Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Signs of the Spirit" and Marriage

I've been reading Signs of the Spirit by Sam Storms. I would recommend any book authored by Sam Storms. He is a Christian Hedonist who combines keen insight with everyday language. Signs of the Spirit is Dr. Storms's interpretation of Religious Affections, written by Jonathan Edwards in the 17oo's. Religious Affections is a heavy read. Signs of the Spirit distills the message of Religious Affections and puts it in modern language that anyone can understand. While I've read Religious Affections a couple of times, I am enjoying Signs of the Spirit very much.

The point of the book is twofold. First it seeks to determine "what is the nature of true religion? What constitutes the essence of that life which is pleasing and acceptable to God?" Second, it asks "are there criteria by which we can differentiate between true and false religion, between the holy and the hypocrite, between authentic and spurious piety? How does one determine, if at all, who has been the object of the Spirit's saving work?"

Why is this book important? Because it examines the inward working of the Christian life. When I wrote The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another, I did so from an "Edwardsian" perspective. In a way I applied what Edwards wrote in Religious Affections to the realm of marriage. Man's life flows from the inside out. It's not so much what we do, as why we do what we do. This is true in all aspects of our life. It is true in marriage.

Let me take one quote from the book and show its application. This quote is concerning joy.

"'The first foundation of it is not any consideration or conception of their interest in divine things; but it primarily consists in the sweet entertainment their minds have in the view or contemplation of the divine and holy beauty of these things, as they are in themselves.' This is, in fact, what differentiates between the joy of the hypocrite and the joy of the true child of God. The former 'rejoices in himself. Self is the first foundation of his joy. The latter rejoices in God. The hypocrite has his mind pleased and delighted, in the first place, with his own privilege and the happiness which he supposes he has attained or shall attain. True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures. 'Tis the joy of their joy. This sweet and ravishing entertainment they have in the view of the beautiful and delightful nature of divine things is the foundation of the joy that they have afterwards, in the consideration of [those divine things] being theirs. But the dependence of the affections of hypocrites is in a contrary order: they first rejoice, and are elevated with it, that they are made so much of by God; and then on that ground, he seems in a sort, lovely to them.'"

In the above quote, Edwards (and Storms) are trying to show the sometimes subtle difference in the heart between those who love God and those who just look like they do. Few people go to this extent in trying to help others examine their hearts. The first point made in the quote is that true believers begin with an unquenchable thirst for the beauty and glory of God. They aren't concerned in what the beauty and glory of God can do for them. They find God beautiful because they see God's beauty. It's similar to people seeing the beauty of Niagra Falls without expecting anything from Niagra Falls. People just like to gaze on its majesty.

In other words, true believers are worshipers, not mercenaries. They are drawn to God because there is something inherently lovely in God. Their eyes have been opened to the perfections of God, and they can't help but be enthralled. Yes, part of God's beauty is the gracious love that he freely bestows on humble sinners. And that definitely benefits the true believer. But the true believer sees the beauty of God, even without any blessings coming from him. A true believer cherishes the glory of God, even while spurning it at times. If it turns out that God sends such a person to hell for his sin, he would still find God beautiful. Of course, no one who truly finds God beautiful in this way will be sent to hell, because Christ purchased the very ability to see God's beauty.

I have often prayed to God in a time of mourning over my sin something like this: "Lord, I deserve hell. I have nothing lovely to offer you. You alone are the most precious Reality in the universe. And I don't measure up. I crucify Christ all over again. And if in the end, my sin proves to be my undoing, and my faith proves to be false, I have nothing to challenge you with. Your person and purposes are above reproach and altogether lovely. Any defect that would damn my soul is in the weakness of my love, not in the deficiency of your provision. You are beautiful, and I do want to spend eternity with you. I pray that Christ will be enough."

The second point of the above quote is that a hypocrite, or false professor of faith, has this worship just backwards. The hypocrite hears the gospel, and of God's provision, and says, "Hey that's pretty cool. God's going to give me eternal life and all kinds of mansions, and health, and pleasures, and happiness, and peace, and I don't have to do anything but believe in Christ? Okay, I'll let him bless me then." Believe it or not, I know of such people. Too many to be comfortable with. In fact, they're sitting in just about every church in America.

They were also sitting in church in the days of Jonathan Edwards. That's why he wrote his book. Sam Storms realizes the similar condition we are in today. I think that's why he re-worked the book for modern readers.

In counseling and in hearing the reports of others' counseling sessions, I have a feeling there are those couples out there who have turned to God as a last resort to fix their marriage. They may have even done so because a preacher promised that, "Everything goes better with God." So they turn to God, not as a true believer - seeing and loving God's multitude of perfection - but as a false professor, or hypocrite. They see God as a means to a happier marriage.

It should be the opposite. A couple should see the beauty of God in itself through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It should enrapture them and enthrall them, and draw them irresistibly to God. As a result of the overflowing joy they have in God, their marriage will probably be happier, because they are happier. Their marriage will be more peaceful, because they are more peaceful. Their marriage will be more fulfilling because their fulfillment is coming from God. Signs of the Spirit is important to any couple seeking to use marriage as one more means to bring God glory, rather than using God as the sure-fire means to make marriage better.

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