Monday, March 30, 2015

without supernaturalism, feeble moralism

"The truth is that what remains in Christianity when the supernaturalism of the Bible is given up is not Christianity at all. Liberal Christianity and liberal Judaism, for example, turn out to be exactly alike. They have the same God, or rather the same fundamental skepticism about God, the same complacency about man, and the same mild admiration for the prophet of Nazareth. Tolerance has had its perfect work. The equilibrium has been restored. The consuming fire of Christianity has burned out, and we have merely the same feeble moralism that was in the world before Christianity took its rise. It is a drab, dreary world-this modern world of which men are so proud. I for my part feel oppressed when I look out upon it.' I admire, indeed, those who try to hold on with heart to what they have given up with the head; but as for me, any religion that is to claim my devotion must be founded squarely upon truth. Where shall such a religion he found? At this point, I have it truly revolutionary suggestion to make. How should it be if we should turn to the Bible for help? We have turned to everything else, to things ancient and things modern. Why should we not turn at length to that?"

-- J. Gresham Machen, The Gospel And The Modern World: And Other Short Writings

calvin and deuteronomy 29:29

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."  (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV)

John Calvin, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, says about this verse...

To me there appears no doubt that, by antithesis, there is a comparison here made between the doctrine openly set forth in the Law, and the hidden and incomprehensible counsel of God, concerning which it is not lawful to inquire. In my opinion, therefore, the copula is used for the adversative particle; as though it were said, “God indeed retains to Himself secret things, which it neither concerns nor profits us to know, and which surpass our comprehension; but these things, which He has declared to us, belong to us and to our children.”

It is a remarkable passage, and especially deserving of our observation, for by it audacity and excessive curiosity are condemned, whilst pious minds are aroused to be zealous in seeking instruction. We know how anxious men are to understand things, the knowledge of which is altogether unprofitable, and even the investigation of them injurious. All of them would desire to be God’s counsellors, and to penetrate into the deepest recesses of heaven, nay, they would search into its very cabinets. Hence a heathen poet truly says, —

“Nought for mortals is too high; Our folly reaches to the sky.” (Horace, Ode III)

On the other hand, what God plainly sets before us, and would have familiarly known, is either neglected, or turned from in disgust, or put far away from us, as if it were too obscure. In the first clause, then, Moses briefly reproves and restrains that temerity which leaps beyond the bounds imposed by God; and in the latter, exhorts us to embrace the doctrine of the Law, in which God’s will is declared to us, as if He were openly speaking to us; and thus he encounters the folly of those who fly from the light presented to them, and wrongfully accuse of obscurity that doctrine, wherein God has let Himself down to the measure of our understanding. In sum, he declares that God is the best master to all who come to Him as disciples, because He faithfully and clearly explains to them all that it is useful for them to know. 

And Calvin adds this in his Institutes

“Let us… permit the Christian man to open his mind and ears to every utterance of God directed to him, provided it be with such restraint that when the Lord closes his holy lips, we also shall at once close the way to inquiry.”

Photo above is of the cloud-enshrouded Wuyi Mountains. From the Wikimedia Commons. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

God's control of the world

"God does not control the world merely by setting limits for the world’s free activity, as a teacher 'controlling' his classroom. Rather, like the author of a well-wrought novel, he conceives and brings about every event that happens, without compromising the integrity of his creaturely others." 

- John Frame, Systematic Theology

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

experiencing the new birth

I have begun reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Experiencing the New Birth (Crossway Books, 2015), based upon a series of sermons on John chapter 3 that he preached at Westminster Chapel (London) almost fifty years ago (in 1966).

I'm so very thankful to see Lloyd-Jones' sermons are still being published, and that Crossway is offering these previously-unpublished messages in book form.  

The subject -- experiencing the new birth -- is also a very timely and needed topic for study today.  Much has been written in recent years (it seems to me) on the nature of justification and sanctification, but not as much on regeneration, or the new birth. 

Lloyd-Jones is always biblical, thoughtful, insightful, and practical. His pastoral heart is evident in these messages. MLJ was a Spirit-anointed preacher and has been for decades a kind of historical mentor to many ministers. I was first introduced to his writings in 1997, when I read Knowing The Times, a series of his addresses on various topics. 

Here are some excerpts, my first highlights...

“And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). Now we are concentrating on that particular theme because, after all, that is what is meant by being Christian. This, it seems to me more and more, is the greatest need of the hour, that we should all realize what a Christian really is and is meant to be, and there is no better definition than this one. It involves, of course, believing certain things. There is the creedal element; that is vital. But Christianity is primarily life receiving of his fullness, and if we forget that, we miss the greatness and the glory and the splendor of it all. Our danger always, even as Christian people, is to be reducing this life — eternal life — to something that is merely a point of view, a teaching, a philosophy, a theology, or whatever. We must never do that. Its essence is that it is a life, and that means receiving of his fullness. This is the greatest thing in the world, the greatest thing that any of us can ever realize...

"There is nothing so fatal as to approach the Bible as just a textbook that you get to know; that is not its business. Its whole object is to bring you to him in whom is all this fullness of which we stand in need... That is why he [Nicodemus] went to our Lord; he was conscious of a need.

"We cannot make ourselves humble. There is only one thing that will ever make us really humble, and that is when we see perfection and then see what we are by contrast. That is what always makes people humble.

"But the moment you meet him [Jesus] you are no longer the master; you are very much the pupil, you are very much the pauper, you are no longer in charge of yourself.

"[There is] the danger of seeking sanctification before we know anything at all about regeneration, or to put it still more simply, it is the mistake of trying to grow before you have been born....Before you can live the Christian life you must be a Christian.

"The glory of this is that it is something that happens to us. It is not something we do; it is something that is done to us... Because it is the action of God, not the action of man. It does not presuppose anything in us, except that we are lost and helpless and hopeless.

"It is not our action that we are most conscious of; it is that Another is dealing with us, coming into our life, disturbing us.

"We cannot be born again without being humbled.

"Sometimes the first way in which one really discovers that one is born again is that other people let us know that we are.

"The spiritual outlook is one that realizes the depth and the gravity of the problem, but also the heights and the endless limits of the grace of God.

"The most important thing for any one of us in this life is to know whether we are born again or not."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

God's revelation is part of redemption

Came upon the following in B. B. Warfield's work, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, pp 80-81...

"...the series of redemptive acts of God has not been left to explain itself, but the explanatory word has been added to it.  Revelation thus appears, however, not as the mere reflection of the redeeming acts of God in the minds of men, but as a factor in the redeeming work of God, a component part of the series of His redeeming acts, without which that series would be incomplete and so far inoperative for its main end.  Thus the Scriptures represent it, not as confounding revelation with the series of the redemptive acts of God, but placing it among the redemptive acts of God and giving it a function as a substantive element in the operations by which the merciful God saves sinful men.  It is therefore not made even a mere constant accompaniment of the redemptive acts of God, giving their explanation that they may be understood.  It occupies a far more independent place among them that this, and as frequently precedes them to prepare their way as it accompanies or follows them to interpret their meaning.  It is, in one word, itself a redemptive act of God and by no means the least important in the series of His redemptive acts." 

What I get from this... 

God's revelatory word is part and parcel with his redeeming work.  Revelation is in itself an integral part of Redemption. Therefore, his proclaimed word must be as complete and perfect as his accomplished work, because it is part of it. 

Prophecy is given in prospect of the work; apostolic proclamation is given to proclaim and explain the work.  

Our view of the completeness and integrity of God's word is related to our view of the completeness and integrity of God's saving work. For redemption to be complete and perfect it must be explained by infallible revelation.  God's revelation is "itself a redemptive act." 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

biblical religion is authoritarian

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV)

I have begun working my way through Carl Henry's fourth volume in God, Revelation, and Authority. He begins on his eleventh thesis: "The Bible is the reservoir and conduit of divine truth, the authoritative written record and exposition of God's nature and will."  

He opens chapter 1 with, "The problem of authority is one of the most deeply distressing concerns of contemporary civilization."  He notes that anti-authoritarianism -- or positively stated, self-autonomy -- is not something which faces religious institutions only, but also every area of modern life.  And it's not a new phenomenon. It's as old as the garden of Eden (Gen. 3)

I was struck with the following summary of the nature of authority in the Bible...

"Beyond all doubt, biblical religion is authoritarian in nature. The sovereign God, creator of the universe, Lord of history, dispenser of destiny, determines and rewards the true and the good.  God commands and has the right to be obeyed, and the power also to punish the disobedient and reward the faithful.  Behind God's will stands omnipotent power.  The notion that the individual subjectively determines what is ultimately good and evil, true and false, not only results in an encroaching nihilism, but also presupposes the illusion of a godless [i.e., God-less] world.  God can be ignored only if we assume the autonomy of the world. But it is God who in his purpose has determined the existence and nature of the world. 
"The divine sovereignty extends to every sphere of life-- the sphere of work, whether in the laboratory or in the forum; the sphere of love, whether in the home or in neighbor-relations; the sphere of justice, whether between the nations or in local cities and towns. Divine sovereignty can be thus formulated because it extends also to the sphere of truth.  
"We cannot understand anything comprehensively apart from its relation to the Creator and Sustainer of all.  Human beings are commanded by him not only to love the truth but also to do it (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6); knowledge is not simply an intellectual concern but involves ethical obligation as well.  Impenitence spells doom, for man can in no way justify his spiritual revolt.  God's authority was firmly stamped on man's conscience at creation, and clearly republished in the Bible which meshes man's fall and need of moral rescue with God's gracious offer of forgiveness and promise of new life to all who repent and trust him." 
-- Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, IV:15-16.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

6 things to pray as we grow older

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." (Psalm 90:1-2 ESV)

This Psalm is ascribed to Moses, and may have been written in context of the forty-year wandering of Israel in the wilderness. (Numbers 15-20) 

In verses 1 through 11 Moses considers the eternal nature of God and the brevity of human life. (90:1-11)  

Here are six petitions that Moses made in light of the brevity of life before the eternal God.  These are also six things I can pray as I am growing older...

Wisdom. (90:12) "So teach us to number our days..."  Pray that the Lord would enable us to know the value of our remaining time on earth, and that we would plan well to make the best use of it (Eph. 5:16).

Mercy. (90:13) "Have pity on your servants..." Pray that we would continue to rely on God's mercy and not our merits. May we ask for and rely upon his Fatherly compassion as we grow older and realize how sinful and fragile we still are.

Love. (90:14)  "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love..." Pray that we would find our satisfaction in the Lord's kind, covenantal love for us. May our love and joy be in the Lord himself rather than our accomplishments, possessions, attainments, or even our own maturity level. 

Gladness. (90:15) "Make us glad..."  Pray that-- instead of becoming bitter, complaining, or fault-finding -- we should be glad and buoyant in the Lord all the rest of the days of our lives.  May we have a biblical optimism about life, no matter what trials or troubles we have been through. 

Glory.  (90:16)  "...and your glorious power to their children."  Pray that we would continue to see God at work in our lives, and especially that our children (physical or spiritual) would themselves experience the glorious beauty of God in their lives. 

Legacy. (90:17)  "...and establish the work of our hands..." Pray that you will accomplish something that will outlive you and have an eternal impact. May we -- whether in our profession, teaching, work, writing, example, parenting, art, words, lifestyle, etc. -- leave behind a lasting influence for the Kingdom of God.  May 1 Corinthians 15:58 be true of us...

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

theology is living to God

For 150 years, both in England and in the American colonies, The Marrow of Theology, by William Ames, was the standard theological work for ministers. It is biblical, succinct, and well-organized. Increase Mather once said that, other than the Bible, this was the only book of theology a minister needed. 

My first introduction to Puritan theology in seminary was through the reading of this book.  After reading the first chapter I was hooked on Ames. I was grabbed at the outset by his definition and nature of theology.  The following excerpts of that chapter are words I need to read and reread often.  My penchant for dwelling only in my thought life needs to be continually challenged with full-orbed "living to God." 

Here is how Ames defines theology...

"Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.  John 6:68, The words of eternal life; Acts 5:20, the words of this life; Romans 6:11, Consider yourselves...alive to God."

"...[it is] a discipline which derives not from nature and human inquiry like others, but from divine revelation and appointment."  (Isa. 51:4; Matt. 21:25; John 9:29; Gal. 1:11-12; John 6:45)

"Since living is the noblest work of all, there cannot be any more proper study than the art of living."

"Since the highest kind of life for a human being is that which approaches most closely the living and life-giving God, the nature of theological life is living to God."

"Men live to God when they live in accord with the will of God, to the glory of God, and with God working in them."  (1 Peter 4:2, 6; Gal. 2:19-20; 2 Cor. 4:10; Phil 1:20)

"This life in essence remains one and the same from the beginning to eternity." (John 3:36; 5:24)

"Living well is more excellent than living happily." 

"Theology, therefore is to us the ultimate and the noblest of all exact teaching arts.  It is a guide and master plan for our highest end, sent in a special manner from God, treating of divine things, tending towards God, and leading man to God.  It may therefore not incorrectly be called... 'living to God'... "

-- William Ames (1576 -- 1633), The Marrow of Theology, I:1 "The Definition or Nature of Theology" 

The Kindle version of Marrow is not recommended. The Labyrinth Press print edition is best. 

Read more from The Marrow -- here's William Ames on faith

Friday, March 13, 2015

to share in a spiritual sunrise

"We know that in His sovereign providence God can enable us to penetrate the world with a living witness to the truth and power of evangelical theism.  In that awesome task I wish you Godspeed.  May you share as we did in the splendor of a spiritual sunrise, and not only in the sad defection of a secular society." 

-- Carl F. H. Henry

In "Coming Home to Say Good-bye",  chapel address given at Wheaton College, April 30, 1990.  Published in gods of this age or... God of the Ages? (Broadman and Holman, 1994)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

technology and glory

"I am no medievalist. I rejoice in the marvelous widening of our knowledge of this mysterious universe; I delight in the technical achievements of our day. This is God's world, and neither its good things nor its wonders should he despised by those upon whom they have been bestowed. Moreover, I cherish within my soul a vague yet glorious hope of a time when material achievements, instead of making man the victim of his machines, may be used for the expression of some wondrous thought. There may come a time when God will send to the world the fire of genius, which he has taken from it in our time; a time when he will send something far greater -- a humble heart finding in his worship the highest use of all knowledge and power. There will come a time when men will wonder at their obsession with these material things, when they will see that their inventions are in themselves as valueless as the ugly little bits of metal type in a printer's composing room, and that their true value will be found only when they become the means of expressing some glorious poem. Even today, amid all the noise and shouting and power of machinery, there are hearts hungry for bread that is bread indeed, hearts thirsting for the living water. The things in which the world is now interested are the things that are seen; but the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal."

-- J. Gresham Machen, "Skyscrapers and Cathedrals" (1931) 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

just an old pear tree

"I have on my farm a magnificent old pear tree. This tree has grown from a small seed. First, the seed died. It found welcoming soil and morphed into a tiny shoot. In time, with nurture, it came to full growth, a thing of beauty at many levels; all on a scale out of proportion to the original seed, and full of generative potential in its turn. The tree provides shade and shelter, flowers and fruit. It might provide wood for warmth or walls or works of art. It might contribute to a landscape or resist erosion. It might inspire poems or plays, paintings or photographs, (such as my painting, "Ki-Seki"). It might spark a scientific discovery, host children at play, or lead a man or woman to reflect on the nature of life." 

-- Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care

See Mako's beautiful limited edition print of "Ki-Seki" here

Engraving above is "THE ORIGINAL SECKEL PEAR TREE", photographed and engraved for The Gardener's Monthly.  Copyrighted 1880, by CHAS. H. Makot, Publisher, Philadelphia.

worth fighting for

Thursday, March 5, 2015

an individuality that is irreducible

Forty-four years ago yesterday, as a college student, I called upon the Lord Jesus for salvation. I had bounced around various viewpoints... Marxism, eastern mysticism, and various combinations of popular views, only to discover the emptiness of my own making. I even had opinions about who Jesus was, or might have been.  Until... I began reading the Gospels of the New Testament. My speculative, two-dimensional portrait of Jesus (in my own image) was shattered by the Living three-dimensional Person presented in the Gospels.  No religious founder that I had read was at all like the One I read about on the pages of the Bible!
J. Gresham Machen, in his little book, The Gospel And The Modern World: And Other Short Writings, writes about this...

"Read the Gospels for yourselves, my friends. Do not study them this time. Just read them; just let the stupendous figure of Jesus stand before your eyes. Has not that figure the marks of truth? Could that figure ever have been produced in impersonal fashion to satisfy the needs of the primitive church? No, the figure of Jesus in the Gospels possesses an individuality that is irreducible, a shining, startling vividness against which criticism ultimately will fail. Yet criticism has had its beneficent results; it has shown with increasing plainness that the picture of Jesus in the New Testament is essentially one. Gone is the day when a few miracles could he removed in order to leave a supposed historical account of a founder of a new religious life or a preacher of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Recent criticism has carried us far beyond all such easy solutions of the problem as that. The Jesus of the New Testament is an organic whole; the New Testament writers are dominated one and all by the conviction that Jesus was the supernatural Redeemer come into this world for the salvation of men. Increasingly, the great alternative is becoming clear: give Jesus up, confess that his portrait is forever hidden in the mists of pragmatic legend; or else accept him essentially as he is presented to us by the Evangelists and by Paul."

The painting above represents Christ as "Pantocrator" (Almighty) in the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul, Turkey. 

God always good in all ways and times

"When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; 
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, 
and afterward you will receive me to glory.  
Whom have I in heaven but you? 
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  
My flesh and my heart may fail, 
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

(Psalm 73:21-26 ESV)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments on this Psalm...

"There is only one way in which we can be quite sure that we have dealt with temptation in the right way, and that is that we arrive at the right ultimate conclusion. I started with that and I end with it. The great message of this Psalm is, that if you and I know what to do with temptation we can turn it into a great source of victory. We can end, when we have been through a process like this, in a stronger position than we were in at the beginning. We may have been in a situation where our ‘steps had well nigh slipped’. That does not matter so long as, at the end, we arrive on that great high plateau where we stand face to face with God with an assurance we have not had before. We can make use of the devil and all his assaults: but we have to learn how to handle him. We can turn all this into a great spiritual victory, so that we can say, ‘Well, having been through it all, I have now been given to see that God is always good. I was tempted to think there were times when He was not; I see now that that was wrong. God is always good in all circumstances, in all ways, at all times – no matter what may happen to me, or to anybody else.’ ‘I have arrived,’ says the Psalmist, ‘at the conclusion that “God is always good to Israel”.’

(Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Faith on Trial: Psalm 73)