Friday, January 20, 2012


(Because of the wretched state of Red Deer’s pulpit space, it is now, as predicted by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3, the time to ‘pluck up that which is planted…a time to break down…a time to weep…a time to cast away stones’ and even ‘a time to refrain from embracing.’ And it is certainly more ‘a time to speak’ than ‘a time to keep silence.’ Be that as it may, the wrecking ball of negative criticism should be followed by the laying down of truth. To this end, we introduce the sermon sketch as an intermittent blog feature. As the term ‘sketch’ implies, this kind of post, in distinction from the usually lengthy analysis, will be pithy. The source for each sketch will be indicated at the bottom of each post.)

Mercy, Omnipotence, and Justice

“The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nahum 1.3.)

Introduction. Men will misunderstand God, because men are fallen and flawed. Men especially misunderstand with regard to certain lights and shadows in God’s character, which are so marvelously blended in the perfection of his nature. Paul is noted for zeal, Peter for courage, John for love, because they were unbalanced men. But in Christ, characteristics are so perfectly blended that we do not note him for any one attribute, but are conscious of the harmonious diversity in his Personality. It is the same with God. The two clauses in my text seem to describe contrary attributes: mercy and justice. But because we are imperfect, we fail to see how they agree.

(1) God is Slow to Anger. The sword of God’s justice is in its scabbard: not rusted in it—it can be easily withdrawn—but mercy holds it there. Why is God slow to anger? Because he never strikes without threatening first. Men give a word and a hit, sometimes the hit first and the word afterward. Not God. He preaches by Noah and by Jonah first. And he is even slow to threaten. He promises swiftly, threatens reluctantly. He did not send Jonah to Nineveh until Nineveh was foul with sin. He does not even threaten the sinner by his conscience until the sinner has often sinned. But best of all, when God threatens, he is slow to sentence the criminal! When Adam sinned did God hurry up to sentence him? No. “The Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the day.” And then, even when the sentence is signed, God is tardy to carry out justice. He will go down to Sodom to see for himself. And, ah! it just crossed my mind! There are some men, even now, who have sinned unto death. But God allows them their pleasures for awhile longer. If God were not slow to anger, this giant city would have already been annihilated! Our nightly vices cannot be equaled for evil. Wrath says, “Unsheath thyself, O sword!” Mercy puts her hand upon the hilt, and the sword rattles back again. “Slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” God is slow to anger because he is good, but also because he is great. Only little things are easily stirred up.

(2) God is Slow to Anger because he is Great in Power. He that is great in power has power over himself.      The power that binds omnipotence is omnipotence surpassed. We bless God that the greatness of his power is a great reason of our protection. Ah, but the greatness of his power is also an assurance that he “will not at all acquit the wicked.” We feel much assured of this when the storms brew, do we not? Who stood to see the lofty tree sliced in half by the lighting flash? A swearer? Did he swear then? Did not his face go white?

(3) God will not at all Acquit the Wicked. This is his most terrible attribute, justice. Never once has God pardoned an unpunished sin. ‘What!’ you say. To prove it. First, the cloud of justice has fallen into that great reservoir of misery, the Saviour’s heart, to pardon us. Second, take a walk through history and see the judgments there. Third, every shriek and groan in hell is proof enough. Why will God not acquit the wicked? First, because he is good. Even an earthly judge will condemn a murderer out of love for a nation. Mercy, with her weeping eyes, looks more terribly grim even than justice, when she drops the white flag! Second, because justice demands punishment for sin. Must I pass through all the attributes of God to prove this. I think not.

Selection from Conclusion. “My friend, man or woman, what is thy state? Canst thou look up to heaven and say, ‘Though I have sinned greatly I believe Christ was punished in my stead?’”

{This sermon by C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) is sketched by M. H. Gaboury.}

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)


Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, (1718; London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2010), 287 pp.

Possibly based on the true account of Alexander Selkirk, Robinson Crusoe is set some decades before that unfortunate event, in the mid-1600’s. Against the warnings of his father and the pleadings of his mother, young Robinson Crusoe resolves to go off on adventures, which plan pans out like so: “never any young adventurer’s misfortunes, I believe, began sooner, or continued longer than mine” (p. 16.) Indeed, by the time the prodigal son returns home, his parents are no more, and he is on the verge of becoming an old man. No doubt the book’s popularity has had much to do with the obvious moral that a son disobeys his parents at his own peril. Notwithstanding the divine oversight that saves Crusoe from perishing time after time, the misfortunes that make this care necessary may be enough to discourage some young man from tempting Fate.

Though ‘something fatal in that propension of Nature’ (p. 11) is said to drive Crusoe to disobedience and misery, the effect of this reflection is not licentious. The concept of being predestinated to misery tends to produce revulsion from those acts that might fulfill the prophecy. So there is no cause to fear the book on that account.

As nearly obvious as the moral on obedience is the moral on contentment. The story may be interpreted as the fallout from not being content with what Providence has supplied. Somewhere in between poverty and riches are the safest and happiest stations in life to be found, according to Proverbs 30.8. This verse and the teachings that surround it are alluded to on page 12. In fact, the Proverb is well preached there. ‘The middle state’ is the blessing Crusoe is born into and so soon gives up at great personal cost.

The opportunities he gets to settle back into that blessed state in spite of having ‘broken through good advice’ (p. 39) is what breaks open the moral on God’s forbearance, which moral persists until Crusoe is finally brought to repentance by the fact of divine patience breaking in upon him (pp. 92, 128.) This awakening to the goodness of God causes Crusoe to rethink his past judgment of things. He had supposed that the grain springing up beside his makeshift hut was due to some miracle of Providence, for example. Then when he remembered pouring some chicken feed out where the grains were now growing, his “religious thankfulness to God’s Providence began to abate” (p. 80.) But Robinson Crusoe, once enlightened, sees that the train of events necessary to the remarkable blessing of growing grain is a wonder that merits thankfulness to God as much as a miracle would. Present-day miracle-mongers might learn from this. They are like Crusoe before his conversion: their religion is deflated so long as no miracles are happening. “And I add this part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction” (p. 96.)

Robinson Crusoe is a narrative catalogue of morals. For those seeking to learn the basics of sorrow leading to repentance in the easiest possible way, but with some force, a novel like this might faithfully serve. And it’s as clean and righteous a novel as one can wish for. Notice how discreetly Defoe describes a bodily function that your modern novelists would take advantage of for the sake of being what they call ‘true to life’: “in short, I turned away my face from the horrid spectacle; my stomach grew sick, and I was just at the point of fainting, when Nature discharged the order from my stomach” (p. 158.) Class resists the allure to be crass.

Which leads naturally to a comment or two on Daniel Defoe’s style. His sense of rhythm is superb, which he sometimes achieves by combining the right amount of syllables with similar sounding words: “It is not easy for any one, who has not been in the like condition, to describe or conceive the consternation of men in such circumstances” (p. 45.) At times he closes a sentence oddly, which keeps him from slipping into cliché boredom: “and shot him into the head again which dispatched him quite” (p. 33.) You might say that Defoe, like Crusoe, ‘called a council in his thoughts’ (p. 57) in order to arrive, only for different reasons. The novel’s faults are few and paltry. It may be that penguins never journey as far north as Trinidad (pp. 107, 200), the mention of which gives us the most certain idea of where Crusoe’s desolate island paradise generally is. Would it get dark there during the rainy season, or any time of the year, for that matter, as early as seven o’clock? (p. 79.) Such matters are not worth checking out. There’s only one cumbersome sentence in the whole book, a burdensome affair of twenty lines (p. 183.) But even this can be gotten hold of without too much strain. The worst error is Crusoe’s assumption that an anonymous kidnap victim is Christian, for which reason he fights off the savages preparing to kill and eat him (p. 216.) But this may be just Crusoe’s fault, not Defoe’s; for all we know the author put that in on purpose to show a character flaw in the chief subject of his book.  

The story of Crusoe is much occupied with relating the mundane details of how to survive and then prosper on a deserted island. A sense of wonder is maintained through all of that by observations on incidental events: “I believe it was the first gun that had been fired since the creation of the world” (p. 56.) This sense of wonder is executed by tantalizing speculations too, conjectures on the nature of what we call gut instinct (pp. 177, 230.) These lines of guesswork come right up near the edge of superstition. Maybe one of them walks off the edge into dark, dangerous territory (p. 166.) The story does contain ‘a whole collection of wonders’ (p. 238), by which is meant ‘a life of Providence’s chequerwork’ (p. 278.) But this recitation of so many wonders is a little choked by pages and pages of detail on necessity being the mother of invention on this island. Because of that, mainly, this novel, like Pilgrim’s Progress, continues longer than it should, and makes for much reading for too little gain. Had it been cut to half, the impression would have been more wonderful, and Robinson Crusoe would be known today as one of the greatest short stories. As a novel, however, it is good but not great. This edition is sketched by George Cruikshank, ‘the preeminent English caricaturist and book illustrator of the 19th century.’ These twenty-two illustrations, along with the glossary at the end, make for pleasant, carefree reading.

Content: A- (On Disobedience, Contentment, Forbearance, Providence, and Salvation.)
    Style: A- (Extraordinary moments.)
    Tone: A- (Humble, matter-of-fact, and discreet.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
                      B: an average book: let it go.
                      C: read only if you have to.

Monday, January 2, 2012


October 2010

Mr. Bueckert, we have gotten around to listening to a third sermon of yours. We assume that you want listeners to listen to what you preach with all the carefulness that the Bible commands. We assume that you want them to judge whether or not your sermon conforms to the text preached on and to the Bible at large. Thank you.

Mr. Bueckert, Red Deer Bible Baptist, August 2, 2009, A Heart to Please the Lord.

Summary: Our text is in John 8. Our heart’s desire must be to please our Father. The carnal nature struggles against this. (He reads John 8.28-32, then prays.) Our Lord did not have a carnal flesh. He was tempted like us, yet without sin. Jesus was the son of Man. He laid his attributes aside. He had to grow, but not out of sin. He grew, and waxed strong in spirit. The Lord had to be taught. He learned, and submitted to what he knew. He is God, and all Man. God the Father taught God the Son. We also are in the process of learning. Then he expects us to obey. (He speaks of his past work experience.) Can we know that we please the Lord? If you go just by your conscience, you could end up doing something that is condemned by Scripture. You can grow, but you don’t have to lose your ha ha. God has a sense of humor. We must do what we say we’re going to do. If you can obey, you can know that you please the Father. Find out from the word what pleases the Father. Then do it. Set aside your own will. What pleases the Father hardly ever pleases the flesh. Your flesh will haunt you until you die. You can fall. I can fall. We must be willing to continue to change. Are you changing for the Father? Or for someone else? We need to pray for each other. Keeping the law doesn’t work. Do we have a heart to please God? Am I willing to dress modestly? (He gives an explanation on pleasing God, with examples from dressing and tithing.) We have to trust the Lord as we tithe. It is an act of faith. Going on holidays and missing church does not please God. And is it considerate of one another? Sickness, holidays, and jobs cannot be avoided. We don’t want to get into legalism. It’s about our heart. I believe in the local church. To sin is not to please the Father. (He speaks of the varieties of ways that people take the name of the Lord in vain, then finishes with prayer for obedience.)

Remarks: Mr. Bueckert encourages Bible study as the method of finding out what to obey. He does fairly well this time on the person of Jesus Christ (though he calls God ‘the guy’ at one point.) He warns against trusting our conscience, for that, like the rest of us, is corrupted. This is a truth not usually known, even amongst pastors. And so the carnal nature is preached a bit (though the doctrine of human depravity is compromised by his emphasis on man’s ability to obey the law.) He speaks of the variety of ways that people take the name of the Lord in vain. Some of these ways are so subtle and customary that this is often done without our realizing it. And so a reproof on this pervasive evil is welcome. Churchgoers are just as guilty as anyone else, probably, of using the Lord’s name unthinkingly. In some ways, they take his name in vain even more than open sinners do. This is a topic we need to hear addressed. We’re thankful that someone is dealing with it. And some specifics on how women should dress are suggested in this sermon, together with a word on why modest dress among men is not treated in the Bible. This is a neglected topic too. Mr. Bueckert is brave to speak up on it, feminism being the strength it is, not just all over the country, but even in our so-called ‘Bible belt.’ Most pastors would sink under the prospect of revolt if they should feel it necessary to do a message that might offend the Jezebels in the church. We’re glad that there’s at least one person behind one pulpit in this city who’s not scared of unleashing principles for females that feminists will gnash their teeth at. Imagine a sermon whose preacher is not ashamed to use that word (next to the word ‘submission,’ maybe) the feminists hate the most: ‘shamefacedness.’ This is a real treat!

On the other hand, this sermon is ‘the worst of times’ also. We would like to say that the sermon is moral, not in the bad sense: by a preaching of grace and heaven by the works of the law; but in the right sense: by the preaching of obedience to God from a renewed heart. But it would be overly generous to say so, for the evidence, if we can call it that, is way too thin. He does say in one place, “Keeping the law doesn’t work.” And in another place, “Do we have a heart to please God?” This is not very much to go on. It is not enough. He does not bring up the necessity of a regenerate heart as the prerequisite to pleasing the Lord. The sound this sermon makes is the hammer of salvation by works, not salvation by the cross and nail, and not even works on the ground of grace and faith. We’d like to say that he teaches obedience to God from a platform of saving grace. But the drift of the sermon is toward the worst kind of legalism: obeying God (or trying to) by our own strength. This is how the sermon will strike the internet listener who has little or no knowledge of what this church is about (though he may not be able to state the case even as well as we have here.)  The truth may be that Mr. Bueckert considers each and every member of his little flock as saved persons who need to learn no other doctrine than that which might immediately touch upon practical morality. And so in each sermon we’ve listened to so far, the basis of moral behavior is neglected, while the only thing preached upon is: do this or don’t do that. The only way to approach the sermon honestly is to judge it from the standpoint of what he actually says (not what we hope he might be trying to say) and what is left out, with special care as to who his audience is. If a pastor preaches to the world (by offering the sermon over the internet), then we must assume that when he leaves the gospel out and preaches nothing but ‘do this and don’t do that’: he therefore intends to direct sinners immediately to God without regard to Jesus Christ the Mediator, who alone can quench the wrath God presently harbors toward all condemned, unsaved sinners. In short, Christians in this church might understand this to be a sermon on obedience to the Lord who saved them through their faith in his death, which would be good; but to internet listeners it will certainly sound like a sermon on obedience that is based, not on faith in the death of Christ for sin, but on the ability, without faith, to follow Jesus’ morally perfect example. And of course, such obedience is impossible; those attempting to be accepted by God on such a basis will be damned. Any imitation of Christ will ultimately fail unless perfect obedience can be done, for perfection is what God’s law demands. Therefore the righteousness of Christ arising from his obedience must be ours by faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him [reckoned to his account] for righteousness” (James 2.23.) We may begin to obey in some acceptable fashion after that, but never acceptably for salvation. This is for Christ to do for us. None of these doctrinal basics ought to be necessary to explain in an analysis of a sermon on the text chosen by Mr. Bueckert (John 8.28-32.) There is no excuse for a pastor to leave an impression of ambiguity that needs to be deconstructed like this, for the gospel is in the very text he is preaching on, and he does nothing but avoid it!

Here, then, are our points of contention with this message. (1) It does not distinguish very much, if at all, between trying to obey the Lord with the strength of an unregenerate heart, and obeying on the basis of a salvation that has been worked into those who believe on Christ. It is difficult to know for sure what the doctrine is that he is trying to teach, for in this sermon of almost an hour almost nothing is said except repetitions about obeying some moral rules. It would not be too far off the mark to say that there is no doctrine being taught here at all. In case there might be unsaved persons listening to this over the internet, shouldn’t he make it plain what doctrine he is putting out there, if any? Does this man really think that listeners won’t take this legal-sounding sermon (as indistinct as it is) to mean that obedience to God is possible even without, or before, one goes to Christ in faith? Righteousness by the works of the law is man’s default setting. Unless it is made plain that nothing is pleasing to God without Christ’s righteousness being ours by faith, the unsaved listener will go on believing that he can come to God just as Cain falsely did, or just as the Roman Catholics vainly suppose to have the ability to do. Though the mission statement on this man’s site promises better, Mr. Bueckert teaches in a very disconnected fashion. Jesus did this; now you do that: this is what his teaching on obedience amounts to. You are urged to obey, it seems, without any connexion to Jesus at all. Like in his two other sermons that we listened to and looked at, this preaching eerily resembles that of the Unitarians. And so in the first two sermons he teaches (inadvertently, we believe and hope) that there is one person in the Godhead instead of three (like the trinity-denying Unitarians believe.) And now in this sermon he teaches that all we need to do for our spiritual well-being is to follow Jesus’ example (just as the Unitarians teach.) The redemptive provision that Christ made on the cross and that we must anchor into by faith in his name because of our disobedience, or the union with Christ by faith as the fountain from which can flow our non-meritorious works of obedience—these aspects are completely lost to Mr. Bueckert. He does not realize it, but his teaching is that Jesus saves, not through faith in his sacrificial death, but through our imitation of his life, which is the same as being saved by our works. The moral virtues of Jesus ought to be imitated, we’ll grant this as much as any Christian or moralist, and we should; but only faith in what he accomplished on the cross can save. This is what the pastor does not get.

(2) The sermon does not adhere to, nor does it draw much from, the chosen Scripture text. This is the main reason why the drift of the sermon is not plain. Mr. Bueckert doesn’t really unfold his chosen text. There is a lot more going on in John 8.28-32 than Jesus’ obedience to the Father that can be imitated by us. If this text had been truly worked out, the sermon would have been about Jesus’ obedience, alright: his vicarious, meritorious death, which was the greatest part of his obedience—the part we can’t imitate—the part we need to hear about and be saved by! If he had stuck to his text to exposit it, then the death of Christ would have been at the center (‘When ye have lifted up the Son of man’) and the whole matter of how any obedience to the Father may be done by us could have been shown to be on the basis of our faith in Jesus’ obedience to his Father as a sacrifice for our sins in order to save! Is this not what we need? Sinful men are unable to approach the Father, much less obey him. Is that a sufficient message, to just obey the Father as Jesus did? If we can do this high imitation (just obey the law), then Jesus died in vain to save us by grace and faith! “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2.21.) It is a strange thing, though entirely true and so clear that it should never be missed by the Bible reader, that pastors who boast of being Christ-centered habitually preach a man-centered message! Even when a passage is chosen in which the death of Christ is central, they end up preaching nothing but a moral sermon of the most legal, unhelpful, ambiguous kind! The reason he misses the gospel is that he has a one-track mind for moral behavior, which will seem commendable to those who do not know the higher worth of the gospel that saves those whose morality can never be perfect, which perfection God requires! Yet even the law that he is obsessed with he is unsure of! With this pastor, one minute we can’t do the law; the next minute we can. Sometimes it is impossible, even by examining a single sentence of his, to know which one of these two principles he is trying to teach. “Keeping the law doesn’t work.” Does this mean that we can’t keep the law? Or does it mean that keeping the law does us no good? His manner of speech is routinely unclear like this. In any case, just go to these verses (John 8.28-32) and see for yourself if he did not avoid the most important and essential part. Is the death of Jesus Christ not the greatest deed that sinful man must, if he will be saved at all, put his faith in? Is faith in that meritorious death not the avenue to getting Christ’s righteousness to replace our disobedience? Why pass it over, then, when it happens to be the text you’re preaching on? You say you love Jesus Christ more than anything and any other person. Why avoid him, then? Why avoid the sacrifice he made for you? Why avoid the very event (spoken of in the verse) that was pleasing to the Father in a vicarious way for needful sinners? Instead of faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice as the great term of salvation, what we are urged to do here is to come directly to God, the offended Creator. The sinner is brought before God as if he could obey the law that Jesus fulfilled for man and that Jesus was put to death for man’s breaking of. Mr. Bueckert’s preaching misses the gospel because it misses Jesus Christ as the Saviour that man ought to put his trust in for salvation. He even quotes John 12.25 once, which could have been another entry point (since he missed the one his text begged to give him.) But he misses the gospel even while he quotes the gospel verse! We would give a cheer for a moral sermon on drunkenness or immodesty, but not that kind which, by its total abstinence from the gospel, cannot be interpreted through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, without which the highest level of morality performed by us will count for nothing but more judgment. To preach an imitation of Jesus’ perfect example of morality is a great idea if we can be saved by the law. But we can’t. And so what we need is a sermon on the One whose perfect morality can be reckoned to us by faith. At least present imputed righteousness as the only basis for any attempted imitation of his perfect legal walk, for without it we can only assume that you are trying to bring us to God the Father directly through the law, which is an impossible thing—a thing forbidden and condemned in Scripture—a thing that can only be cursed because it leaves the work of Jesus Christ for man out of sight.     

Conclusion: This pastor takes up a whole hour of his people’s time to say almost nothing, or at best, to speak poorly on the most common things from the least important part of his text. He seems proud of the little that he knows in the sense that everyone else must know even less. This man is in the delusion of an estimation of himself that far surpasses the level he is at. Rumor has it that this pastor is extremely busy. But if, because of his busy life, he has to avoid the richest part of the text that he has decided to preach on, then what is the use of him continuing behind that pulpit he can’t handle? Is it not better to do something common and to do it well instead of the holiest work of all and to do it badly? On his website he says that he has been ‘empowered to preach the word’ and that, in the words of Nehemiah, ‘I am doing a great work.’ Should he not, in light of the obvious fact that no power is evident and that no great work is going on here, apologize to God and admit to the rest of us that he is a presumptuous liar? Are these hard words? Better to give out stinging honesty like this than a flattering word that might further this man in his dishonest evaluation of himself and what God is doing in his church. To say that we are empowered and that a great work is being done when these things are so obviously untrue is not only to lie to, and about, our self, but to God and about what he is doing. Who could listen to preaching like this and then say (without speaking against his awakened conscience, we mean) that there is power here and that a great work is being done? Are great sins not committed when we, even from righteous motives, put lies into God’s mouth? Is there any fear of God in publishing false notions of empowerment and blessing? Truly, this type of sin does not emerge from charismania alone! Baptist pastors practice it just as well! There might be some solid doctrinal planks in the mission statement Mr. Bueckert has put up on his site. But the real test is in the preaching and teaching. And in there we do not find much well delivered orthodoxy (although we do find a little heresy.) To endorse orthodox planks and then preach something less points to malevolence or incompetence. We believe the latter to be the sin here. There is no use complimenting someone for a job badly done. Mr. Bueckert preaches the law as the way to God, not because he wants to, but because he does not know how to do anything else. This is what’s going on, we believe. To preach the law through a knowledge of the gospel—this he seems to know nothing of. To recommend this church is completely out of the question. Mr. Bueckert asserts that he is teachable. We beg to differ. He asks his listeners if they have teachable spirits. But he never tells them how a teachable spirit might be obtained.

Finally, we will close with a comment on this verse he has put up at the top of his website, the one by Nehemiah that Mr. Bueckert intends for himself as well. This verse is more apropos than he could have been aware of when he put it up, for in its immediate context this ‘great work’ has nothing to do with preaching, but with manual labor, which is Mr. Bueckert’s true calling. And this is not to put him down that we say this, but just to point out the conspicuous fact. For quality of work, manual laborers put the white-collar crowd to shame, nine times out of ten. Mr. Bueckert belongs in the garage with a wrench in his hand, not in the pulpit with a Bible for his tool.