Thursday, September 21, 2017

essential and non-essential

"I am a Calvinist; I believe in election and predestination; but I would not dream of putting it under the heading of essential. I put it under the heading of non-essential… You are not saved by your precise understanding of how this great salvation comes to you. What you must be clear about is that you are lost and damned, hopeless and helpless, and that nothing can save you but the grace of God in Jesus Christ and only Him crucified, bearing the punishment of your sins, dying, rising again, ascending, sending the Spirit, regeneration. Those are the essentials… While I myself hold very definite and strong views on the subject, I will not separate from a man who cannot accept and believe the doctrines of election and predestination, and is Arminian, as long as he tells me that we are all saved by grace, and as long as the Calvinist agrees, as he must, that God calls all men everywhere to repentance. As long as both are prepared to agree about these things I say we must not break fellowship. So I put election into the category of non-essentials."

~ D Martyn Lloyd Jones, What is an Evangelical? (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992)


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

why we love the mountains



J. Gresham Machen, professor of New Testament, apologist, author, and founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, once said, "I do love the mountains, and I have loved them ever since I can remember anything at all.”

In a 1933 lecture to ministers in Philadelphia he spoke about "Mountains and Why We Love Them."  It was subsequently published in Christianity Today in 1934.  A five-minute overview of this message is presented by Stephen Nichols here.  

I love Machen's own words on the perspective that mountains give us on history and our world:  

What will be the end of that European civilization, of which I had a survey from my mountain vantage ground—of that European civilization and its daughter in America? What does the future hold in store? Will Luther prove to have lived in vain? Will all the dreams of liberty issue into some vast industrial machine? ... Will some dreadful second law of thermodynamics apply in the spiritual as in the material realm? Will all things in church and state be reduced to one dead level, coming at last to an equilibrium in which all liberty and all high aspirations will be gone? Will that be the end of all humanity's hopes? I can see no escape from that conclusion in the signs of the times; too inexorable seems to me to be the march of events. No, I can see only one alternative. The alternative is that there is a God—a God who in His own good time will bring forward great men again to do His will, great men to resist the tyranny of experts and lead humanity out again into the realms of light and freedom, great men, above all, who will be messengers of His grace. There is, far above any earthly mountain peak of vision, a God high and lifted up who, though He is infinitely exalted, yet cares for His children among men.

~ Gresham Machen.  The complete message, "Mountains and Why We Love Them," here


Photo above is of Yosemite National Park by Christoph Bengtsson Lissalde on Unsplash. 



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

shaking free from trivialities

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."  (Acts 6:2-4 ESV)

"Nothing is more needed among preachers today than that we should have the courage to shake ourselves free from the thousand and one trivialities in which we are asked to waste our time and strength, and resolutely return to the apostolic ideal which made necessary the office of the diaconate.  We must resolve that we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the Word."  
(G. Campbell Morgan)





Monday, August 21, 2017

cannot serve two masters

Heather Phillips / Unsplash


No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Matthew 6:24)

"The little word serve is key to this verse. It isn’t sinful to have money and property, a spouse and children, and a house or home. But don’t let these possessions control you. Rather, make them your servants and be their master. Remember what people say about kind and generous individuals: 'They are masters of their money.' Money doesn’t control them, unlike a greedy miser who ignores God’s Word and everything else God wants. A miser would rather withhold a helping hand than let go of money. This kind of greed is the mark of tightfisted, childish, and insensitive individuals. That type of person doesn’t put resources to good use or even enjoy them. They ignore eternal treasures for the sake of money. They pursue their own selfish goals and neglect God’s Word, thinking they can get around to it at a more convenient time. Meanwhile, they scramble to get everything they can, without a penny to spare for the work of God. If left unchecked, they will sink deeper and deeper into greed and jealousy, moving further and further away from God’s Word. Eventually their hearts will be filled with cynicism, and they will become enemies of God. So Christ spoke sternly when he said, 'Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.' This is the same as saying, 'The love of money makes people enemies of God.' That’s ultimately what happens when we serve wealth. Christ also said, 'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also' (Matthew 6:21). We pursue what we love. We talk about it because that is where our hearts and thoughts are. Augustine came right to the point when he said: 'Whatever I love is my god.'”

~ Martin Luther, in Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional, ed. by James C. Galvin. 


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

a new reformation

"...we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified."  (Galatians 2:16 ESV)

Because of the fundamental nature of faith... it is natural to find that in the New Testament faith, as the reception of a free gift, is placed in sharpest contrast with any intrusion of human merit; it is natural to find that faith is sharply contrasted with works.  The contrast is really implied by the New Testament throughout, and in one book, the Epistle to the Galatians, it forms the express subject of the argument. 

That book from beginning to end is a mighty polemic in defense of the doctrine of justification by faith alone; and as such it has rightly been called the Magna Charta of Christian liberty.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century the world was lying in darkness; but God then raised up a man who read this Epistle with his own eyes, and the Reformation was born.  So it may be in our own day.  Again the world is sinking into bondage; the liberty of the sons of God is again giving place to the bondage of a religion of merit: but God still lives, and His Spirit again may bring the charter of our liberty to light.

Meanwhile a strange darkness covers the eyes of men; the message of the great Epistle, so startlingly clear to the man whose eyes have been opened, is hidden by a mass of misinterpretation as absurd in its way as the medieval rubbish of the fourfold sense of Scripture which the Reformation brushed aside. Grammatico-historical interpretation is still being favored in theory, but despite is being done to it (by preachers if not scholars) in practice; and the Apostle is being made to say anything that men wish him to have said.

A new Reformation, we think, like the Reformation of the sixteenth century, would be marked, among other things, by a return to plain common sense; and the Apostle would be allowed, despite our likes and dislikes, to say what he really meant to say.

~ J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (1925; Banner of Truth edition, 1991) p. 183f.





Above, lithograph of Martin Luther from an 1882 painting by F. W. Wehle.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

offering life and hope to civilization

Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash


"The heavens declare the glory of God, 
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."  (Psalm 19:1 ESV)

"Let there be scientists who behold God’s glory and nature and not only impersonal processes; anthropologists who affirm the image of God is man and not only an animal ancestry; philosophers who stress that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom rather than the beginning of mythology; moralists who emphasize God’s commandments rather than the tolerances of modern culture; artists who set agape to music and poetry and who will capture our now wicked world of words for whatever is good and godly; let us have intellectual leaders who offer life and hope to civilization that has missed the way and needs to be alerted again to the incomparable greatness and grace of Jesus Christ."

~ Carl F. H. Henry, quoted by Owen Strachan in Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement.  (Zondervan, 2015)


Thursday, July 20, 2017

a word was not enough

timothy ah koy / unsplash

"Sin is the most serious matter that has ever entered into the whole universe. Let me put it like this. The problem of sin is the greatest problem that even Almighty God has ever had to deal with. 

"Now, creation is a tremendous matter. There was nothing, and God created. There at a certain point the Spirit broods upon the abyss and the chaos, and God said: ‘Let there be light: and there was light.’ God brought light into being by the mere word of his power, his mere fiat. And God created everything in the same way—a word was enough, such is the power of God. He speaks and it is done. 

"But when God comes to deal with the problem of man, and man in sin and rebellion, and man in alienation against himself, a word is not enough. 

"God cannot forgive sin just by saying: ‘I forgive.’ If he could, he would have done so. Do you imagine that God would ever have sent his only begotten Son to the cross if he could have forgiven the sin of men in any other way? Would God have abandoned his Son to that, and poured out upon him the vials of his wrath? Would he have allowed his only begotten, dearly beloved Son, to cry out in agony, and to say, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ while he endured the agony and the thirst and the shame? Would he ever have allowed it if there had been any other way? But there was not. A word is enough to create, but a word is not enough to forgive. 

"Before God can forgive any sin to any man, his only begotten Son had to leave the courts of heaven, and come down on earth and take on human nature, and live as a man and be ‘stricken, smitten of God’, upon that cross. And the cross thus proclaims the holiness of God, the heinousness of sin, the terrible problem of sin, the terrible seriousness of man’s rebellion against God."

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "The Cross of Christ Speaks" from The Cross: God's Way of Salvation (Crossway, 1986) 


the mystery of self

shttefan / unsplash

"You...are acquainted with all my ways...behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. ... Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!" (Psalm 139:3, 4, 23 ESV) 

"Whoever meditates on the mystery of his own life will quickly realize why only God, the searcher of the secrets of the heart, can pass final judgment. We cannot judge what we have no access to. The self is a swirling conflict of fears, impulses, sentiments, interests, allergies, and foibles. It is a metaphysical given for which there is no easy rational explanation. Now if we cannot unveil the mystery of our own motives and affections, how much less can we unveil the mystery in others? That is, as we look into ourselves, we encounter the mystery of our own, the depths of our own selfhood. As we sing things like 'Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come.' And having recognized the mysteries that dwell in the very depths of our own being, how can we treat other people as if they were empty or superficial beings, without the same kind of mystery?"

~ Edward J. Carnell, at his inauguration as president of Fuller Seminary, 1955.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

grace restores nature

"Joseph the Carpenter", Georges de La Tour 1645.
"Grace restores nature" is summary of Herman Bavinck's view that God's work of redemption does not replace or eliminate the natural order of creation, but rather renews and permeates it.  The redeemed man or woman does not cease to breathe, eat, sleep, work, get married, have families, fulfill their roles, create art, pay taxes, etc. But it is not a mere return -- all things are different, now permeated by grace. 

Here are some excerpts from his essay, "Common Grace", which explains this position, and how it differs from others.  

"When the kingdom has fully come, Christ will hand it over to God the Father. The original order will be restored. But not naturally, as if nothing had ever happened, as if sin had never existed and the revelation of God's grace in Christ had never occurred. Christ gives more than sin stole; grace was made much more to abound. He does not simply restore us to the status integritatis [state of righteousness] of Adam; he makes us, by faith, participants of the non posse peccare [being unable to sin] (1 John 3:9) and of the non posse mori [being unable to die] (John 11:25). Adam does not again receive the place which he lost by sin. The first man was of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. Just as we have born the image of the earthy, so too after the resurrection shall we bear the image of the heavenly man (1 Cor. 15:45-49). A new song will be sung in heaven (Rev. 5:9, 10), but the original order of creation will remain, at least to the extent that all distinctions of nature and grace will once and for all be done away with. Dualism will cease. Grace does not remain outside or above or beside nature but rather permeates and wholly renews it. And thus nature, reborn by grace, will be brought to its highest revelation. That situation will again return in which we serve God freely and happily, without compulsion or fear, simply out of love, and in harmony with our true nature. That is the genuine religio naturalis [natural religion]. In order to restore such religion, faith has for a time become a religio Christiana, Erl√∂sungsreligion [Christian religion, a religion of salvation]. 

"The Christian religion does not, therefore, have the task of creating a new supernatural order of things. It does not intend to institute a totally new, heavenly kingdom such as Rome intends in the church and the Anabaptists undertook at Munster. Christianity does not introduce a single substantial foreign element into the creation. It creates no new cosmos but rather makes the cosmos new. It restores what was corrupted by sin. It atones the guilty and cures what is sick; the wounded it heals. Jesus was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit to bring good tidings to the afflicted, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive and the opening of prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and to comfort those who mourn (Isa. 61:1, 2). He makes the blind to see, the lame to walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised, and the gospel is preached to the poor (Matt. 11:5). Jesus was not a new lawgiver; he was not a statesman, poet, or philosopher. He was Jesus—that is, Savior. But he was that totally and perfectly, not in the narrow Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Anabaptist sense but in the full, deep, and broad Reformed sense of the word. Christ did not come just to restore the religio-ethical life of man and to leave all the rest of life undisturbed, as if the rest of life had not been corrupted by sin and had no need of restoration. No, the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the communion of the Holy Spirit extend even as far as sin has corrupted. Everything that is sinful, guilty, unclean, and full of woe is, as such and for that very reason, the object of the evangel of grace that is to be preached to every creature. ... 

"The church may indeed desire that the government of the land be directed by Christian principles and profit from the revelation of God's grace, for state and society have also been damaged by sin and need God's word to guide and direct, but here too grace does not nullify nature. Home, society, and state may well be reborn by the Spirit of Christ, but they exist and live by virtue of God's ordering of nature; they possess alongside the church their own independence. Christ came not to do away with the world and the various spheres of life but to restore and preserve them. 

"Ultimately the same holds for the relation of the Christian religion to the arts and sciences. These were first developed in the line of Cain. Like man, they are born and conceived in sin, but they are not of themselves sinful or unclean. They can be sanctified by the word and Spirit of Christ. The gospel is also a word of health and blessing in these powerful aspects of culture. The art, science, or scholarship that scorns the gospel thereby does itself the gravest damage and robs itself of the richest blessings. The art that turns its back on Christ and his cross loses the ideal and destroys itself in realism. And the science that does not acknowledge the word of God ends in agnosticism and is left viewing the origin, being, and destiny of things as insoluble riddles.

"But here too re-creation is something different than creation. The arts and sciences have their principium not in the special grace of regeneration and conversion but in the natural gifts and talents that God in his common grace has also given to nonbelievers. Therefore Christian theologians of all times have also profited from pagan art and learning and have insisted upon a classical education for every man of learning, including the theologian. They were not blind to the dangers of such an education, and desired that it take place under Christian leadership. But they nevertheless maintained the right and independence of the arts and sciences, requiring only that they be sanctified by the Spirit of Christ. Scripture itself, they maintained, gave them freedom to this end. For Moses was reared in all the wisdom of Egypt, the children of Israel decorated the house of the Lord with the gold and silver of Egypt, Solomon used the services of Hiram to build the temple, Daniel was trained in the science of the Chaldeans, and the wise men from the East laid their gifts at the feet of the baby in Bethlehem."

~ Herman Bavinck, in "Herman Bavinck’s ‘Common Grace.’” Translated by R. C. Van Leeuwen. Calvin Theological Journal 24, no. 1 (1989): 35–65.

This and other works by Herman Bavinck available at The Bavinck Institute.





Saturday, July 1, 2017

boasting in the cross

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."  (Galatians 6:14 ESV)

Here are some highlights from The Cross: God's Way of Salvation (Crossway, 1986), a series of messages by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached in 1963 at Westminster Chapel in London. 

"The whole of the New Testament is proclaiming the blood of Christ, the death of Christ upon the cross, on Calvary. It is the heart and centre of the Christian evangel, the good news of salvation."

"He [Paul] preached the cross because it is the cross that really does this thing that sets us free, and gives us our salvation. This is absolutely vital."

"Nothing is more necessary than that we should be perfectly clear about our authority, and there are only two ultimate authorities: the Bible, or anything else you like. There is no other choice...  Everybody bases his opinion either upon this book or else not upon it."

"There is no more subtle test of our understanding than our attitude to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

"[M]an’s ultimate sin is intellectual pride. And this preaching of the cross is an offence to man’s mind, because it cuts across all his preconceived notions and ideas and prejudices."

"We are not saved by thought, or by understanding. We are not saved, if you like, by philosophy. ... Man believes that he has the capacity in himself to comprehend all truth."

"You see, the very presence of the Son of God in this world is an utter, absolute condemnation of us, every one of us. It is because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that he ever came, and especially why he had to go to the cross. And this is a source of offence. He tells us that we are failures, that we are sinners."

"He says that we are all equally failures.  'You tell us that the man who has striven to live a good life and has tried to be religious and to say his prayers, you say that he is in the same position as a man who has never prayed, has never been near a place of worship, and has lived only for sin and evil, and vice and lust, you say they are in the same lost condition?’ That is precisely what the cross of Christ says."

"The cross is an offence to the pride of the natural man, because it says that not only are we all sinners, not only are we all equally sinners, but it tells us that we are all equally helpless."

"The Christian not only glories in the cross, he glories in the cross alone. He glories in nothing else. Hear Isaac Watts putting it: 'Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast Save in the death of Christ my God.' There is an exclusiveness about it, which means that to the Christian this is the chiefest thing in history, the most important event that has ever taken place. It means that to him there is nothing which comes anywhere near it in significance. It means that he rests everything upon this, that this means all to him, that he is what he is because of this. He glories in it."

"The test of the Christian is that he glories in it, he exults in it, he boasts of it. It is everything to him, without it he has nothing. He owes all to this, this cross is the centre of his universe in every respect. That is what is meant by boasting."


This sermon was originally entitled "The Offense of the Cross" and can be heard or downloaded in MP3 here.  




Wednesday, June 28, 2017

ribbeite

Photo credit: rruff.info/ribbeite
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV)

In 1987 a newly discovered mineral, dug from the Kombat Mine in Namibia, was named after Dr. Paul H. Ribbe of Virginia Tech.  "Ribbeite" was so named in recognition of Paul's many contributions to mineralogy, especially in his studies of crystal structures and mineral luminescence.

Further, in "The Vision of Paul H. Ribbe and the Remarkable Story of Reviews" this was written about his research and editorial work:  

Thirty years ago, a small unassuming book entitled Sulfide Minerals appeared. Soft-bound in a bright yellow cover, it was printed at a tiny press in Blacksburg, Virginia. The editor was Paul H. Ribbe, a well-known feldspar mineralogist. The print run was a few hundred, and not many people noticed. Today, the same series, covering a multitude of topics in mineralogy, petrology, and geochemistry, has grown to a staggering 25,000+ pages in 57 volumes. Known for excellence and comprehensiveness, over 200,000 copies of these books have been sold or distributed to libraries worldwide. It is fair to say that these books have touched the scientific life of nearly every mineralogist, petrologist, and geochemist in the world since the 1970's.  Paul remained series editor throughout, finally retiring just last year (2003) 

Read more about this here and here.   

David Kingston, Professor (UDP) of Chemistry at Virginia Tech, and fellow elder at BCF, shared these words about Paul in light of the Colossians 3 passage given above:  

We first met when we were both graduate students at Cambridge University in England; he in mineralogy and I in chemistry. We met at Zion Baptist Church, and Paul and Elna took pity on me as a single and rather skinny student, and invited me to their home on several occasions for American-style home cooked meals, which were greatly appreciated. We parted ways when we both graduated, but we were reunited in 1971 when I moved to Blacksburg. About two years before I arrived Paul and Elna and four other families had founded Blacksburg Christian Fellowship, with the aim of it being a church that preached the word of God and encouraged ministry to students. Paul was the most energetic of the elders, and although I was not around at the very beginning it is probably true to say that without him BCF would not exist today. However, my real point is that Paul was a man who was a wonderful example of someone who worked at his work with all his heart, as working for the Lord. He was a Professor of Mineralogy at Virginia Tech, and greatly respected for his research and teaching. Among other achievements he founded and was the Editor for 30 years, from 1974-2004, of the series Reviews in Mineralogy & Geochemistry. He also taught hundreds of students, two of whom later took jobs at VT and are
now University Distinguished Professors. In addition to all this he spent a major part of his time serving the Lord in Blacksburg. He wrote a brief autobiography in which he described himself as follows: “My spare-time pursuits: Teaching, preaching, marrying, overseeing, etc. as a BCF Elder; at home: landscaping, traveling and supporting my wife for 33 years as Teaching Leader of Bible Study Fellowship. She wondrously supported me for the past 58+ years! The secret of our strong marriage: We both had the same calling — a life-long commitment to serving and proclaiming Jesus.” And Paul lived what he taught, serving the Lord on the VT campus and through BCF for almost 50 years. And because of this I can tell you with confidence that verse 24 is true for him “since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord
Christ you are serving. And so our Lord Christ has greeted him with the words: “well done, good and faithful servant”.

Hear David's sermon "Your Work Matters to God" here







Monday, June 26, 2017

an easter prayer

The following is the Sunday morning prayer offered by Paul Ribbe at the BCF Easter service about four years ago, as recorded by Jason Meyer:  

Most exalted and loving Jesus, we bring our praise and worship to you this  morning. You have indeed been raised from the dead! You are alive!

What we celebrate today is the crowning miracle of your Gospel, the Good News: It’s the Greatest News ever heard by mankind in all of history!

Because of your death on the cross in our place, and your glorious resurrection from the tomb, we are no longer alienated from the Father, dead and rotting in our sins – Instead, we are completely wrapped in the perfection of your righteousness.

We have hope in this life and assurance of the life to come! You will present us – even me, Lord(!) -- to God the Father – holy, and blameless, and above reproach. And those who have passed away in you, who have “gone to sleep” in you, are today in Paradise with you.

Because you, Lord Jesus, have been raised from the dead, everything has changed. You are the first-fruits and the guarantee of a whole “new 
creation.”

Redemption, reconciliation, and restoration are your gifts of grace to us.

The decline and decay of our earthly bodies will soon give way to the glory of our resurrection bodies. Death is swallowed up in victory!

“Thanks be to God who gives us that victory through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord."

We thank you that the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of God our Father, and of you, Lord Jesus! You are already reigning, and you will reign forever and ever. 

All evil powers and Satan himself have already been defeated by your death and resurrection. And, one day they will be completely removed when you return for your own. 

Our prayer is: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Jesus, your death was the death of sin and death itself, and your resurrection is beginning of life – new and victorious life for all those who love you. 

The wonder of it all!

By your compelling grace, Lord Jesus, open our eyes and minds to see you in your beauty. Free us from the emptiness of living for ourselves, and may we live for the praise of your glory.

Bring your resurrection power to bear in our homes, in our church, and in our community. Capture our children early and re-capture our hearts when we drift.

Speak to us from your Word this morning through your servant, David, and hear us as we sing your praises.

May the rest of our days be spent for your glory, empowered by your Holy Spirit. So, Risen Lord Jesus, we pray in your most glorious and worthy name, AMEN.





Friday, June 23, 2017

this verbal disease (eliot)

"During a good part of history the philosopher endeavoured to deal with objects which he believed to be of the same exactness as the mathematician’s. Finally Hegel arrived, and if not perhaps the first, he was certainly the most prodigious exponent of emotional systematization, dealing with his emotions as if they were definite objects which had aroused those emotions. His followers have as a rule taken for granted that words have definite meanings, overlooking the tendency of words to become indefinite emotions. 

"If verbalism were confined to professional philosophers, no harm would be done. But their corruption has extended very far. Compare a medieval theologian or mystic, compare a seventeenth-century preacher, with any 'liberal' sermon since Schleiermacher, and you will observe that words have changed their meanings. What they have lost is definite, and what they have gained is indefinite.

"The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information—deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts." 

~ T. S. Eliot, excerpt from “The Perfect Critic” (1920) published in Athenaeum.  Complete article here.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

what standard of judgment



"For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."  Pilate said to him, 'What is truth?...'"  (John 18:37-38 ESV)

One of the main problems in communicating with people today is a lack of clarity regarding what our standard of judgment is.  What framework, what authority, does each of us see as ultimate and binding?  When someone says, "what's wrong with ______ ", there is usually an implied basis for judgment.  It may be what seems "reasonable", or its wide cultural acceptance, or some scientific study which seems to support it.  

J. Gresham Machen notes, "The first question in dealing with any difference of opinion is the question what standard of judgment is to be applied to the question at issue."  (The Christian Faith in the Modern World)

I drew the chart above with spheres of authority.  God's Word is a solid circle; the others are dotted (fluctuating, variable).  There are overlaps.  This is to show that there are things in a culture which the Bible would affirm, as well as things the Bible would condemn.  

Reason and science are helpful tools in gaining knowledge, but cannot be the basic determination of truth, especially ethical and spiritual truth.  Reason is an important process, but by itself reason does not determine ultimate truth or ethical obligations.  Science has many limitations, but true discoveries are true because God created this world for us to study and discover.  However, science cannot tell us many things: purpose, meaning, what went before time, or after, or what is right and wrong.   As one philosopher said long ago, "We are afloat on the raft of our knowledge upon the sea of our ignorance."   

Likewise, our friends, traditions, feelings, and experiences may help us to know some aspects of truth and to act well, but they are not the infallible authority regarding truth and goodness. 

Again, Machen: "If we take the Bible as the Word of God, then the Bible becomes our standard of truth and of life. When we are asked whether we can support any kind of message or can engage in any course of conduct, what we do is simply to compare that message or that course of conduct with the Bible. If it agrees with the Bible, we can support it or follow it; if it does not agree with the Bible, we cannot support it or follow it no matter what we may be told by other authorities to do.  Our standard is not a flexible standard. Far from holding that what is true today becomes false tomorrow according to the shifting needs of human life, we find our standard both of truth and of conduct in the Bible, which we hold to be not a product of human experience but the Word of God." (The Christian Faith in the Modern World)

Which leads me to examine another question:  what is your (and my) operating -- or functional -- authority?  I think many Christians would say that their authority for faith and behavior is God and his Word.  However, for many that may be only in a formal sense.  Is that so in a functional way?  It is not enough to say that we believe God's authoritative Word, but then make actual decisions in life based upon feelings, experiences, friends' opinions, polls, what "makes sense", or what the culture approves.  

In making daily ethical choices -- and in our conversations with others -- the Scriptures must be our authority, both in a formal and in a functional sense.

"To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn."  (Isaiah 8:20 NIV)






Monday, June 12, 2017

the supernatural Jesus

J. Gresham Machen, Professor of New Testament at Princeton, and later the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, was succinct and lucid in his approach toward critical scholarship and liberalism of last century.  His words in the radio addresses he gave in 1936 are as applicable today as they were then... 

Some radicals of the present day are drawing the logical conclusion. Since the supernatural is inseparable from the rest and since they will not accept the supernatural, they are letting the whole go. They are telling us that we cannot know anything at all with any certainty about Jesus.

Such skepticism is preposterous. It will never hold the field. You need not be afraid of it at all, my friends. The picture in the Gospels is too vivid. It is too incapable of having been invented. It is evidently the picture of a real person.


So the age-long bewilderment of unsaved men in the presence of Jesus still goes on. Jesus will not let men go.  They will not accept His stupendous claims; they will not accept Him as their Savior. But He continues to intrigue and baffle them. He refuses to be pushed into their little molds. They stand bewildered in His presence.


There is only one escape from that bewilderment. It is to accept Jesus after all. Refuse to believe that the picture is true, and all is bewilderment and confusion in your view of the earliest age of the Church; accept the picture as true, and all is plain. Everything then fits into its proper place. The key has been found to solve the mighty riddle.


The supernatural Jesus is thus the key to a right understanding of early Christian history. But He is also the key to far more than that. Mankind stands in the presence of more riddles than the riddle of New Testament times. All about us are riddles - the riddle of our existence, the riddle of the universe, the riddle of our misery and our sin. To all those riddles Jesus, as the New Testament presents Him, provides the key. He is the key not to some things but to everything. Very comprehensive, very wonderfully cumulative, very profound and very compelling is the evidence for the reality of the supernatural Christ.


But if we are convinced by that evidence, we must take the consequences. If we are convinced that Jesus is what the New Testament says He is, then the word of Jesus becomes for us law. We cannot then choose whether we will believe Him when He speaks. We must believe. His authority then must for us be decisive in all disputes. 


~ J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (1936)


Thursday, June 1, 2017

a display of truth



In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:25-26 ESV)

“So the Lord’s Supper was not just the idea of the apostles, not something conjured up by the Church, but it was a solemn command of the Lord. Why did He command them to keep it? Here is a most significant thing. I believe he gave this command in order to preserve the doctrine.  This, you see is an enactment of the doctrine, it is a kind of display of the truth, and our Lord wanted to preserve the truth throughout the centuries until the end of the Christian era.

“What a wonderful thing this has been! This table with its bread and wine has often been a terrible condemnation of the pulpit. Men have entered pulpits and said that Jesus was only a man, that he was nothing more than a moral exemplar and a good teacher. They have said that his death was the death of a pacifist, that it was a great tragedy and that we must imitate his spirit and live in the same way. They have preached like that in pulpits and then they have gone down to the Communion table, and there has been no connection between their preaching and the message of that Communion service. The Communion table, the broken bread and the poured out wine, has been preaching a message.

“And so, because of men and their fallibility – and we are all fallible – the Lord took a step to preserve the truth, the doctrine. And if you want to know how to test modern teaching and modern preaching, here is your test:  What relationship does it bear to the bread and the wine?  Does it lead to that?  Is the Communion service a demonstration of the message that has been preached?  If it is not, the message has been false. Here is the Lord’s own command and he has commanded it in order to preserve the teaching.”

~ D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity Vol. 1 (Crossway Books, 2000) p. 150

the dominion of God

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..." (Matthew 6:9-10 ESV)

But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

"The dominion of God is a very different sort of dominion from what we understand by the word in ordinary human relationships. As Jesus pointed out, the nations of the world exercise dominion over one another by force. Had Jesus’ dominion been of that sort, were his kingdom of this world, his disciples would doubtless have used force to protect and extend his kingdom or rule. But the dominion of God is a dominion which flows from righteousness and love. This is how God exercises his dominion in heaven and therefore also on earth. In heaven, the will of God is done because those who are there love God and love the rightness of God’s will. God exercises his dominion through the glad obedience of perfect hearts."  (Broughton Knox, The Everlasting God)


Saturday, May 27, 2017

home safely before dark

Wikipedia public domain

The following is a prayer shared by Dr. Robertson McQuilkin in 1981.
He was President Emeritus of Columbia International University.

It’s sundown, Lord.
The shadows of my life stretch back
   into the dimness of the years long spent.
I fear not death, for that grim foe betrays himself at last,
   thrusting me forever into life:
Life with you, unsoiled and free.
But I do fear.
I fear the Dark Spectre may come too soon —
   or do I mean, too late?
That I should end before I finish or
   finish, but not well.
That I should stain your honor, shame your name,
   grieve your loving heart.
Few, they tell me, finish well…
Lord, let me get home before dark.
The darkness of a spirit
   grown mean and small, fruit shriveled on the vine,
   bitter to the taste of my companions,
   burden to be borne by those brave few who love me still.
No, Lord. Let the fruit grow lush and sweet,
   a joy to all who taste;
Spirit – sign of God at work,
   stronger, fuller, brighter at the end.
Lord, let me get home before dark.
Let Me Get Home
Before Dark
The darkness of tattered gifts,
   rust-locked, half-spent or ill-spent,
A life that once was used of God
   now set aside.
Grief for glories gone or
Fretting for a task God never gave.
Mourning in the hollow chambers of memory,
Gazing on the faded banners of victories long gone.
Cannot I run well unto the end?
Lord, let me get home before dark.
The outer me decays —
I do not fret or ask reprieve.
The ebbing strength but weans me from mother earth
   and grows me up for heaven.
I do not cling to shadows cast by immortality.
I do not patch the scaffold lent to build the real, eternal me.
I do not clutch about me my cocoon,
   vainly struggling to hold hostage
   a free spirit pressing to be born.
But will I reach the gate
   in lingering pain, body distorted, grotesque?
Or will it be a mind
   wandering un-tethered among light
   fantasies or grim terrors?
Of your grace, Father, I humbly ask…
Let me get home before dark.



Saturday, May 6, 2017

his heart open

“God declares to us that Jesus Christ, who once had his side pierced, today has his heart open, as it were, that we may have assurance of the love that he bears us; that as he once had his arms fastened to the cross, now he has them wide open to draw us to himself; and that as once he shed his blood, so today he wishes us to be plunged within it. So, when God invites us so sweetly and Jesus Christ sets before us the fruit of his death and passion, ...let us all come to take our stand with our Lord Jesus Christ.”


~ John Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah’s Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

schaeffer on spiritual life

I have been studying Romans 8:1-4 and thinking through the Apostle Paul's teaching on the spiritual life.  In the past, and now again, I have been helped by Francis Schaeffer's insights into the Christian life. Below are some excerpts, first from True Spirituality, and then from his Letters...

"Justification is once for all. At one moment my guilt is declared gone forever, but this [spiritual life] is not once for all. This is a moment-by-moment thing—a moment-by-moment being dead to all else and alive to God, a moment-by-moment stepping back by faith into the present world as though we had been raised from the dead."

"If we are to bring forth fruit in the Christian life, or rather, if Christ is to bring forth this fruit through us by the agency of the Holy Spirit, there must be a constant act of faith, of thinking, 'Upon the basis of your promises I am looking for you to fulfill them, O my Jesus Christ; bring forth your fruit through me into this poor world.'"

"[Salvation] is a single piece, and yet a flowing stream.  I became a Christian once for all upon the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith; that is justification.  The Christian life, sanctification, operates on the same basis, but moment by moment.  There is the same base (Christ's work) and the same instrument (faith); the only difference is that one is once for all and the other is moment by moment.  The whole unity of biblical teaching stands solid at this place.  If we try to live the Christian life in our own strength we will have sorrow, but if we live in this way, we will not only serve the Lord, but in place of sorrow, he will be our song.  That is the difference.  The 'how' of the Christian life is the power of the crucified and risen Lord, through the agency of the indwelling Holy Spirit, by faith moment by moment."  (Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, p. 79)

"Doctrinal rightness and rightness of ecclesiastical position are important, but only as a starting-point to go on into a living relationship - and not 
as ends in themselves." (Letters of Francis Schaeffer, p. 46) 

"If we would only allow the Agent of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to lead each individual instead of living in the areas of rules which are man-made and quite apart from the absolutes laid down in scripture."  (Letters, 76) 

"Reality does not just come as a mystical feeling.  It comes rather in the whole man knowing the objective truth of what is, [and knowing this] to be the existence of God and his character of holiness and love. Then, knowing that this is truth and having accepted Christ as Savior once for all, it is necessary to practice the meaning of the work of Christ as a present reality in our daily lives.  This means two things: first of all, claiming the work of Christ for forgiveness for those specific sins we know we have committed; and then--through faith, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit--looking to Christ, moment by moment, to bear His fruit through us."  (Letters, 98)

"Thus, we cannot start with our human reasoning autonomously and have it come out right. But with the open Bible before us, we do not have to park our reason outside the door. Emotion in Christianity can be right or it can be wrong. We should have emotion as a result of knowing how much God loves us and knowing we belong to him. But the emotion can never be the basis of our faith. The basis of our faith is the content of the Bible; the emotion should be a natural result." (Letters, 124) 






Thursday, March 30, 2017

evidences of the Holy Spirit


The Holy Spirit is the seal of our New Covenant relationship with Christ (Jer 31; Ezek 36-37; Eph 1:13).  The Christian life is a life in the Spirit. (Rom 8)   

How do I know when the Holy Spirit is at work in me?  How do I identify his supernatural work in distinction from my own efforts at living the Christian life?

I wrote and posted this about a year ago, and have edited slightly to re-post...


Ten Evidences of the Work of the Holy Spirit

1)  When we experience conviction of sin, not mere guilt and desire to escape punishment, but an awareness of sin against God which draws us to Christ for forgiveness and reconciliation – this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  (John 16:8-11)

2)  When Jesus Christ becomes attractive to us, and we begin to see him as glorious, powerful, and gracious (John 16:14; 1 Cor 1:23-24) – this is the work of the Spirit. 

3)  When God’s love is so understood and felt in the heart that we are moved to call out to God as our Father – this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  (Rom 5:5; Gal 4:6) 

4)  When we joyfully believe and confess that Jesus is Lord – this is the work of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3; 1 John 4:2-3) 

5)  When we have felt the truthfulness of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ and inwardly experience the authority and goodness of God’s word – this is the work of the Holy Spirit. (Eph 1:13; 1 Thess 1:5; 2:13)

6)  When we have freedom, even boldness, to speak of Christ to others – this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 1:8; 4:31).  

7)  When we are receiving insight and understanding into God’s word, so that we are sensing its truth, power, and application to us – this is the work of the Holy Spirit.   (1 Cor 2:12; Eph 1:17-18; 1 John 2:27; 4:6)

8)  When we turn away from sin and fleshly desires, and are being led and empowered to manifest God’s holy character in our lives – this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  (Rom 8:1-17; Gal 5:16-23)

9)  When we truly desire to sing God’s praises and join with believers in corporate worship – this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  (Eph 5:18-20)

10)  When our service to others brings God’s blessing to the body of Christ, and gifts that he has given us work supernaturally to build up others – this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  (1 Cor 12:4-11)

"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  (Luke 11:13 ESV)