Monday, December 28, 2009

Prodigious Sottishness

pro⋅di⋅giousadj. [pruh-dij-uhs]
1. extraordinary in size, amount, extent, degree, force, etc.
2. wonderful or marvelous.
3. abnormal; monstrous.
4. Obs. ominous.
[1]

sot⋅tish⋅ness, noun [sot-ish-ness]
1. stupefied with or as if with drink; drunken.
2. given to excessive drinking.
3. pertaining to or befitting a sot.
[2]


Part 4: Preparations for Sufferings


God will "admonish the world, and especially his own people, of great trials and sufferings before-hand." So begins John Flavel* in chapter 3 of his 1600s work Preparations for Sufferings,[3] encouraging the reader with Amos 3:7: "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." Flavel reminds us that God warned Abraham and Lot before he destroyed Sodom, he warned the prophets before the captivity of the Jewish people, and Christ warned Jerusalem about its pending fall.

Upon occasion, Flavel notes, God has sometimes used signs, such as "dreadful eclipses of the heavenly bodies, portentous comets, earthquakes, and other signs of judgment" before calamity. But even without "such extraordinary warnings, yet we have the most apparent and certain signs of approaching calamities; after which, if they surprize us, the fault must lie in our own inexcusable negligence;...."

God warns us from Scripture. Flavel asserts that we have a "standing rule" with which to "govern ourselves in this matter" --

'When the same sins are found in one nation, which have brought down the wrath of God upon another nation, it is an evident sign of judgment at the door; for God is unchangeable, just, and holy, and will not favour that in one people which He hath punished in another, nor bless that in one age which He hath cursed in another.'

Upon this very ground it was that the apostle warned Corinthians, by the example of the Israelites, whose sins had ruined them in the wilderness, 1 Cor. 10:6: "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted." ...Follow not the same course, lest you meet in the same curse; if you tread the same path, expect the same judgment. God is as righteous now as He was then: He hates, and will punish sin in you as much as He did in them."


There are seven sins, i.e., "provocations," which Flavel lists from Scripture that "hastened the wrath of God upon His own Israel, a people that were nigh and near unto Him":

  • Corrupted Worship: The great corruption of God's worship among them... Psalm 106:39-42[4].... [N]othing more provokes the anger of God than the adulterating of His worship; a man will bear a thousand infirmities in the wife of his bosom, but unfaithfulness in the marriage-covenant breaks his heart. After the manner of men, so abused and grieved, the Lord expresseth Himself, Ezekiel 6:9: 'I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols:'"[5] To apply this to today, consider the idolatrous corruption of worship happening before our very eyes in the Emerging Church Movement.

  • "Incorrigible obstinacy and impenitency,[6] under gentler strokes and lesser judgments, make way for utter ruin and desolation," says Flavel, citing Amos 4:6-12.[7] "Scarcity, mildews, pestilence, and sword, had been tried upon them, but without effect; for the remnant that escaped those judgments... were not reformed by those gentler and moderated judgments." Today we are witnessing these "moderated" judgments descending with increasing rapidity -- unemployment and economic instability, strange new diseases in the plant and animal kingdom, the droughts and floods of unusual weather patterns, etc.

  • "Stupidity and senselessness of God's hand, and the tokens of His anger... they neither saw the hand of God when it was lifted up, nor humbled themselves under it when it was laid on.... When the clouds of judgment gather over our heads, and grow blacker and blacker, as theirs did upon them... they took no notice of it...." Here Flavel quotes from Isaiah 26:11, "LORD, when Thy hand is lifted up, they will not see," calling this "the height of stupidity," citing Isaiah 42:24-25[8] by remarking:

O prodigious sottishness! It was not some small drops of God's anger, but the fury of His anger; not some lighter skirmish of His judgments with them, but the strength of battle: It was not some particular stroke upon single persons or families, but it set him on fire round about, a general conflagration; yet all this would not awaken them.

  • "[P]ersecution of God's faithful ministers and people," Flavel observes as yet another sign from Scripture. This obviously has ominous ramifications for those who dare to exercise discernment in our own era. He cites 2 Chronicles 15:16: "And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy." For those "upright souls among them, who desired to worship God... a snare was laid for them in Mizpah, and a net spread for them upon Tabor, Hosea 5:1,[9] and this hastened judgment towards them." Flavel explains this verse:

Mizpah and Tabor were places lying in the way betwixt Samaria and Jerusalem, where the true worship of God was: and in those places spies were set by the priests to observe and inform against them; so that it became very hazardous to attend the pure and incorrupt worship of God....

  • The righteous perish: Regarding a rather strange phenomena mentioned by the prophet Isaiah (57:1), Flavel notes, "The removal of godly and useful men by death, in more than ordinary haste, was to them a sign of desolation at hand...: "The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come." In our day, with such a rapid apostasy emerging, there seems to be a hastening spiritual death as well, like unripe clusters of fruit falling prematurely from a vine. This great falling away seems to fit the scriptural metaphor from Micah cited by Flavel:

In this case God acts toward His people, as the husbandman in a catching harvest doth by his corn; He hurries it with a shuffling haste into the barn when He sees a storm coming.... Micah bewails himself (7:1) "Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grapegleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the firstripe fruit." ...The pleasant clusters, i.e. the societies of the saints are gathered away by the hand of death; there are but few that remain, here and there a single saint, like grapes after the vintage is done, two or three upon the utmost branches.

  • Spiritual deadness. Amazingly, this apostasy further degrades into a "general decay of the life and power of godliness among them that were left," i.e., the remnant! According to Flavel this is "both a provoking sin, and a fore-running sign of national calamity" (Hosea 4:18),[10] "Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually." Spiritual deadness, says Flavel, is "like sour or dead drink, which hath lost its spirit and relish, and is become flat." The analogy is stale beer or wine that has turned into vinegar. In other words, these vessels have lost the good leaven (fermentation) of the Gospel described by Christ in Matthew 13:33.[11] Flavel describes these folks as having

no spiritual life, affection, or savour in them: they heard as if they heard not, and prayed as if they prayed not; the ordinances of God were to them as the ordinances of men....

  • "Mutual animosities, jars,[12] and divisions.... Ephraim envied Judah and Judah vexed Ephraim, Isaiah 11:13."[13] Just at a point when the remnant should be pulling together, they fall apart. In fact, they turn on each other! Perhaps this is what is meant by the warning in Galatians 5:15: "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." Flavel warns that these divisions are accompanied by the degradation of their leaders into foolishness and madness, citing Hosea 9:7: "The days of visitation are come, the days of recompence are come; Israel shall know it: the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred."

In summary, Flavel states that when "such symptoms of God's indignation do appear upon any people, the Lord, by them, as by so many glaring meteors and blazing comets, forewarns the world that His judgments are near, even at the door. These signs all men ought to observe, and behold with trembling."


Checking Our Brains at the Door, a.k.a. "Prodigious Sottishness"

Lest we should think that Flavel's words of warning to the church in the 1600s do not describe our modern evangelical church era, and arrogantly presume that we are exempt from any of these biblical signs befalling us, the following excerpt was recently posted at Berit Kjos's website. It is from an article describing the church's inadequate response to Emergent Church leader Phyllis Tickle's great apostasy, which she calls The Great Emergence. Read the following excerpt and see if it isn't saying the exact same thing that Flavel wrote 400 years ago. Does this describe your faith?

How are we handling the philosophical and cultural challenges of our time? Too often, instead of stepping up to the plate, we either conform to the world’s standards or we ignore the question and continue to "play church." Generally speaking, North American churches dropped the ball decades ago.

Think about it. Rather than studying to "show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," we now have shiny object syndrome. Selling a new church-growth strategy? Don’t question; just buy. Parroting a hot-button social issue? Don’t think; just react. From market-driven to "special-interest" driven, we crave to have someone else tell us how to think. It's like we've checked our brains at the door.

So, instead of grounding ourselves in God’s word (authority), we flounder with pathetic excuses for our "ignorance." Instead of digging and getting dirty, actually wrestling with these issues in a tangible fashion, we push them aside in the vain hope they’ll go away. Therefore, when individuals – Christians and otherwise – ask hard questions in light of evolution, psychology, other religions, social concerns, and even Scripture, we met their questions with blank stares, ignorant one-liners, and at times unmitigated arrogance.

We are a lazy bunch; all of us, pastors and laypeople. We don’t study God’s word; we just don’t study! Sadly, Christians in North America are seldom different from anybody else on the street – we are Biblically illiterate, historically ignorant, culturally naïve, politically blind, economically foolish, and sorely lacking in discernment. So when the historic winds-of-change broadside us, we find ourselves stupefied.

Although we have a firm foundation in God’s word, we have so long ignored it in its entirety that we no longer recognize its authority; actually, we’re embarrassed by the idea of authoritative truth. So with deep shame in our inability to be "culturally relevant," we place blame upon the intolerant and divisive nature of the Bible. Instead of engaging culture by standing firm on Scripture, tactfully employing the facts and fallacies of history, and actually befriending people and meeting real needs, we rush towards Biblical revisionism and social appeasement. Then we package this in Christianese language and announce; "God is doing a new thing!"
[14]

The Truth:

"The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed." (Matthew 16:1-4)


Endnotes:
1. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/prodigious
2. Sottishness is adapted from the entry at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sottishness
3. Works of John Flavel (6 vol set), Banner of Truth Trust (1820, 1968), ISBN 0-85151-060-4. Flavel's dissertation titled "Preparations for Suffering, or The Best Work in the Worst Times" appears in Volume 6, pages 3-83. Italics in original (except for Bible verses) but bold added.
4. Psalm 106: 39-42 reads: "Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions. Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against His people, insomuch that He abhorred His own inheritance. And He gave them into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them. Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand."
5. The entire verse, plus verse 10, reads: "And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations. And they shall know that I am the LORD, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them."
6. Incorrigible, "bad beyond correction or reform," see: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Incorrigible; obstinacy, "stubbornness," see: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Obstinacy; impenitency, "not feeling regret about one's sin or sins; obdurate," see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Impenitency.
7. Amos 4: 6-12 reads: "And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel."
8. Isaiah 42:24-25 reads: "Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the LORD, He against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in His ways, neither were they obedient unto His law. Therefore He hath poured upon him the fury of His anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart."
9. Note that in these verses judgment is directed to religious leaders. Hosea 5:1-2 states: "Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment is toward you, because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor. And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all."
10. The full verse reads: "Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her rulers with shame do love, Give ye."
11. A yeast or lacto-fermentation process can quickly go sour and turn into a vinegar. The one Scriptural reference to good leaven, compared to the spreading of the Gospel of salvation, is found in Matthew 10:33 which states: "Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
12. The word jars may be defined as ""a quarrel or disagreement, esp. a minor one" or "discord." See various definitions at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/jars
13. Isaiah 11:13 says that one day this quarreling will cease: "The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim."
14. "Checking Our Brains at the Door: Spiritual Appeasement in the Age of Emergence," by Carl Teichrib, Forcing Change, Volume 3, Issue 11, November, 2009, posted here: http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/forcing-change/09/12-appeasement.htm


*ED. NOTE: We have taken minor liberties to reformat some of the published text by altering some of the punctuation, Roman numerals, and other obsolete forms.