Repentance Begins in the Church—Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899)

prayer2Evangelist, church planter, and founder of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Dwight L. Moody had a passion to proclaim the gospel to the masses. Often preaching in the slums, Moody stressed faithfully the need for repentance and the hope of salvation in Christ Jesus. Ever looking forward to the Second Advent, his life’s desire was to see revival—revival that, he believed, had to begin in the Church of God.

I firmly believe that the Church of God will have to confess her own sins, before there can be any great work of grace. There must be a deeper work among God’s believing people. I sometimes think it is about time to give up preaching to the ungodly, and preach to those who confess to be Christians. If we had a higher standard of life in the Church of God, there would be thousands more flocking into the Kingdom. So it was in the past; when God’s believing children turned away from their sins and their idols, the fear of God fell upon the people round about. Take up the history of Israel, and you will find that when they put away their strange gods, God visited the nation, and there came a mighty work of grace . . . The judgment of God must begin with us.1

If . . . confession of sin is deep among believers, it will be so among the ungodly also. I never knew it to fail. I am now anxious that God should revive His work in the hearts of His children, so that we may see the exceeding sinfulness of sin.2


1 Dwight L. Moody, Prevailing Prayer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 28.
2 Ibid., 32.

Thomas Vincent: “Make Provision for the Children”

The Westminster Divines wrote the Shorter Catechism beginning with the famous question, “What is the chief end of man?” But it was Thomas Vincent (1634-1678), pastor of London’s St. Mary Magdalen, Milk Street, who helped make it popular. Vincent added his own explanatory notes and then encouraged its use in his church. He asserted that fathers have a unique responsibility to give their children a theological education: “It is not sufficient for you to bring your children and servants to receive public instruction; but it is your duty also to instruct them privately, and at home to examine them in their catechisms.”1 The authors of the Shorter Catechism were so pleased with Vincent’s work that they added their own imprimatur and encouraged its use by believers throughout England: “[W]e judge it may be greatly useful to all Christians in general, especially to private families.”2

Father copyVincent wanted more than to be family-friendly—much was at stake. He ministered in an age hostile to the evangelical faith. In 1662 the authorities ejected him from his pastorate, probably for his refusal to submit to the restrictive measures of the infamous Clarendon Code that required strict observance of all the rites of the Church of England. For the Church to persevere in truth and purity in the face of such persecution, the next generation must know the Bible. Vincent placed this responsibility squarely on the fathers’ shoulders.

Neither Vincent’s practice nor his circumstances were novel. When the early Church suffered persecution, her leaders turned to the method of catechizing, literally, teaching “according to sound” [by ear, not by reading assignments]. Well-instructed believers would be least likely to renounce the faith under fire.3 However, the act of catechizing children did not flourish until the Reformation. John Calvin argued in 1548 that the good of the Church depends, in part, upon the catechizing of children:

[T]he church of God will never preserve itself without a Catechism, for it is like the seed to keep the good grain from dying out, and causing it to multiply from age to age. And therefore, if you desire to build an edifice which shall be of long duration, and which shall not soon fall into decay, make provision for the children.4

In seventeenth-century England, many Puritan pastors may have wondered if the edifice of the Church was falling into decay as evangelicals were forced out of their ministries or, worse, put to death for their zeal. Nonetheless, in the face of such opposition, they urged and equipped parents to catechize their children.5 Well into the nineteenth century, churches and parents considered catechisms a crucial component of their children’s theological education. Times have changed.

In the modern Church (and the modern family), catechisms are considered the ancient tools of a bygone era. Regardless of this current trend, fathers and mothers ought to reclaim the precedent set by their spiritual parents and take the responsibility that is rightfully theirs. This is for the good of the children’s own souls and, ultimately, the purity of the Church.


1 Thomas Vincent, “To the Masters and Governors of Families Belonging to My Congregation,” in The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly Explained and Proved from Scripture (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1980), vii-viii. The Westminster Shorter Catechism was not the first catechism to be published in England, nor was Vincent the first pastor to encourage parents to take responsibility for the spiritual well-being of their children. The Cambridge educated, Baptist pastor, Henry Jessey, for example, wrote a catechism especially fit for little children in 1652. It included, in addition to a section of questions and answers, memorable theological tidbits such as, “The Law was given to show our sin. And wrath that’s due thereby. That we to Christ for righteousness, and life, might always flee.” See Henry Jessey, A Catechism for Babes, or Little Ones, in Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 234. Jessey also, nicely, summarized the Ten Commandments: “With all thy heart love God above/Thy neighbor as thyself so love.” Like Vincent after him, Jessey recognized the responsibility of parents to oversee the scriptural knowledge and spiritual welfare of their children.

2 John Owen, et al, “An Epistle to the Reader,” The Shorter Catechism, v.

3 See Tom Nettles, Teaching Truths, Training Hearts (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1998), 16. For more information on catechism in early Christianity see Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, s.v. “Catechesis, Catechumenate.”

4 John Calvin, “Letter to the Protector Somerset, Geneva, October 22, 1548,” Selected Works of John Calvin, vol. 5, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 191.

5 The Puritan Hugh Peters urged parents to use catechisms in 1630, “if ever your poor infants be driven to wildernesses, to hollow caves, to faggot and fire, or to sorrows of any kind, they will thank God and you, they were well catechized.” See George, Baptist Confessions, 16.


When Marriage Brings Judgment

1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said,” My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:1-3 (ESV)

GayMarriageMonogamy and marital stability are in crisis, and the gay lobby is capitalizing on this situation as it argues for “gay marriage.” They say that a change in law will encourage homosexuals to move from a lifestyle of dangerous promiscuity into the safety and decency of a covenanted relationship. But as the Bible shows, while the prospect of monogamous-marital devotion is extremely important, it is not enough to make a marriage valid.

From the wonders of Creation and Eden, through the Fall, to the Flood, Genesis traces humanity’s downward spiral, culminating in God’s judgment of drowning on everyone except Noah’s family. One offence, noted in Genesis 6:1-3, has prompted a range of interpretations. It is not entirely clear who the “sons of God” might be, but they had no business marrying the “daughters of man.” Some say these “sons of God” were angels. Others claim they were the offspring of Seth, who married the children of Cain. The crucial question for marriage is not what they were, but what they were not, namely acceptable spouses for the “daughters of man.”

The text offers no suggestion that the marriages were short-lived, contentious, or superficial. It is quite reasonable to suppose that at least some of these unions were lasting and peaceful, but that was not the point. They should never have been solemnized in the first place.

If the “sons of God” were angels, then the marriages were contrary to the order of Creation. Such unions would have been unnatural, as would homosexual marriages (cf. Romans 1:26-27). If “the sons of God” were Sethites, who chose their brides from the “pagan pool” of Cain’s progeny, then their matrimony would have been unholy. Either way, the Lord was disgusted with these unions, no matter how devoted the partners were to each other. He shortened their lives and began to withdraw His favor (v. 3).

Genesis 6:5 presents the grounds for God’s sending a worldwide destructive flood—that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It is a very general statement of rampant evil, and it is quite significant that the only specific evil named in the beginning verses of this chapter concerned marriage. God could have mentioned robbery, murder, adultery, or any number of other grave offenses, and He did speak of corruption and violence in subsequent verses (vv.11-13), but He chose illicit wedlock as His lead example.

In other words, marriage is defiled not only by unfaithfulness; it can be impure per se, wrong from the very moment of its inception. No matter what promises certain couples might make to each other, or where they might make them, the relationships are, in and of themselves, profane and cannot be sanctified. Despite many claims to the contrary, there is clearly more to sexual ethics than the imperative to covenanted faithfulness in relationships.

The perceived benefits of widening the definition of marriage are far outweighed by the damage that would be caused by granting legitimacy to deviant behaviors. Marriage is a wonderful means of God’s blessing for whole societies, but the story of the Flood stands as a warning that, when perverted, it can also be the source of terrible curses. Such would be the case with homosexual “marriage” which is both unnatural and unholy.

Repentance, the First Key to the Kingdom—Reinhold Niebuhr


First as a pastor in Detroit and then as a seminary professor in New York, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was an influential voice for Christian ethics in the twentieth century. The cross of Christ was a particularly important theme in his thought.1 In this passage from “The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” Niebuhr explains that brokenness and repentance at the foot of the cross are essential, that arrogance is deadly, while humility and godly sorrow are life-giving. This is true for civilizations as well as for individuals.

The question is, what shall the Christian Church say to this modern culture, which began its adventure in autonomy with such gay self-assurance, which is already so deeply involved in “riotous living” and which faces so certain a doom of a mighty famine?

We must, of course, preach the gospel to this, as to every generation. Our gospel is one which assures salvation in the Cross of Christ to those who heartily repent of their sins. It is a gospel of the Cross; and the Cross is a revelation of a love of God only to those who have first stood under it as a judgment. It is in the Cross that the exceeding sinfulness of human sin is revealed. It is in the Cross that we become conscious how, not only what is worst, but what is best in human culture and civilization is involved in man’s rebellion against God. It was Roman law, the pride of all pagan civilization, and Hebraic religion, the acme of religious devotion, which crucified the Lord. Thus does the Cross reveal the problem of all human culture and the dilemma of every human civilization.

Repentance is the first key into the door of the Kingdom of God. God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. Whenever men trust their own righteousness, their own achievements, whenever they interpret the meaning of life in terms of the truth in their own culture or find in their own capacities a sufficient steppingstone to the Holy and the Divine, they rest their life upon a frail reed which inevitably breaks and leaves their life meaningless.

Perhaps that is why the truest interpretations of the Christian faith have come in moments of history when civilizations were crumbling and the processes of history and the judgments of God had humbled human arrogance. The faith of the Hebrew prophets was thus formulated when the culture religion of Israel was threatened and finally overcome by the mighty civilizations of Assyria and Babylon. Augustine wrote the City of God when Roman civilization, once mighty enough to seem identical with civilization itself, had become the helpless victim of barbarians; the renewal of the Christian gospel in the Protestant Reformation was, historically speaking, the consequence as well as the cause of the crumbling of a once proud medieval civilization. Proud men and successful civilizations find it difficult to know God, because they are particularly tempted to make themselves God. That is why “not many mighty, not many noble, not many wise after the flesh are called.” Without the godly sorrow that worketh repentance there can be no salvation.2


1 Mark Noll, “Reinhold Niebuhr,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 842.

2 Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” in Christianity and Power Politics (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1940), 210-212.

Without Compromise, Saint Francis Preaches to the Sultan

In 1219, in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, Saint Francis of Assisi crossed unarmed into the enemy camp in order to preach the gospel to Sultan al-Kamil, the Muslim ruler of Egypt and Saladin’s nephew. In his hagiographic account of this incident, Bonaventure relates the following:

St. FrancisWhen [Francis and his companion] proceeded farther, the Saracen sentries fell upon them like wolves swiftly overtaking sheep, savagely seized the servants of God and cruelly and contemptuously dragged them away, insulting them, beating them and putting them in chains…When that ruler inquired by whom, why and how they had been sent and how they got there, Francis, Christ’s servant, answered with an intrepid heart that he had been sent not by man but by the Most High God in order to point out to him and his people the way of salvation and to announce the Gospel of truth.1

Francis was neither naïve nor mad. He knew very well what he was getting into. Contrary to the excessively tender image of him propounded by Hollywood and supported by popular piety, he was a knight of Christ and a seasoned soldier with crusade combat experience before his conversion. This feature is often overlooked in attempts to portray him as a syrupy environmentalist.

On this, his third attempt at converting the Muslims,2 he once again knew that his life was at stake, and he was prepared to sacrifice it. According to Bonaventure and earlier biographers, the sultan was so overwhelmed by Francis’s courage that he invited him to stay longer. Francis said he was not interested in the sultan’s favors, but only in his conversion. The saint even offered to undergo ordeal by fire, similar to the one Elijah went through in 1 Kings 18:17-40, in order to convince the sultan of the truth of Christianity.

While approving of the saint’s determination, the sultan replied that his acceptance of Christianity would cause a military uprising and was, therefore, a political impossibility. He repeatedly offered Francis gifts and alms for the poor, but the saint refused to accept them and returned to Italy.

This story is an eloquent testimony to the inspired boldness of the Christian saints. It also provides a stirring example of integrity in the face of an offered bribe, this time in the form of compromising hospitality. Furthermore, the incident is a prophetic condemnation of the use of violence to advance the cause of a religion—whether through crusades or terrorism. In the midst of a bloody warfare and in the time when forced conversions were a sad reality, St. Francis manifested the power of Christ, which “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).



1 Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis, 9.8, in Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God, The Tree of God, The Life of St. Francis, trans. Ewert Cousins (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1978), 269.
2 Ibid., 9.7.

Steady, Gradual Growth—Vance Havner (1901-1986)

Vance Havner was a beloved and influential American preacher, known particularly for his pithy, insightful quotes. Of him, Billy Graham once said, “I do not know of any man in my generation who has stirred revival fires in the hearts of so many people throughout the nation as has Vance Havner . . .”1

The following quote, taken from a collection designed for daily devotion, brings Havner’s sharp mind to bear on the problem of spasmodic discipleship. And though he was known as a revival preacher, whose meetings were marked by dramatic spiritual encounters with the Lord, it was his conviction that sanctification comes typically in orderly fashion.

We do not grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ by leaps and bounds but some try. They bounce from one mountain peak of Christian experience to another. Every year or so they make a new start, turn a new leaf, have a new thrill. Children do not grow by suddenly gaining a few inches or adding a few pounds now and then. They grow gradually, daily, by food, rest, and exercise. Christian growth comes the same way by feeding on the Word, resting in the Lord, and exercising unto godliness. It has been said that nothing is more detrimental to Christian experience than too many Christian “experiences.”2


1 See Vance Havner Website, (accessed March 31, 2010).
2 Vance Havner, The Vance Havner Devotional Treasury: Daily Meditations for a Year (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 49.