Are we really to condemn the preaching of our Reformed fathers?

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Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. - 1Corinthians 10:10, 11

Who needs warnings against the ancient Church Fathers' allegorical interpretation of Scripture when you have the Procrustean bed of this sort of Redemptive-Historical hermeneutic declared normative by some of the most respected Reformed men of our time? Pastor Tim Keller, for instance, writes...

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us?

(We must not preach the story this way) ...the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.”

(We must preach the story this way) The story is telling us that the Israelites can not go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. ...David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves. - Tim Keller, "Moralism vs. Christ-Centered Exposition"

If this is what such men do with David and Goliath, imagine how simple Christian brothers would be left scratching their heads after these men gave a Redemptive-Historical sermon on Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt. And how are they going to clean up the Hebrews command, "Remember Lot's wife?" In the end, their "Redemptive-Historical" rule doesn't seem particularly Redemptive, does it?

Pastor Keller sums up his rabbit-out-of-the-podium approach: "the Christocentric reading provides a fundamentally different application and meaning to the text."

Fundamentally different meaning to the text?

You bet.

When I recall all the warnings against sensus plenior Pastor Keller and I received from our Gordon-Conwell profs—Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart, for instance—I wonder if perhaps Pastor Keller was asleep? If David and Goliath really may only be preached accurately when the point of the story is  the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, what on earth would an inaccurate or distorted fuller sense be? Too, what are we to do with Elijah slaying the prophets of Baal?

The mind boggles.

Hawkers of this sort of scholasticism would be hard put to find our Reformed church fathers demanding their fellow preachers place Scripture in this straitjacket. Looking back, we find their sermons bear little resemblance to the sort of monotone Pastor Keller and his friends demand in the preaching of David and Goliath. In fact, it's comical to try to imagine any of them denouncing preachers who call their congregations to courage and faith out of the story of David and Goliath.

Yes, of course our Lord is the center of all Scripture. In the beginning was the Word. The question isn't whether it's right to preach Christ from the account of David and Goliath. The question is whether those who preach faith in the face of seemingly-insurmountable opposition should be condemned for doing so.

These Redemptive-Historical men have no qualms declaring such preaching to be contrary to the true meaning of Scripture. Read on and we see that, in this, they end up condemning all prior generations of faithful fathers in our Most Holy Faith. For myself, I hope and pray my preaching becomes more and more like the preaching of these dead fathers.

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Here's our Reformed father Matthew Henry doing with the text precisely what Pastor Keller declares must not be done—telling the faithful they are to "go forth to battle with the faith of David."

A shepherd lad, come the same morning from keeping sheep, had more courage than all the mighty men of Israel. Thus God often sends good words to his Israel, and does great things for them, by the weak and foolish things of the world. As he had answered his brother's passion with meekness, so David answered Saul's fear with faith. When David kept sheep, he proved himself very careful and tender of his flock. This reminds us of Christ, the good Shepherd, who not only ventured, but laid down his life for the sheep. Our experience ought to encourage us to trust in God, and be bold in the way of duty. He that has delivered, does and will continue to do so. David gained leave to fight the Philistine. Not being used to such armour as Saul put upon him, he was not satisfied to go in that manner; this was from the Lord, that it might more plainly appear he fought and conquered in faith, and that the victory was from Him who works by the feeblest and most despised means and instruments. It is not to be inquired how excellent any thing is, but how proper. Let Saul's coat be ever so rich, and his armour ever so strong, what is David the better if they fit him not? But faith, prayer, truth, and righteousness; the whole armour of God, and the mind that was in Christ; are equally needful for all the servants of the Lord, whatever may be their work.

The security and presumption of fools destroy them. Nothing can excel the humility, faith, and piety which appear in David's words. He expressed his assured expectation of success; he gloried in his mean appearance and arms, that the victory might be ascribed to the Lord alone.

See how frail and uncertain life is, even when a man thinks himself best fortified; how quickly, how easily, and by how small a matter, the passage may be opened for life to go out, and death to enter! Let not the strong man glory in his strength, nor the armed man in his armour. God resists the proud, and pours contempt on those who defy him and his people. No one ever hardened his heart against God and prospered. The history is recorded, that all may exert themselves for the honour of God, and the support of his cause, with bold and unshaken reliance on him. There is one conflict in which all the followers of the Lamb are, and must be engaged; one enemy, more formidable than Goliath, still challenges the armies of Israel. But “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Go forth to battle with the faith of David, and the powers of darkness shall not stand against you. But how often is the Christian foiled through an evil heart of unbelief!

Henry again:

Observe, 1. We never read of giants among the Israelites as we do of the giants among the Philistines-giants of Gath, but not giants of Jerusalem. The growth of God's plants is in usefulness, not in bulk. Those who covet to have cubits added to their stature do not consider that it will but make then more unwieldy. In the balance of the sanctuary David far outweighs Goliath. 2. The servants of David, though men of ordinary stature, were too hard for the giants of Gath in every encounter, because they had God on their side, who takes pleasure in abasing lofty looks, and mortifying the giants that are in the earth, as he did of old by the deluge, though they were men of renown. Never let the church's friends be disheartened by the power and pride of the church's enemies. We need not fear great men against us while we have the great God for us. What will a finger more on each hand do, or a toe more on each foot, in contest with Omnipotence? 3. These giants defied Israel (v. 7) and were thus made to pay for their insolence. None are more visibly marked for ruin that those who reproach God and his Israel. God will do great things rather than suffer the enemy to behave themselves proudly, Deut. xxxii. 27. The victories of the Son of David, like those of David himself, are gradual. We see not yet all things put under him; but it will be seen shortly: and death itself, the last enemy, like these giants, will be triumphed over.

Henry again:

There was not a sword to be found about the tabernacle but the sword of Goliath, which was laid up behind the ephod, as a monument of the glorious victory David obtained over him. Probably David had an eye to that when he asked the priest to help him with a sword; for, that being mentioned, O! says he, there is none like that, give it to me, v. 9. He could not use Saul's armour, for he had not proved it; but this sword of Goliath he had made trial of and done execution with. By this it appears that he was now well grown in strength and stature, that he could wear and wield such a sword as that. God had taught his hands to war, so that he could do wonders, Ps. xviii. 34. Two things we may observe concerning this sword:—[1.] That God had graciously given it to him, as a pledge of his singular favour; so that whenever he drew it, nay, whenever he looked upon it, it would be a great support to his faith, by bringing to mind that great instance of the particular care and countenance of the divine providence respecting him. [2.] That he had gratefully given it back to God, dedicating it to him and to his honour as a token of his thankfulness; and now in his distress it stood him greatly in stead. Note, What we devote to God's praise, and serve him with, is most likely to redound, one way or other, to our own comfort and benefit. What we gave we have.

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Spurgeon does the same:

Seeing that we have such a God to trust to, let us rest upon him with all our weight; let us resolutely drive out all unbelief, and endeavour to get rid of doubts and fears, which so much mar our comfort; since there is no excuse for fear where God is the foundation of our trust. A loving parent would be sorely grieved if his child could not trust him; and how ungenerous, how unkind is our conduct when we put so little confidence in our heavenly Father who has never failed us, and who never will. It were well if doubting were banished from the household of God; but it is to be feared that old Unbelief is as nimble nowadays as when the psalmist asked, “Is his mercy clean gone forever? Will he be favourable no more?” David had not made any very lengthy trial of the mighty sword of the giant Goliath, and yet he said, “There is none like it.” He had tried it once in the hour of his youthful victory, and it had proved itself to be of the right metal, and therefore he praised it ever afterwards; even so should we speak well of our God, there is none like unto him in the heaven above or the earth beneath; “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.” There is no rock like unto the rock of Jacob, our enemies themselves being judges. So far from suffering doubts to live in our hearts, we will take the whole detestable crew, as Elijah did the prophets of Baal, and slay them over the brook; and for a stream to kill them at, we will select the sacred torrent which wells forth from our Saviour’s wounded side. We have been in many trials, but we have never yet been cast where we could not find in our God all that we needed. Let us then be encouraged to trust in the Lord forever, assured that his ever lasting strength will be, as it has been, our succour and stay.

Need we continue? Sermon after sermon, commentary after commentary could be added to this list demonstrating that the Redemptive-Historical men's condemnation of preaching that calls simple Christians to "go into battles with faith in the Lord" is the bread and butter of faithful exposition across all ages of the Church. What's new and novel is men who denounce such preachers.

Give us more Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther, Lloyd-Jones, and Henry. Please.

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It's Lovely Rice Pudding for Dinner Again!

by A. A. Milne

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She's crying with all her might and main,
And she won't eat her dinner - rice pudding again -
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I've promised her dolls and a daisy-chain,
And a book about animals - all in vain -
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She's perfectly well, and she hasn't a pain;
But, look at her, now she's beginning again! -
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I've promised her sweets and a ride in the train,
And I've begged her to stop for a bit and explain -
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She's perfectly well and she hasn't a pain,
And it's lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!