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A conversation with John Frame

BENYOLA: You mentioned language, how we use language to reach people. You’ve also said before, when proclaiming truth, it’s impossible for us to say everything at once.

FRAME: Yes.

BENYOLA: When we run into that problem, how do we work through that — proclaiming the full counsel of God when we can’t say all that needs to be said?

FRAME: You just have to make a judgment of your audience, which may be an audience of one, or it may be a congregation of 500 people, and make some judgment about what they need to hear at this moment. I mean, in a way, they need to hear everything, and it’s the whole counsel of God that we need to proclaim and so on. But you can’t say everything at once. You hear these anecdotes. There was one from Ichabod Spencer, who was a preacher in Brooklyn in the 19th century sometime, and he was addressing a whole lot of people, and he didn’t have much time. But there was this woman who came up to him afterwards and said, “Oh, Dr. Spencer, I’m just in such a terrible state of mind. I’m just a terrible sinner. I can’t bring myself to believe. I’m just all caught up in immorality, and the devil has hold of me, and I don’t know what I will ever do.” Spencer only had a few seconds, so he turned to her and said, “My dear woman, you’re a far greater sinner than you think you are.” Hahaha! The point being, that although she was overwhelmed by her sinfulness, and apparently the Spirit was dealing with her about that, but she hadn’t been enough overwhelmed by her sinfulness to realize that she could never save herself and she would have to turn to Jesus and just accept His work for the totality of her sins. I’ve never heard how it turned out with that lady, but that’s the kind of sort of unexpected way in which you sometimes have to appeal to people.

I think of when David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and sent her husband to the front lines to be killed. David had committed murder and adultery, but for some reason, he just wasn’t convicted of sin at that point. What happened is the prophet Nathan came and talked to David, and it’s interesting what he did: He didn’t say, “David, aren’t you aware of the ten commandments? Aren’t you aware that it’s wrong to murder and it’s wrong to commit adultery?” If he’d said that, David would have said, “What are you bothering me about that for? I mean, I’ve known that since I was a kid.” Not did Nathan say, “Well, David, don’t you remember what you said, to bring this woman to your bedroom, don’t you remember the facts of the case?” That wouldn’t have helped David either. Most likely, he certainly did remember what happened. But what Nathan does, is he tells him this parable about a rich man who had a poor neighbor and the poor neighbor, and the poor neighbor had a ewe lamb that was practically his pet, and the rich man had a guest coming for dinner, and instead of killing one of his own animals, he went up and stole the poor man’s animal and used that for the feast. David all of a sudden got very angry about that, that this was robbery, and this was oppression of the poor. Then Nathan points the finger at him and says, “You are the man.” It was at that point that everything came together, it was at that point where the pattern formed, that David had killed, David had murdered, David had stolen something that didn’t belong to him. He’d oppressed this poor family. That’s what turned David to Psalm 51, this abject repentance before God. So sometimes, that’s what people need. Sometimes people need to hear an odd parable or story, or poem, or an illustration or something. That doesn’t sound like apologetics, you never look at what Nathan is doing and say that’s an apologetic argument. But that’s what it took at the moment to penetrate David’s thick skull and get him to respond to the Word, which before, he was taking for granted.

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