J.C. Philpot’s sincere concern of ‘Calvinists’ being ‘one-sided’ in their preaching!
Are those who hold the doctrines of Sovereign Grace guilty of being one-sided in their preaching? I speak with regards to the ‘Preceptive’ part of the Word of God. When was the last time you heard a ‘Calvinist’ (pardon the term) preach a searching message on God’s precepts. Or how many ‘Sovereign Grace’ websites do you know that have even a single sermon or article on the precepts?
They preach a lot on doctrine, often on experience, but life conduct receives the scantiest notice. It is not too much to say that they seem to be afraid of the very word “duty.” They preach soundly and beneficially on the obedience which Christ gave to God on behalf of His people, but they say next to nothing of that obedience which the Lord requires from those He has redeemed.
As an example of what we have just mentioned we quote at some length from a series of “Meditations on the Preceptive part of the Word of God” by J. C. Philpot. Note that these were not the casual and careless utterances of the pulpit, but the deliberate and studied products of his pen. In his first article on the precepts of the Word of God, Mr. Philpot said:
“It is almost become a tradition in some churches professing the doctrines of grace to disregard the precepts and pass them by in a kind of general silence.”
This declaration was sadly true, for the charge preferred characterized the greater part of his own ministry and applied to the preachers in his own denomination. That Mr. Philpot was fully aware of this sad state of affairs is clear from his following quote:
“Consider this point, ye ministers, who Lord’s day after Lord’s day preach nothing but doctrine, doctrine, doctrine; and ask yourselves whether the same Holy Spirit who revealed the first three chapters of the epistle to the Ephesians did not also reveal the last three? Is not the whole epistle equally inspired, a part of that Scripture of which we read, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)? How, then, can you be “a man of God perfect” (that is, complete as a minister) and “thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” if you willfully neglect any part of that Scripture which God has given to be profitable to you, and to others by you?… Can it be right, can it be safe, can it be Scriptural, to treat all this fullness and weight of precept with no more attention than an obsolete Act of Parliament”?
To the same effect, he declared:
“To despise, then, the precept, to call it legal and burdensome, is to despise not man, but God, who hath given unto us His Holy Spirit in the inspired Scriptures for our faith and obedience…. Nothing more detects hypocrites, purges out loose professors, and fans away that chaff and dust which now so thickly covers our barn floors than an experimental handling of the precept. A dry doctrinal ministry disturbs no consciences. The loosest professors may sit under it, nay, be highly delighted with it, for it gives them a hope, if not a dead confidence, that salvation being wholly of grace they shall be saved whatever be their walk of life. But the experimental handling of the precept cuts down all this and exposes their hypocrisy and deception”
Mr. Philpot disposed of the quibble that if there were no precepts, the church would still have the Holy Ghost to guide her by saying, “If God has mercifully and graciously given us rules and directions whereby to walk, let us thankfully accept them, not question and cavil how far we could have done without them.”
Under his third reason for showing the importance of the precepts are some weighty remarks from which we select the following:
“Without a special revelation of the precepts in the word of truth we should not know what was the will of God as regards all spiritual and practical obedience, so, without it as our guide and rule, we should not be able to live to His glory…. Be it, then, observed, and ever borne in mind that, as the glory of God is the end of all our obedience, it must be an obedience according to His own prescribed rule and pattern. In this point lies all the distinction between the obedience of a Christian to the glory of God and the self-imposed obedience of a Pharisee to the glory of self…. Thus we see that if there were no precepts as our guiding rule, we could not live to the glory of God, or yield to Him an acceptable obedience; and for this simple reason, that we should not know how to do so. We might wish to do so; we might attempt to do so; but we should and must fail”.
He further concludes –
“Take one more test from the Lord’s own lips. Read the solemn conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount—that grand code of Christian precepts.”
After quoting Matthew 7:24-27 Mr. Philpot asks:
“What is the Lord’s own test of distinction between the wise man who builds on the rock, and the foolish man who builds on the sand? The rock, of course, is Christ, as the sand is self. But the test, the mark, the evidence, the proof of the two builders and the two buildings is the hearing of Christ’s sayings and doing them, or the hearing of Christ’s sayings and doing them not. We may twist and wriggle under such a text, and try all manner of explanations to parry off its keen, cutting edge; we may fly to arguments and deductions drawn from the doctrine of grace to shelter ourselves from its heavy stroke, and seek to prove that the Lord was there preaching the law and not the gospel, and that as we are saved by Christ’s blood and righteousness, and not by our own obedience or our good works, either before or after calling, all such tests and all such texts are inapplicable to our state as believers. But after all our questionings and cavillings, our nice and subtle arguments, to quiet conscience and patch up a false peace, there the word of the Lord stands.
It is disastrous that such cogent arguments have carried little weight and that the precepts are still sadly neglected by many of the Lord’s servants!
[Paraphrased from A.W. Pink’s – ‘The Doctrine of Man’s Impotence’]