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Practical Atheism

Earlier this year I began reading The Existence and Attributes of God by the Puritan writer Stephen Charnock. For me, the title alone of the second chapter gave me considerable pause for meditation: On Practical Atheism

The title “On Practical Atheism” begs the question of whether we live our lives as if God does not exist? It seems that many professing Christians today no longer blush over sin and have no conviction regarding walking after the flesh. I happened to read this chapter as I considered the apathy of modern Christianity towards living carnal as seen in the light of Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians.

The church at Corinth was characterized by man-exalting schisms (i.e. “what camp are you in?”), condoning flagrant evils, pride, etc. They claimed to be spiritual but were in reality very carnal. There was also a certain Judaizing element among the Corinthians that were slandering Paul and trying to overthrow his authority. In his second letter to the believers at Corinth, which is probably his most emotional epistle, Paul admonishes the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). In other words, it is hard to distinguish between someone who professes Christ but is lost and a carnal Christian living after the flesh. More than once Paul accuses the Corinthians of being ignorant that Jesus Christ was in them (see 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:15,19). It is sadly the case that often a person doesn’t “know” that they are the temple of the Holy Ghost because they are abandoned to sin (Paul uses the term “reprobates”).

Charnock writes that, “Men may have atheistical hearts without atheistical heads. Their reasons may defend the notion of a Deity, while their hearts are empty of affection to the Deity.” The main theme of chapter two is that the testimony of works is louder and clearer than that of words or as James put it, “I will shew thee my faith by my works” (Jam. 2:18b). Charnock rightly expressed that a sense of God in the heart should burst out in the life and where there is no reverence of God in the life, it is concluded there is less in the heart. Thus, we must be diligent to guard our hearts from the rebel within us (the old nature) and to have no greater joy than to know Christ and to live in His presence.

“They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” Titus 1:16
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23

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