Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Carcasses of Christianity" - Joseph Alleine

This weekend was the Bolton Conference.

For those unfamiliar with this event, it is the annual conference sponsored by the New England Reformed Fellowship (NERF).

Three things draw me to this conference, which begins on Friday afternoon and ends on Saturday afternoon, every year.

First - the lineup of great speakers.  This year was no exception.  Dr. Greg Beale and Dr. Dale Ralph Davis spoke on themes particularly suited to their areas of study with clarity, passion, depth and practical application.  For Dr. Beale this consisted primarily of insights into the book of Revelation and the use of the Old Testament images in this final, and often mysterious, book of the Bible.  Dr. Davis taught on various aspects of reading and applying the Old Testament - both in private reading and in public preaching.

Second - I love the fellowship.  Seeing old friends and connecting again for a brief while is a precious part of this weekend treat. 

Third - I'll admit it - I always look forward to the book table.   

This year I picked up 3 treats which should keep me busy for a few months. 

"The World Conquered by the Faithful Christian" by Joseph Alleine was one of them.

It was shrink-wrapped - and thus I had little notion of what the real nature of the book was going to be like.  I new the name Richard Alleine (1611 - 1691).  He wrote An Alarm to the Unconverted, which is actually available online to read for free.  Having read that some time ago, I was pretty sure I would benefit from whatever this other work had to say.

So far, my suspicions were correct.

I'm only 40 pages into it, but already he is putting his finger in my eye and probing my heart - qualities in a book which are far too rare today.

His focus, thus far, has been on the dangers of worldliness.  It's so subtle.  The "world" (taken in its derogatory sense) works its way into the heart - deadening our faith.

We become, as he puts it so colorfully, "Carcasses of Christianity."

"More like shadows of Christians than like living Christians."

The world poisons our walk with the Lord.  Churches become cold.  Hearts become lukewarm.  "Though the name of religion is among us and upon us, yet the spirit of it seems to be greatly vanished away."

Worldliness is part of Satan's deceptive work in the world and in the church.  Alleine says "If the devil can only persuade men that the present good things are so good that there is nothing better and the present evil things are so evil that there are none greater, he will gain a great advantage."

I would be lying if I said this didn't hit me straight between the eyes.

His final warning in the section I'm reading runs so counter-intuitive to the way we tend to think.  He points out that Satan seems to be well-aware of our weaknesses.  He flatters us and tempts us toward those things that our flesh wants most.  If we want wealth - he loves to give it.  Applause?  He will see we are cheered and loved.  Power?  He will do all he can to hasten our progress to the top. 

With that in mind, Alleine says:

"Never suspect the devil more than when he pretends to do you a courtesy.  Whatever it is by which he usually pleases you, dread that as you would hell.  Mistake neither God's chastisement nor the devil's kindnesses   Be content that God should afflict you and cross you in your hopes and designs and be afraid when the devil pleases you.  Be convinced that Gods' smitings are a precious balm and the devil's soothings are stabs at your heart.  Fear not Satan's thunder and storms as much as his warm sun." 

And thus, once again the Bolton Conference has done me good.  I am thankful to those who give so much of their time and energy to make this conference happen.  It blessed me.  It challenged me.  And I hope, by the grace of God, it is changing me.

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