Friday, November 10, 2017

the course of history

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in...  (Romans 11:25 ESV) 

"Of course, human beings perceive the course of history and events as they occur...  The point is that the mere observation of these events does not translate into an understanding of what God is doing in history.  Human beings see the bare events as they transpire, but they do not perceive the saving plan of God that is being accomplished in and through these events."  

~ Thomas Schreiner, Romans (Baker Academic, 1998), p. 634.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

because God so wills

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)

God's self-revelation to us -- in nature, the Scriptures, and his Son -- is his own freely chosen act of self-disclosure, in the words of Carl Henry.  We did not seek or find God, but he himself takes the initiative to reveal his nature, mind, and will to us.  This includes historical acts and facts, but also includes the God-given meaning of those acts and facts.  Henry writes...

"Only because God so wills is there a special revelation that centers in the redemptive acts of Hebrew history from the exodus to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and in the communication of the meaning of these saving acts in both the prophetic and the apostolic word.  Only because God so wills is the truth of God given in the special form of inspired writings; only because God so wills is his special revelation crowned by the incarnation of the Logos in Jesus of Nazareth.  God has chosen to reveal himself in different times and in different modes (Heb. 1:1)...

"In an amazing variety of ways--in every way except in his final eschatological revelation (and for the sake of those who still reject we may be glad that this end-time revelation has not yet been given) -- God has made himself known.  In both general and special revelation--in nature and in history, in the mind and conscience of man, in written Scriptures, and in Jesus of Nazareth -- he has disclosed himself." 

~ Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, II:10.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

the God who stays

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  (Romans 11:36 ESV)

I am studying the second half of the 11th chapter of Romans.  How much of the glorious nature and character of God is included in the doxology of 11:33-36!  I was also reading in Carl Henry's 6th volume of God, Revelation and Authority and came upon these words, a good overview of what it means that all things come from God, through him, and unto him, for his glory... 

"The Bible depicts God as the providential sustainer of the universe by his omnipotent omnipresence and also the divine governor of all things. The living God everywhere upholds and maintains the created universe; he does so, moreover, for the sovereign purpose and goal for which he initially created it.

"God who stands -- who eternally exists -- and who stoops -- first in voluntarily creating the finite universe and then in voluntarily redeeming his fallen creation -- is also God who stays to preserve and to renew and finally to consummate his purposeful creation.

"From its first moment of creation the space-time universe has been pervasively dependent on the Creator.  Without his omnipresent power it would have reverted to the nihil or nothingness that prevailed before God's ex nihilo creation.  ... 

"The providence of God, in short, attests the fact that nature is not metaphysically ultimate; its continuity is no less contingent that its origin, and both its creation and continuance are dependent on the one sovereign God.  Thus every pretension to creaturely independence, to self-sufficiency, to inherent existence, is shattered by the certainty that man and cosmos alike are entirely contingent, moment by moment upon the God who stays."

~ Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (Word Books, 1983), VI:455.


I'm currently reading two books on Christian engagement, Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option, and Russell Moore's Onward.  There's much to think about in both, but I'm attracted to Moore's prophetic-minority engagement model.  

Here are a few early highlights... 

I don’t accept the narrative of progressive secularization, that religion itself will inevitably decline as humanity evolves toward more and more consistent forms of rationalism. As a matter of fact, I think the future of the church is incandescently bright. That’s not because of promises made at Independence Hall, but a promise made at Caesarea Philippi—“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). I believe that promise because I believe the One who spoke those words is alive, and moving history toward his reign. That is not to say that the church’s witness in the next generation will be the same. The secularizing forces mentioned before are real—obvious now in New England and in the Pacific Northwest but moving toward parts of the country insulated so far from such trends. One can almost track these forces as one would a tropical depression on a hurricane radar map. The Bible Belt is teetering toward collapse, and I say let it fall. ... 

Such attempts have too often created subcultures of “us” versus “them,” that divide people up into categories of “red state” and “blue state” rather than that of church and mission field. At their best, such efforts have reminded us that all of our lives are to be framed by what is permanent and what is ultimate: the kingdom of God. ...

Our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens. ...

Our end goal is not a Christian America, either of the made-up past or the hoped-for future. Our end goal is the kingdom of Christ, made up of every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. We are, in Christ, the heirs of this kingdom. The worst thing that can happen to us is crucifixion under the curse of God, and we’ve already been there, in Christ. The best thing that can happen to us is freedom from death and life at the right hand of God, and that’s already happened to us too, in Christ. That should free us to stand and to speak, not because we’re a majority, moral or otherwise, but because we are an embassy of the future, addressing consciences designed to long for good news.

~ Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel
(B&H Publishing, 2015)

homesick for Eden's happiness

My wife and I are enjoying Randy Alcorn's updated book of "Seeing the Unseen" devotions.  It's wonderful to find books that we both like reading together.  It's a great way to start the day, reading aloud to each other.  

Here's one highlight from Day 63, "Homesick for Eden's Happiness"

When we separate God from happiness and from our longing for happiness, we undermine the Christian worldview...

Were we merely the product of natural selection and survival of the fittest, we’d have no grounds for believing any ancient happiness existed. But even those who have never been taught about the Fall and the Curse intuitively know that something has gone seriously wrong. Why else would we long for happiness and sense what a utopian society should look like if we’ve never seen one? We are nostalgic for an Eden we’ve only heard echoes of. What if God made us for happiness, and therefore our desire to be happy is inseparable from our longing for God? What if He wired His image bearers for happiness before sin entered the world, and what if that wiring can be properly directed at Him and all He wants for us?

~ Randy Alcorn, Seeing the Unseen, Expanded Edition: A 90-Day Devotional to Set Your Mind on Eternity (Multnomah, 2017)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

what endures after movements come and go

I have found some striking thoughts from a book that D A Carson co-authored almost 25 years ago.  It’s a novel that consists of letters from an older pastor to a younger pastor.  I was struck by the timeliness (and timelessness) of the following paragraphs.  The movements he is referring to are the various American religious movements on the rise among Evangelicals at that time, like the health and wealth gospel, a return to high church, and the Vineyard movement.  The “rapidly changing society” he speaks of is America in 1993, before the Internet really takes off...

But there is another sense in which these movements are reaching
out to people and giving them a sense of spiritual reality often missing
in formally orthodox but rather dead churches. In no country in
the English-speaking world are churches fuller and the sermons emptier 
than in America. Of course, there are magnificent exceptions. But
I am not surprised by the flight from evangelical orthodoxy into
high-church ritual on the one hand (Webber's Evangelicals on the
Canterbury Trail -- at least they have aesthetics) and into the
Vineyard movement on the other. If people are not nurtured by the
spirituality of the Word, they will try to locate "spirituality" elsewhere.
A desperate hunger for spiritual experience is abroad in the
land. It is not altogether surprising that in this day of fast food,
microwave ovens, ten-minute tune-ups and drive-up banks, many
will opt for what they perceive to be the fastest, most efficient doses
of spiritual experience available. Nevertheless I judge that the
strongest impetus for such movements lies in the spiritual anemia of
so many evangelical churches.

So "preach up" and live out full-bodied Christianity without fear or 
favor. It is better than all substitutes, which are inevitably reductionistic.
Insist on the spirituality of the Word; insist that Christianity
be public as well as private, corporate as well as personal, pious as
well as doctrinal, self-denying as well as orthodox, passionate as well
as thoughtful, evangelistic as well as Biblical, spiritual as well as
creedal, joyful as well as serious, worshipful as well as enjoyable. And
in this day of over-realized eschatology, work hard at making people
homesick for Heaven, for only then will they be of much use on

If I were you, I would not worry too much about the popularity
of this or that movement. I will probably sound old when I say it,
but I have seen a lot of movements come and go. The ones currently
with us will be around for quite a while, but I suspect they will crest
rather soon. Just as the political liberalism of the '60s triumphed in
1968 and immediately crashed, losing the confidence of the
American people and giving Nixon his strongest majority, so the rising
profile of evangelicalism during the past few years is cresting, and
in its moment of triumph (a charismatic TV evangelist running for
President!) it is about to crash. There is simply not enough substance
to sustain it.

But always remember that what endures after various movements
come and go is the local church. At this stage in your life and ministry,
do not worry too much about what is happening at the national
level. Simply build the people to whom God has called you. Feed
people the Word of God, pray for them, love them, convey the reality
of God's presence to them by word and deed. What is important
at the end of the day is the church-ordinary churches trying to live
faithfully in a rapidly changing society. Ordinary churches pastored
by ordinary people like you and me, knowing that we cannot do
everything, but trying to do what we can and seeking God's face for
His presence and blessing so that His dear Son might be honored and
His people strengthened.

~ D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along the Way (Crossway, 1993), pp 225-27. 

This book is free as a PDF from here

Friday, October 27, 2017

sad indeed that day in Eden

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, 
and between your offspring and her offspring; 
he shall bruise your head, 
and you shall bruise his heel."  

(Genesis 3:15 ESV)

This passage is often called the Proto-evangelium, or the first proclamation of the Gospel.  Here the story-line of the Bible becomes clear... creation, fall, redemption, and final restoration -- the new creation.  Or, as it is put by the Welsh preacher and hymn-writer, William Williams...

In Eden -- sad indeed that day --
My countless blessings fled away,
My crown fell in disgrace.
But on victorious Calvary
That crown was won again for me --
My life shall all be praise.

Faith, see the place, and see the tree
Where heaven’s Prince, instead of me,
Was nailed to bear my shame.
Bruised was the dragon by the Son,
Though two had wounds, there conquered One --
And Jesus was His name.

~ William Williams, aka Pantycelyn  (1717-91)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

tribulation in the world

"In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."  (Jn 16:33)  

This was true when Jesus uttered these words to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.  These words are just as true 2000 years later.  We may have greater knowledge and better technology, but humanity's problems persist: wars, strife, injustice, poverty, lust, anger, fear, loneliness, and despair.  

Many people feel that it was (and is) the church's job to change the world for the better, to improve things, to make this world a better place to live.  They would say Christianity has not been the answer to the world's problems, and that the church has held up the world in its progress, and therefore needs to be discarded.  But our Lord did not promise that the world would ever become a  better place or improve over time, even given exposure to the gospel.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in preaching on John 16, makes these statements...

What is your view of what is happening in the world at the present time?

Are you driven into the depths of despair by what is happening in the world today? Is this something that has come crashing into all your calculations and ideas, or is it something that fits naturally and inevitably into your view of life and of the whole course of history? What is your forecast of the future? What are you expecting of life?

Does this doctrine of the Second Coming seem remote to you or irrelevant?

In their perplexity [people] regard the gospel as something that is to be applied to life, and by its application they think life can be reformed and improved. So it follows that they often feel that this teaching of the Second Coming of Christ is so remote as to be finally irrelevant.
He tells them that they will have troubles and trials and tribulations. What comfort does he have to give them? Do you notice what he does? He talks about his death and the cross, and then he goes straight from his death and resurrection to the Second Coming.

The Bible teaches, quite categorically, that sin is such a radical problem that the world cannot now and never will improve itself.

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Crossway, 2009)

Friday, September 29, 2017

what to do with announcements

Tim Scheiderer writes about the various ways local churches present their announcements on Sunday morning: "The problem with these delivery styles is that the stated motivations don’t match the glory and weight of what the congregation is being asked to participate in. The magnificent blessing of the event or service opportunity is masked by the mediocre delivery system. Churches shouldn’t take an event intended to display the truth of God and serve it on a platter of mediocrity.  We can do better."

And a long-time friend and fellow-pastor in New England recently sent the following out to his congregation:

Sometimes I feel like our Sunday mornings are becoming a stream of commercials or recruiting infomercials for favorite ministries. We are even probed more and more to “book” ministry teams from all kinds of good and profitable outreach organizations—even asking for a whole Sunday morning service to promote their ministry or share their experiences. They will even demand a certain minimum offering in order to come to our church to do this!  All of this places me in a feeling of some conflict. While I very much desire our church to be a hub for supporting all kinds of creative outreaches and missions (and we are), at the same time I feel like our Sunday morning worship should be completely devoted to directing focus to Him, our God, our Savior, our King and our Head. Worship is a unique experience for Christians. He is worth giving Him our complete focus, and that focus should be individually prepared for, entered into carefully and not too casually. Ideally preparation for Sunday morning could begin Saturday night, and then also not be rushed by other Sunday commitments. Indeed, we tread a fine line between legalism, rigidity and formalism on the one hand, but sloppy relaxation on the other. You will see me up front before the services, praying, settling my mind, singing the prelude song and re-calibrating my spirit. I sit up front to minimize distraction before we begin and to enjoy our worship team prelude song (not because I view myself as the head honcho). I try to get all my visiting and hello-giving done before that song begins. I usually wear a tie on Sunday mornings.  Isn’t that funny?  When I came to Christ in 1972 I was very much NOT that kind of guy. I don’t expect any other men to do that, but I just don’t feel completely comfortable without one. It is a tiny gesture towards the process of worship which says, “hey this is a special thing we’re doing, and it is a thing I rarely do for any other event.”  I suppose I am expressing my desire that we all privately and individually go out of our way to place the focus on the Lord on Sunday mornings.  New Christians will learn this from us.  Our kids will learn this from us.  Just a thing that is on my heart…


God as Trinity the ultimate reality

"God is ultimate reality. The revelation that his nature is Trinitarian brings us the knowledge that personal relationships are ultimate reality, and are blissful. The revelation of his character brings us the knowledge of how we may go about establishing our relationship with God and with one another more perfectly, by loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves, by giving ourselves in personal communication to one another, by absolute fairness and faithfulness in our dealings with each other, and by being mindful of the order and priority which God has created, so that our relationships may flower with the bliss that God intends for us in our friendship with him and with one another."

~ Broughton Knox, The Everlasting God

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


Photo credit:
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 

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.