Friday, December 30, 2016

named in figures and images

"...that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.'" (Acts 17:27-28 ESV)

"Because of this intimate relationship, God can be named in the terms of His creatures, and He can be spoken of anthropomorphically.  The same Scripture which speaks in the most exalted way of God's incomparable greatness and majesty, at the same time speaks of Him in figures and images which sparkle with life.  It speaks of His eyes and ears, His hands and feet, His mouth and lips, His heart and bowels.  It ascribes all kinds of attributes to Him -- of wisdom and knowledge, will and power, righteousness and mercy, and it ascribes to Him also such emotions as joy and grief, fear and vexation, zeal and envy, remorse and wrath, hatred and anger.  It speaks of His observing and thinking, His hearing and seeing, His remembering and forgetting, smelling and tasting, sitting and rising, visiting and forsaking, blessing and chastising, and the like.  It compares Him to a sun and a light, a fountain and a spring, a rock and a shelter, a sword and buckler, a king and a judge, a husbandman and a shepherd, a man and a father.  In short, all that can be found in the whole world in the way of support and shelter and aid is originally and perfectly to be found in overflowing abundance in God.  Of Him the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:15).  He is the Sun of being and all creatures are His fleeing rays." 

~ Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith

Saturday, December 17, 2016

beholding his glory

"One of the greatest privileges and advancements of believers, both in this world and unto eternity, consists in their beholding the glory of Christ."

"No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight hereafter, who does not in some measure behold it by faith here in this world."

"Grace is a necessary preparation for glory, and faith for sight."

"For nothing can perfectly comprehend that which is infinite, but what is itself infinite. Therefore the blessed and blessing sight which we shall have of God will be always 'in the face of Jesus Christ.'”

~ John Owen, from The Glory of Christ

Saturday, December 10, 2016

kingdom prayer

"Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread...'"  (Matthew 6:9-11a ESV)

Many of us find that our our prayers often don't seem to rise above our own personal needs or immediate family concerns.  We see that we're called to pray for the honor of God's name, the coming of Christ's kingdom, and that God's will would be done on earth... but daily bread may seem more real and practical.   Besides, how does one measure the effectiveness of big prayers, like the advance of the gospel or the coming of his Kingdom?

I've been helped recently in praying for bigger things, things that relate to progress of God's Big Story on earth, or what theologians call "the history of redemption."   Consider Revelation 8:3-4...

"And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel."  (Cf. Rev. 5:8)

The "prayers of the saints" -- those words uttered to God in prayer meetings, prayer closets, nursing home rooms, prison cells, home groups, at breakfast nooks and bedsides -- are heard, presented, savored, and made a part of the Lord's sovereign activity in heaven, as he rules over the earth. 

When we pray about matters that matter to God, we are participating in his work around the world. Prayer is a very real participation in the ongoing history of redemption.  This is "kingdom-centered" praying, which in the Lord's instruction on prayer, comes before "daily bread" praying.  

Our personal story, along with our family and church stories, all need to be embedded in God's much larger story.  Praying for the honor and sanctity of God's name around the world, for the advance of his gospel into all the nations, for the coming of his Kingdom, and for the day of universal obedience -- these are not vague and far-off requests.  They are very close to us in our identity as beloved children of the sovereign God.  John calls them "prayers of the saints." Such prayer, as Tim Keller writes, will "give us relief from the melancholy burden of self-absorption.” 

Indeed, prayer can give us a greater sphere of influence than our words and deeds alone.  What we do and say around others has a limited circle of effect.  But prayer, by contrast, can be involved in many events around the world: comfort for believers under trial, power for the proclamation of the gospel, judgment upon the forces that oppose the Lord, assurance for new believers, conviction upon the unrepentant, for conversions, for healing, perseverance, light, and strength to churches and believers we are yet to meet.  (But one day will!)

By our lives we influence those around us.  By prayer we share in God's activity in the world, and in history.  In prayer we become partakers with God in his great work of redemption.  

Friday, December 9, 2016

placed within our reach

The Nativity Story (2008)

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth... No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known."  (John 1:14, 18 ESV)

"Through revelation, the incomprehensible and utterly transcendent God places himself within our reach. The sovereign God, who eludes our attempts at mastery, by speculation, good works, or mystical experience, places himself in our hands as a free gift. Instead of being consumed, we are reconciled, redeemed, and made adopted heirs of his kingdom in the Son and by his Spirit, through his Word."  

~ Michael S. Horton, Pilgrim Theology.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

a Trinitarian prayer

The Trinity Window at Holy Trinity Church, Hertford, UK.  
"Good morning heavenly Father,

good morning Lord Jesus,

good morning Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I worship you as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

Lord Jesus, I worship you, Saviour and Lord of the world.

Holy Spirit, I worship you, Sanctifier of the people of God.

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen."

~ The Morning Prayer of John Stott (1921-2011) as found in The One True Light: Daily Advent Readings from the Gospel of John, by Tim Chester.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

the goodness of wisdom

Here are some recent highlights from reading The Everlasting God, by Broughton Knox, on God's wisdom and goodness...

God’s covenant relationship with creation, when expressed in personal terms, means that he is faithful; he fulfills that which he promises. He is the faithful God and we are to reflect his faithfulness in our relationships, not only with God, but with one another.

The faithfulness of God is the most important aspect of his goodness.

First, there is the relationship, then there is the responsibility of that relationship. From this flows the authority which God has over all, and which leads in turn to the obligation on all of obedience, thanksgiving and honor.

Knowledge applied purposefully but not towards the good of others is not called wisdom but cunning. Wisdom must always be good.

His infinite knowledge coupled with his infinite power and infinite goodness mean that he has infinite wisdom.

God’s wisdom is marvelously displayed in the created world. As the psalmist exclaims, “O Yahweh, how many are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.” The world has been created to accomplish ends of blessing, of joy and of fellowship with God. It marvelously achieves these ends. Take for example our body, that aspect of creation about which we know most. It has plainly been created in order that we might enjoy life. Our five senses all are vehicles of pleasure, as we see the beauty of the world, as we hear the sounds of music, as we taste the food which we need to sustain our life, as we enjoy the fragrance of a flower, as our bodies feel the sensation of the surf or of the wind. All these things are aspects of God’s wisdom in conferring on us joys. Looked at from another point of view, the body is marvelously contrived to accomplish its ends of relationship, with all the pleasure—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—that relationship brings. The eye, the face, the language structure of our brain, are designed to express our inner being to one another. Our sexual natures, both psychological and physical, are marvelously designed to relate us in joyous fellowship.

Monday, November 21, 2016

abraham's faith

Sermon notes & quotes on Romans 4:13-25. 
Download or stream "Abraham's Faith" 

What is faith?  Is it... 
-- a feeling of dependence or that everything is going to work out?
-- sincerely believing in something but the something doesn’t really matter?
-- believing in faith itself, as in “just have enough faith”? 
-- believing a creed or set of doctrines?
-- a leap in the dark, believing in something that is empirically unproven?
-- wish fulfillment, or visualizing a future outcome that we desire?
-- making a decision or "going forward" in a church service?

Four key concepts from Romans 4:13-25, which are characteristics of Abraham's faith that apply also to believers today. 


1) PROMISE. Faith looks to God’s gracious word of promise. (4:16-17, 20) It is not wishful thinking, projection, or a feeling, but is based upon God's revelation, in words, focusing upon a promise given in grace. Unless salvation is by grace, it is an uncertain thing. 

"Promise" (4:13, 14, 16, 20) “It is written...” (17)  “as he had been told” (18) “the words, it was counted to him” (23)  So faith is taking God at his word. 

There is content, history, and doctrine to be believed.  Christianity not merely idea, ideals, or moral code, but death and resurrection of God's Son in history, and what this means.  Not just truths about God but promises from God to us.   

"We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace."  (Luther)

2) POWER. Faith realizes our inability and relies upon the miraculous power of God. (4:17-21)  

An impossible, miracle birth which foreshadowed another miracle birth. the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (4:17)  ...fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (4:21)   Abraham “hoped against hope... a divinely given hope that went beyond normal human hopes and expectations. 

Christian faith is supernatural from beginning to end...  We rely on God’s ability to do what he promised.  The Fact-Faith-Feeling illustration [below] shows that it is the engine of God's facts (truths, power) that pull the train; our faith is attached to that; and our feelings follow.  It would be futile to try to pull the train by our faith (we do not have faith in faith itself), nor to try to pull the train by our feelings.  The power is in God and his promises. 

So faith is more than just believing words, or accepting a creed, it is believing God has the power to fulfill his words.  It is not just believing whatever makes sense in the natural (material) world.

3) POSSESSION.  Faith appropriates God’s promise and power for oneself

Abraham owned it...  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be."  (4:17) The words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  (4:23-24)

Righteousness is not achieved, but it is to be received.  Not a promise and power that stays outside of us, or for the world in general.  But for me.  It must be laid hold of (Phil 3:12) 

"Faith is the hand that grasps the finished work of Christ and makes it my own." (Lesslie Newbigin)

4) PERSON.  Faith is trusting a Person, it is walking in relationship with God

“ the presence of the God in whom he believed...” (4:17)  He believed not just the promise of God, but the God of the promise.  He walked with God.  He was the "friend of God."  (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23)  

Faith is relational.  It’s a turning TO God.  “Faith is the resting of the heart on God.”  (William Ames)  "But to all who did receive him..." (John 1:12) There is something to believe, to agree to, but behind and under that, there is a Someone to trust and walk with.  

Jesus our savior is a whole Person who brings a whole salvation: We do not receive a component of salvation, but a Savior, in whom is all our salvation... 
 In the Gospel of John we see this:  he is the Lamb who takes away our sin, he is the living water who quenches our thirst, he is the bread of life that nourishes and sustains us, he is the light of the world who gives us knowledge and understanding, he is the good shepherd to feed and guide and protect us, he is the resurrection who gives us eternal life, he is the vine that bears fruit in us, and he is our priest who intercedes for us.  


Not only for justification, but Abraham's faith exemplifies the lifestyle of faith for the believer:

  • Am I meditating on, thinking about, applying and clinging to the promises of God in Scripture?
  • Am I relying daily on the power of God to fulfill his purposes for me? Am I living a supernatural life to the glory of God?
  • Am I pursuing, clinging to, and making God's gracious word my very own?
  • Am I personally relating to God who is my Creator and Redeemer?  Am I walking daily with him in the light of his countenance?  

"God, hold us to what drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction and we wanted nothing else." (Amy Carmichael)

Faith does not come by looking at our faith.  It comes by hearing and believing the promises of God.  Consider them prayerfully: 

Matthew 11:28   "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." 
Acts 10:43  "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Acts 16:31 "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Romans 10:9, 12-13  "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved... For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 
Revelation 22:17  "And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price."

the God of the covenant

Among rational and moral creatures all higher life takes the form of a covenant.  Generally, a covenant is an agreement between persons who voluntarily obligate and bind themselves to each other for the purpose of fending off an evil or obtaining a good.  Such an agreement, whether it is made tacitly or defined in explicit detail, is the usual form in terms of which all humans live and work together.  Love, friendship, marriage, as well as all social cooperation in business, industry, science, art, and so forth, is ultimately grounded in a 
covenant, that is, in reciprocal fidelity and an assortment of generally recognized moral obligations.

It should not surprise us, therefore, that also the highest and most richly textured life of human beings, namely, religion bears this character.  In Scripture "covenant" is the fixed form in which the relation of God to his people is depicted and presented.  ..covenant is the essence of true religion.

Why should this be?  First of all, because God is the Creator, man a creature; and with that statement an infinite distance between the two is given.  No fellowship, no religion between the two seems possible; there is only difference, distance, endless distinctness.  If God remains elevated above humanity in his sovereign exaltedness and majesty, then no religion is possible, at least no religion in the sense of fellowship.

...religion must be the character of a covenant.  For then God has to come down from his lofty position, condescend to his creatures, impart, reveal, and give himself away to human beings; then he who inhabits eternity and dwells in a high and holy place must also dwell with those who are of a humble spirit (Isa. 57:15)... this set of conditions in nothing other than the description of a covenant. 

This is what no religion has ever understood; all peoples either pantheistically pull God down into what is creaturely, or deistically elevate him endlessly above it.  In neither case does one arrive at true fellowship, at covenant, at genuine religion.  But Scripture insists on both: God is infinitely great and condescendingly good; he is Sovereign but also Father; he is Creator but also Prototype [ideal human pattern].  In a word, he is the God of the covenant. 

~ Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II:568-70.

burdened or annoyed?

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:46-47 ESV)

"Are you burdened about the state of your country?  Are you merely annoyed at the increase in sin, or is your heart full of sorrow for poor men and women who are its victims?  Are you merely annoyed with young people, or do you feel sorry for them because they do know any better, because they have never heard about God and Christ and the possibility of being children of God?  Are you just irritated by them, or does your heart bleed for them?  Do you want to show them this 'marvelous light'?  Do you want to hold before them 'the word of life'?  People come together in fellowship in order that they might shine more brightly and show this evil generation to which they belong that there is a way of which they know nothing--the way of God, the way of Christ, the way of the life of God in the soul, the way of eternal salvation."

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity (Crossway, 2000) p 145.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

the quotable parsons

Burk & Amber Parsons
Twitter is my main social media venue because I can receive short (140 characters short) insights from a variety of people.  I have enjoyed reading the tweets of Burk Parsons, who is editor of Tabletalk magazine and serves as co-pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. He also has the distinction of being one of the founding members of the Backstreet Boys.  See Challies' interview with Parsons here.  

Here are a few recent tweets from the quotable @BurkParsons... 

"Theology is not simply the pursuit of knowledge about God, it's the pursuit of God himself."  

"Beware of those who teach theology without using the Bible."  

"We can't do theology without doing careful exegesis."  

"Pastors, if we focus on our sermon, our people get a sermon, but if we focus on Christ, our people get Christ."  

"Seeking first God's kingdom is the antidote to worrying about tomorrow because it means we're seeking his kingdom, not control over our own."  

"If you don't believe God is sovereign, you have every reason to worry about today."

"The Christian is one who lives in a constant state of sorrow and joy. Sorrow over sin and suffering.  Joy in God's gospel and grace."  

"I want to hate my sins more than I hate the sins of others who sin differently than I do."  

"We're living in a day when it seems many Christians are hating their enemies rather than praying for their enemies."  

"The question isn't whether you and your spouse ever argue in front of your kids but whether you repent and forgive in front of them as well."  

"Are we justified by works? Yes. Jesus' works, not ours."  

"If we live each day bearing the guilt and shame of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow we will never experience the joys of today."  

"Our hope isn't built on the constantly changing strength of our faith but on the eternal strength of the object of our faith, Jesus Christ."  

articles by alistair roberts

Oxford (UK) city skyline
I've recently enjoyed articles by Alistair Roberts in the U.K. and his insights into the state of evangelicalism in our country.  In the first article he describes the decline of the impact of evangelical scholarship, and in the second he describes the influence of what he calls "Manichaean social justice ideology."

"Currently we face another critical juncture in the development of the American public square and Christians’ place within it. An increasingly dominant secular liberalism antagonistic to orthodox Christian faith will only accelerate the process of squeezing evangelicals out of public life."

"Rather than adopting a gentle approach to navigating the differences between groups, seeking for ways for people with different values and beliefs to live together in peace, progressive liberalism pushes them into the fiercest of opposition."

Monday, November 7, 2016

we can know the incomprehensible God

"Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics. To be sure, the term 'mystery' in Scripture does not mean an abstract supernatural truth in the Roman Catholic sense. Yet Scripture is equally far removed from the idea that believers can grasp the revealed mysteries in a scientific sense. In truth, the knowledge that God has revealed of himself in nature and Scripture far surpasses human imagination and understanding. In that sense it is all mystery with which the science of dogmatics is concerned, for it does not deal with finite creatures, but from beginning to end looks past all creatures and focuses on the eternal and infinite One himself. From the very start of its labors, it faces the Incomprehensible One.

"All things are considered in the light of God, subsumed under him, traced back to him as the starting point.  Dogmatics is always called upon to ponder and describe God and God alone, whose glory is in creation and re-creation, in nature and grace, in the world and in the church.  It is the knowledge of him alone that dogmatics must put on display. 

"By pursuing this aim, dogmatics does not become a dry and academic exercise, without practical usefulness for life.  The more it reflects on God, the knowledge of whom is its only content, the more it will be moved to adoration and worship.  Only if it never forgets to think and speak about matters rather than about mere words, only if it remains a theology of facts and does not degenerate into a theology of rhetoric, only then is dogmatics as the scientific description of the knowledge of God also superlatively fruitful for life.  The knowledge of God-in-Christ, after all, is life itself...

"However little we know of God, even the faintest notion implies that he is a being who is infinitely exalted above every creature.  While Holy Scripture affirms this truth in the strongest terms, it nevertheless sets forth a doctrine of God that fully upholds his knowability.

"This knowledge does not arise from their own investigation and reflection, but is due to the fact that God on his part revealed himself to us in nature and history, in prophecy and miracle, by ordinary and by extraordinary means.  In Scripture, therefore, the knowability of God is never in doubt even for a moment.

"The purpose of God's revelation, according to Scripture, is precisely that human beings may know God and so receive eternal life..."

~ Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:29-30.

double imputation

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26 ESV)

"At the heart of the gospel is a double imputation. My sin is imputed to Jesus. His righteousness is imputed to me. And in this two-fold transaction we see that God -- who does not negotiate sin, who doesn't compromise his own integrity with our salvation, but rather punishes sin fully and really, after it has been imputed to Jesus -- retains his own righteousness, and so he is both just and the justifier, as the Apostle tells us here. So, my sin goes to Jesus; his righteousness comes to me, in the sight of God... This is the article upon which the church stands or falls."

~ R. C. Sproul, "The Protestant View of Justification" in the series, "Luther and the Reformation" 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

the responsibility of the church toward society

The following paragraphs are taken from the conclusion of an article by J. Gresham Machen, originally published in 1933 in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  Machen is addressing the relevance of the Christian message to American education early in the 20th century.  He answers the question of what responsibility the church has in working for the betterment of society... 

"The message will not be enforced by human authority or the pomp of numbers.  Yet some of you may hear it.  If you do hear it and heed it, you will possess riches greater than the riches of all the world.

"Do you think that if you heed the message you will be less successful students of political and social science; do you think that by becoming citizens of another world you will be come less fitted to solve this world's problems; do you think that acceptance of the Christian message will hinder political or social advance?  No, my friends, I will present to you a strange paradox but an assured truth--this world's problems can never be solved by those who make this world the object of their desires.  This world cannot ultimately be bettered if you think that this world is all.  To move the world, you must have a place to stand. 

"This, then is the answer that I give to the question before us.  The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age.  It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life--no, all the length of human history--is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it, a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth--no, all the wonders of the starry heavens--are as the dust of the street.

"An unpopular message it is--an impractical message, we are told.  But it is the message of the Christian church.  Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life." 

~ J. Gresham Machen, "The Responsibility of the Church in Our New Age" in Selected Shorter Writings (P&R Publishing, 2004) p. 376. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

husband's duties

"In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body."  (Ephesians 5:28-30 ESV) 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the duties of the husband toward his wife...

First of all, the husband must realize that his wife is part of himself.  He may not feel this instinctively; he has to be taught it; and the Bible in all its parts teaches it.  In other words, the husband must understand that he and his wife are not two: they are one.    

On the practical level, therefore, the whole of the husband's thinking must include his wife also.  He must never think of himself in isolation or in detachment... His thinking, therefore, must never be personal in the sense of being individualistic, and what he does involves of necessity the other half. 

[On Eph. 5:29] A man's attitude to his wife, says the Apostle, should be his attitude, as were, to his body.  That is the analogy -- and it is more than an analogy.  We have already considered the matter as it is taught at the end of Genesis chapter 2.  The woman was originally taken out of the man.  There we have the proof of the fact that she is a part of the man, and that describes the characteristic of the unity.  

It's the husband's duty to make coffee for his wife in the morning.

To sum it up, this is a great commandment to married men never to be selfish.  Neither must the wife be selfish, of course.  Everything applies on the other side, but here we are dealing particularly with husbands.  We have already said that the wife is to submit herself.  In doing so she has acted on the same principle;  this is now the husband's side of the matter.  He must therefore deliberately remind himself constantly of what is true of him in this married state, and that must govern and control all this thinking, all his wishing, all his desiring, indeed the totality of his life and activity.

The Apostle puts it in this form in order that a husband may see that he cannot detach himself from his wife.  You cannot detach yourself from your body, so you cannot detach yourself from your wife.  She is part of you, says the Apostle, so remember that always.  You cannot live in isolation, you cannot live in detachment.  If you realize that, there will be no danger of your thinking in detachment, no danger of your wishing and willing and desiring any detachment.  Still less can there be any antagonism or hatred. Notice how he puts it: 'No man', he says, to ridicule the thing, 'no man ever yet hated his own flesh but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church'.  So any element of hatred between husband and wife is sheer madness; it shows that the man has no conception at all as to what marriage means.  

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit (Baker Books, 1973) pp 212-214.

Hear MLJ's message, "The Husband's Duties" here, the sermon upon which this chapter is based.  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

the problem of self

"The real cause of failure, ultimately, in marriage is always self, and the various manifestations of self.  Of course, that is the cause of trouble everywhere and in every realm.  Self and selfishness are the greatest disrupting forces in the world.  All the major problems confronting the world, whether you look at the matter from the standpoint of nations and statesmen or from the standpoint of industry and social conditions, or from any other standpoint -- all these troubles ultimately come back to self, to 'my rights', to 'what I want', and to 'who is he'? or 'who is she'?  

"Self, with its horrid manifestations, always leads to trouble, because if two 'selfs' come into opposition there is bound to be a clash.  Self always wants everything for it-self. That is true of my self, but it is equally true of your self.  You at once have two autonomous powers, each deriving from self, and a clash is inevitable.  Such clashes occur at every level, from two people right up to great communities and empires and nations.

"'Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God'.  [Eph. 5:21] That is the basic principle, and it is to be true of all members of the Christian church.  Whether married or unmarried, we are all to be submitting ourselves one to the other in the fear of God." 

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit (Baker Books, 1973) pp 211-12. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

the importance of christian scholarship

In June of 1932, J. Gresham Machen gave three lectures at a meeting of the Bible League in Caxton Hall, Westminster, London. The titles were "The Importance of Christian Scholarship for Evangelism", "The Importance of Christian Scholarship for Defense of the Faith", and "The Importance of Christian Scholarship for Building Up the Church."  The PDF of this series, as well as MP3 readings of the messages are located on the Reformed Audio site.  It would be worth your while to listen to them!

Here are just a few excerpts...

Let us, therefore, pray that God will raise up for us today true defenders of the Christian faith. We are living in the midst of a mighty conflict against the Christian religion. The conflict is carried on with intellectual weapons. Whether we like it or not, there are millions upon millions of our fellowmen who reject Christianity for the simple reason that they do not believe Christianity to be true. What is to be done in such a situation?

We can learn, at this point, a lesson from the past history of the Church. This is not the first time during the past nineteen hundred years when intellectual objections have been raised against the gospel of Christ. How have those objections been treated? Have they been evaded, or have they been faced? The answer is written large in the history of the Church. The objections have been faced. God has raised up in time of need, not only evangelists to appeal to the multitudes, but also Christian scholars to meet the intellectual attack. So it will be in our day, my friends. The Christian religion flourishes not in the darkness but in the light. Intellectual slothfulness is but a quack remedy for unbelief; the true remedy is consecration of intellectual powers to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us not fear for the result. Many times, in the course of the past nineteen hundred years, men have predicted that in a generation or so the old gospel would be forever forgotten. Yet the gospel has burst forth again, and set the world aflame. So it may be in our age, in God's good time and in His way. Sad indeed are the substitutes for the gospel of Christ. The Church has been beguiled into "By-path Meadow," and is now groaning in the dungeon of "Giant Despair." Happy is the man who can point out to such a Church the straight, high road that leads over hill and valley to the City of God.

Men are trying today, as they have always been trying, to save themselves-- to save themselves by their own act of surrender, by the excellence of their own faith, by mystic experiences of their own lives. But it is all in vain. Not that way is peace with God to be obtained. It is to be obtained only in the old, old way - by attention to something that was done once for all long ago, and by acceptance of the living Savior who there, once for all, brought redemption for our sin. Oh, that men would turn for salvation from their own experience to the Cross of Christ; oh, that they would turn from the phenomena of religion to the living God!

That that may be done, there is but one way. It is not found in a study of the psychology of religion; it is not found in "religious education"; it is not found in an analysis of one's own spiritual status. Oh, no. It is found only in the blessed written Word. There are the words of life. There God speaks. Let us attend to His voice. Let us above all things know the Word. Let us study it with all our minds, let us cherish it with all our hearts. Then let us try, very humbly, to bring it to the unsaved. Let us pray that God may honor not the messengers but the message, that despite our unworthiness He may make His Word upon our unworthy lips to be a message of life.

~ J. Gresham Machen, 1932.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

JE birthday quotes

In honor of Jonathan Edwards' birthday last week (October 5), here are a few snippets from his writings, courtesy of @SDG_67:

"Such is man's natural enmity against God, that he would rather trust in anything in the world, than God."

"The cross was the devil's own weapon and with this weapon he was overthrown: as David cut off Goliath's head with his own sword."

"Christ has flung the door of mercy wide open, and stands in the door calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners."

"Seeing the beauty of God's holiness will melt the hearts of men, wean them from the world, draw them to God, and effectually change them."

"The gospel seemed to me the richest treasure, the treasure I have most desired; I longed that it might dwell in me richly."

"The yoke of Christ is abundantly lighter than the iron yoke of Satan."

"Make much use of prayer. You have a subtle and cruel enemy who seeks your ruin and disguises himself to deceive you. Keep close to God."

"Communion with God... is the highest kind of pleasure that can possibly be enjoyed by a creature."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

the whole universe a language

"I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words..."  

~ Jonathan Edwards, Typological Writings, Yale Vol. 11, p. 152.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

consider the clouds

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; 
I will sing praises to you among the nations.  
For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; 
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! 
Let your glory be over all the earth!  

(Psalm 108:3-5 ESV; see also Psalm 36:5; 57:10-11)

I love stepping outside in the morning and looking up at the clouds in the sky. Or in the evening I'll take a walk and enjoy a beautiful sunset, with streaks and colors of light illuminating the clouds.  

One thing clouds always remind me of is that God's steadfast love and faithfulness is gloriously high above me, infinitely surpassing any of my earthbound needs and concerns.  His love is greater than my sin and higher than any problem I face. His steadfast love and faithfulness is inexhaustible. We can never run out of his faithfulness nor reach the end of the love which he has toward all who are in Christ Jesus. (See Romans 8.)     

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), America's greatest theologian, believed that all of creation was a kind of language that communicated the glory of God to us.  So, when God created rocks, and trees, and plants, and streams, and clouds, he had in mind certain truths that would be conveyed to observant minds and hearts.  The 11th volume of the Yale edition of Edwards' writings is the Typological Writings (1744, WJE Online Vol. 11), edited by Wallace E. Anderson, Mason I. Lowance, Jr., and David H. Watters. Edwards used Scripture as his guide for determining God's intended purpose of things created.  Here is one entry regarding the "heavens" and "clouds": 

#212. The immense magnificence of the visible world, its inconceivable vastness, the incomprehensible height of the heavens, etc. is but a type of the infinite magnificence, height and glory of God's work in the spiritual world: the most incomprehensible expression of his power, wisdom, holiness and love, in what is wrought and brought to pass in that world; and in the exceeding greatness of the moral and natural good, the light, knowledge, holiness and happiness which shall be communicated to it. And therefore to that magnificence of the world, height of heaven, those things are often compared in such expressions. "Thy mercy is great above the heavens, thy truth reacheth [unto the clouds"]; "Thou hast set thy glory above the heavens," etc.  
~ Jonathan Edwards, Typological Writings (WJE Online Vol. 11)

Edwards' teaching on the types (God-intended images and shadows) in creation has transformed the way I look at nature, like the clouds.  I see these things now not as convenient illustrations of God's nature and character (after the fact) but rather images and metaphors divinely intended from the beginning to be objects for our contemplation. Nature truly is a form of revelation from God.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

on the Spirit and Word

the privilege of being the church

"To me the saddest and most grievous thing of all at the present time is the failure of Christian people to realize what the New Testament tells us about ourselves, and what it means to be members of the body of Christ.  In a world that attaches such significance to honors and glories and position, is it not amazing that we can regard our membership of the church as we do?  Many seem to regard it as almost a kind of dignity that they confer upon the church, instead of realizing that it is the highest and the most glorious privilege that anyone can ever have or know.  Others regard their membership of the church as a task and as a duty, and are rather pleased with themselves if they perform any function.  Now that betrays a complete failure to understand what it really means to be members of this body, which is the Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself."

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home & Work (Baker Books, 1973) p. 196.

Here is the original sermon (in MP3) upon which this commentary is based: "The Bride's Privileges."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

unraveling strands II

Over twenty-five years ago, Carl Henry gave a lecture, first to the Baptist Union of Romania (September, 1990), and later to the Tyndale Seminary faculty (the Netherlands) and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, entitled "Christianity and Resurgent Paganism".  As with all of his writings I am continually amazed at Henry's prescient insight into Western culture and its trajectory.  Where Henry refers to "modernism" we can easily substitute the term "post-modernism." This is the second post with a few quotes from this talk.  

"Modernity, therefore, needs to be liberated not only from the shackles of unbelief, but also from its bondage to wrong beliefs.  Prominent among these beliefs is the notion that science, as mathematical physicists ideally pursue it, is the only reliable method of knowing.  Modern empiricists sponsor an ideological totalism of their own when they confer explanatory crown rights on a theory of truth that cannot decide the final truth of anything.  Naturalism, as Ronald Nash says, is 'not a decision based on science... It is... a religious decision.' Indeed, and an irreligious decision.  It's presuppositions preclude acknowledging the reality of God, the supernatural, divine Providence, unchanging truth and good, and an afterlife.  Its restrictive and reductive assumptions provide no evidence of open-mindedness.  They reflect rather a dogmatic closed-mindedness to comprehensive truth.  While splitting atoms and chasing quarks in search of an ultimate explanatory principle, naturalism's intellectuals have lost the infinite and omnipresent Deity.

"Neither science nor democracy arose independently of Christian influences in the West.  Yet the Christian mission is not reducible to scientific and technological advancement or to the victory of democracy.  Some have lived in the best societies but have lost the pearl of great price; others have found it who have lived in the most decadent societies.  Nor will Christianity be a failure if in the third millennium Christians are outnumbered.  Neither Jesus nor Paul taught that believers would be a majority movement, and both warned of impending persecution as the cost of discipleship.  But they remind us still that those who accept Christ's proffered place in the kingdom of God are the blessed both in this life and the next.

"The Western World's present defection from the Bible is not the last word.  Unfolding judgment is already underway; a death-warrant hangs over modernity, both in the present millennium and in eternity to come."    

~ Carl F. H. Henry, "Christianity and Resurgent Paganism" (1990), found in gods of this age or...God of The Ages? (Broadman & Holman, 1994)

Monday, September 19, 2016

the believer and good works

In Sunday's sermon we learned how we should reject moralism and embrace God's grace given to us in Jesus Christ (Romans 2:1-11)

In staff meeting this morning we discussed a related question -- how then do we do good works as Christians without lapsing back into moralism? What exactly is a good work for the believer, the kind of good work God is looking for?  How do the good works we attempt before salvation differ from the good works that God expects of the believer after salvation?

I think there are at least four differences between a moralistic approach to life and the life of the Christian seeking to do good.   

1) There's a different standard.  For the believer God's word is the source book for what constitutes a good work.  Before, it was what seemed right or good to us at the time, or what is popularly viewed as good in our culture.  Though there are many good works from a humanitarian viewpoint, the believer increasingly views his works in terms of God's will and from his perspective.  God declares what is good.  (Matt. 15:7-9; John 14:21; 1 John 3:4) 

2)  There's a different motive.  Once it was insecurity and fear of judgment, or gaining approval of God or others, or keeping up an appearance, or having pride in our goodness, or proving our own righteousness which drove us to do good.  Now it is more and more a matter of faith (trust in God, his Word, and his ways) working through love (love of God and neighbor).  Once it was a lot about outward actions, and now it includes the heart of our actions.   (Matt. 22:34-40; Rom. 14:23; Gal. 5:6; Heb. 11:6)

3)  There's a different dynamic.  Previously, it was mainly our dedication, will-power, and self-effort which was producing our good deeds, or perhaps family and societal expectations.  Now we are finding power through the Holy Spirit to manifest the fruit of our union with Christ to walk in the goodness he has called us to.  (John 15:5; Gal. 5:22-25; Eph. 2:10) 

4)  There's a different goal.  Formerly, it was self-glory (to be seen as good) or a humanitarian concern (to do good for the human race, as good as that may be).  But now it is the glory of God that we want to display -- that he might be honored, that God and his ways would be seen as true, good, and beautiful.  (1 Cor 10:31; Matt 5:16)

What makes me right and acceptable before God has nothing to do with me, my goodness, my worth, my works, my anything, but rather the righteousness of Christ (crucified and risen) given to me as a gift to be received with the empty hand of faith.  There's no boasting, no self-pride, and no craven fear anymore!  

The grace of God I now have (and forever have in Christ) frees me to actually begin to do good works, the kind of good works that God created me to do.  I'm not doing these good things out of fear of rejection and loss of salvation, nor am I doing them to commend myself to God or others, or to feel good about myself.  I am now doing good works in living relationship with God, by faith, out of love, and with the desire that he -- not me -- be honored.  

It is really only after we've been humbled (of our pride) and saved (from our fear) that we can actually do something good, not only in the sight of man, but in the sight of God.  

So, as we walk day-by-day with the Lord, and as we want to be careful not to lapse into moralism, we can ask ourselves some questions about the good things we are seeking to do:

  • Am I seeking to do this in accordance with God's word, ...or is it about my idea, tradition, the expectation of others? 
  • Am I doing this out of a loving trust in the Lord, ...or am I acting in pride or fear of someone or something?
  • Am I relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, ...or is it my will-power going through the motions?
  • Am I doing this to bring glory to God rather than myself?