should well understand how powerless it is no simply demonstrate the insignificance of this world. This by itself can actually (if it does anything) cause harm. You have experienced for yourself the way that the heart so easily returns to that which it wept over and railed against yesterday. One day you may have a clear sense of how short your time on earth will be and be very encouraged to use your days well. You may be very sobered by the consideration of the realities of heaven and hell, and the fleeting nature of human life, and may make promises and resolutions regarding your remaining days. But tomorrow comes, and the world is all around, and your heart springs back to familiar loves of both desire and possession. You jump back in to dead-end foolishness with a renewed and tragic joy. It is as though the convictions of yesterday were some sort of dream, and even the church itself, which was on Sunday the scene of your resolution, becomes on Monday a joke to you with no power to pull down the strongholds to which you are bound.

throneOur hearts have thrones. That is to say, something will always sit there as king in the seat of supreme love. Think again of 2 Cor. 5:17. Simply throwing out the old king is like only claiming the first half of that verse- old things have passed away. It is true that the removal of the old king is essential, but thrones never remain unoccupied for long. A new king must reign, and if he does not, the old one will return with a renewed power and a firmer grip. It is not enough that old things pass away, it is necessary also that the new come and claim the throne. Only then will you begin to see the very nature of your heart- the magnet within you that is always yearning and reaching for something- harnessed and redirected in such a manner that it is your friend and not your enemy. It is only then that real change can begin to occur.

The Born Again Heart

Now we can begin to grasp the true importance and beauty of the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel. The love of God and the love of the world are not merely rivals; they are enemies. They are polar opposites. They are so opposed to one another that they cannot both exist within us. We have already affirmed how impossible it is for the heart to cast out the world by its own power, leaving nothing but a barren wilderness within.

Your heart isn’t made that way; and the only way to dislodge it of a worthless love is through the expulsive power of a new one.

This expulsive power can be illustrated by a deep well with garbage littering its floor. Your heart is the well and the garbage is the love of the world within you. If the well is far to deep for you to reach down and remove the filth by hand, how is this trash to be expelled? You may stretch and reach for years but your arm will never be long enough to clean it out. But imagine you attempted a new method- not brute strength but the careful application of wisdom. Imagine you directed a steady stream of clean water into the well itself. The force of this torrent is of such power that it causes the trash littering the deep to swirl about and be lifted with the rising flow. Eventually the old trash is raised to the top of the well and is forced out onto the ground. What has happened? The trash has been removed, not by direct action against it, but rather through the expulsive power of a newly introduced element.

When the well is full, the trash is forced out. So it is with the expulsive power of a new affection.

There is nothing on earth that exceeds the magnitude of change we are discussing. We must never underestimate the radical and revolutionary command before us. When the New Testament tells us to not love the world or the things in the world, this command comes to the natural heart as a call to absolute self-annihilation.

Yet the very source that commands us toward such a radical act of obedience places within our reach just as radical a means of obedience. God’s Word gives both the command and the only possible power that can lead us into faithfulness. It brings to the very door of our hearts a new love to sit upon the throne within, one that will either master all others or drive them out completely.

Our old love is the world; but He who made the world is greater beyond comparison.

In the gospel we behold God Himself; that we might love him more than we ever loved the cheap thrills of the world.

This may at first seem strange, that beholding God would have such a positive effect upon us. If we can be Biblically honest about anything it is this: God is holy and we are not. How can beholding the God who stands in righteous judgment over our sins inspire anything but terror and dread in us? The answer lies in the free grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is only in the gospel that we see God Himself as our salvation and are not frozen in fear by our guilt, for we come to him through Jesus the Mediator. Jesus was sent by His Father to redeem lost sinners and gather them into His kingdom. His perfect life stands in place of our failures; His death stands in the place of our guilt; his resurrection stands in the place of death’s claims against our soul. All these things are His to give us; and we receive them by faith alone. It is the bringing in of this new and better hope that draws our hearts to God.

If we live without this gospel hope, we will never love God; and if we don’t love God, we will always love the world.

prayerIt is God alone, beheld by us in Christ, who can kick the old king off his throne. Beholding God “in Christ” means we look with gospel eyes and listen with gospel ears. Gospel eyes see God no longer as the offended and wrathful judge, but by faith (which is itself the gift of this very God!) are awestruck by his glorious grace displayed in Jesus Christ. Gospel ears hear not the thundering voice of condemnation, but the sweet offer of reunion, pardon, and acceptance. It is then that a love greater than all prior loves is stirred. It is then that love for the world begins to be expelled from the born again heart.

It is when we taste the sweet liberty from a previous bondage, when we know the delight of being a redeemed child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, when we are adopted as a son or daughter of the King that our hearts are delivered from the tyranny that once held them tight. Where bondage reigns, love withers and grows cold. Within this new and greater love there is a greater and more glorious Master. And our faith in Christ alone, which is the sole means of our salvation from sin, is also the sole means of all moral and spiritual progress.  It is not that our faith itself is mighty, nor is the process effortless on our part, but it is the target of our faith that is the source of all real power to change. Natural hearts are bound to love only the world, born again hearts are free to love their Savior more, and experience the expulsive power of this new affection.

(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)

Part 4: Slay the Beast