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Reruns

(50 posts)

The Bible for Dummies? (again)

Monday··2009·05·18 · 4 Comments
I seldom say (or write) anything worth repeating, but occasionally I look back and think I had the right idea and managed to communicate it not too badly; which is just my self-justifying explanation for today’s post. I hate really dislike paraphrasings and dynamic equivalent translations of the Bible. I want the Word of God, not an interpretation of it. Occasionally, I run into arguments in their favor from people who basically agree with me, but still think they are useful. The argument goes: Yes, we should have accurate translations, and these interpretive translations are not good; but for purposes of evangelism, and for young, new believers, we should use the more paraphrased versions. Then, when they are ready, we should introduce them to a good, essentially literal translation. I encountered this argument in a book I read awhile back (ironically, this one). At that time, I listed the following objections to that practice, which I still believe are valid: It has the potential to create confusion, and undermine confidence in the Word of God. What are we saying if we give a Bible one day, only to return later with another, better Bible, explaining that “some of the stuff in the first Bible we gave you isn’t quite right, but this one can be trusted“honest”? It diminishes the role of the Church in the proclamation of God’s Word. The Word of God is not meant to stand alone, outside of the Church. That is not what we mean by sola Scriptura. In addition to simply being read, it is to be explained and taught. Some of it is difficult. That is why we have pastors—preachers, teachers, shepherds—as well as congregations of mature believers: to disciple the young and immature. We are not simply to hand out Bibles and hope for the best; we are to preach it, teach it, and live it out among our neighbors. In the same vein, but far more importantly, It fails to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating God’s Word. God chose the words he wanted us—all of us, simple and wise—to read. If God doesn’t intend for us to receive the word independent of teachers, it is even more true that he does not intend for us to receive it independent of himself. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14). No matter how simple the translation, none of us can understand it adequately unless we are filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make the Word understood, if we bring it accurately.

Hello . . . Ms. Steinem?

Wednesday··2009·05·20 · 1 Comments
Continuing rerun week . . . I was wondering to myself (again) the other day where all the feminist are in the war on Islam terrorism. Almost exactly three years ago, I was wondering the same thing. Some Numbers to Ponder The Numbers Explained

Forgive Me, Me!

Thursday··2009·05·21 · 1 Comments
Another rerun. I don’t know if I can forgive myself . . . Christian psychobabble—I can do without it. Forgive Yourself The Gospel in Spider-Man 3 Forgive Yourself—One more thing ….

My Thoughts, Distilled

Friday··2009·05·22
Another rerun brewing . . . In which I get controversial, and a little bit smart-alecky, asking you to Ponder This . . .

Ja, dot’s a good von!

Saturday··2009·12·26
We used to tell jokes here on Saturdays. Some of them were even funny. Here’s a semi-Christmas-themed story for you, most likely appreciable by Americans of Scandinavian descent only.

Theology 101: The Trinity (recycled)

Friday··2011·11·18 · 1 Comments
I was thirty years old before I actually encountered anyone who called themselves Christians and denied the Trinity. I had heard that such people existed, but outside the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I didn’t know who they were. Then, when we moved to this small town in North Dakota, we met a character who had recently left the same church that we began attending. He was a self-styled teacher with a very overpowering personality who had managed to gather a small group of very committed disciples and formed his own “church,” renting a church building in a neighboring town. A few years ago, this little cult built its own facility just a few blocks up the street from our house. This post is, in a nutshell, what I told one of them when I had the occasion to discuss it, along with a few comments to Trinitarians who explain it badly. There is one true God, eternally existent in three persons. There is only one God. In no sense are there three. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4, and quoted again by Jesus in Mark 12:29). “Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10). God is always spoken of as singular. God is always “he,” never “they.” He reigns over the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of the gods. In Luke 18, Jesus is addressed as “Good Teacher.” His reply: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” God is three distinct persons. In no sense are they one. All three exist simultaneously and eternally. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Father is never the Son or the Holy Spirit. The Son is never the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is never the Father or the Son. The Trinity is revealed in Scripture from the very beginning. In Genesis 1:2, “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Farther along in verse 26 we find God talking to himself: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Who was God talking to? Why the plural pronouns? Four thousand years later, John the Apostle wrote of Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1–3). The Son was present in the beginning, and participated in creation. “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ . . . And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ’My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’ . . . He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’” (Matthew 26:36, 39, 42). Who was Jesus praying to? Was he putting on an act, going through the motions of prayer in order to set an example for his disciples, as some have said? If so, what does that tell us about him? If true, it tells us that God is an actor, a deceiver, a manipulator who plays with our minds like faith-healers and “revival” preachers. No, Jesus, being God, is incapable of any kind of deceit. He was praying to his Father, as one distinct person to another. The Trinity is probably most clearly demonstrated at Jesus’s baptism: “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16–17). Jesus was in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and the Father spoke from Heaven—three distinct persons in three distinct places—simultaneously. God does not appear at different times and places in different roles or modes. His triunity may not be compared to the way in which we fill different positions yet remain one person, as one man may be a son, husband, father, grandfather, employer or employee, etc., all at once. That is the Modalist heresy. God also cannot be described as many Trinitarians have attempted to describe him: The Trinity is not like an egg—yolk, white, shell. The Trinity is not like an apple—skin, flesh, seeds. The Trinity is not like water—liquid, solid, vapor. The Trinity is not like time—past, present, future. The Trinity is not like space—height, depth, width. The Trinity is not any other metaphor you’ve thought of. I know, some of you can’t stand not having an explanation for everything. You are very creative and imaginative and love thinking these things up. Well, stop it! You almost persuade me to become a modalist. The Bible tells us quite clearly that God is triune. It does not even begin to tell us how that is so.

The Fruit of the Word

Tuesday··2012·02·21
Recent conversations with an individual who put heavy emphasis on the “work” of Philippians 2:12, and another who sees the work of the Holy Spirit through a mystical/charismatic lens has brought to mind this post, written back in 2009. I thought it worth reposting today. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Tangent: The filling of the Spirit, which is an on-going process throughout every Christian’s life, should not be confused with baptism of the Spirit, which is a one-time event that happens to every believer at the moment of regeneration. (See John MacArthur, The Baptism of the Holy Spirit.) Notice the word fruit in verse 22. It does not say that the fruits of the Spirit are, but that the fruit . . . is. The list that follows is not of fruits of the Spirit, but various manifestations of that singular fruit. These are the characteristics that flow from being filled with the Spirit. These manifestations are, it is vital to note, not works. This is not a list of things to do, as if we could produce spiritual fruit through fleshly effort. The Geneva Bible notes state succinctly: Therefore, they are not the fruits of free will, but so far forth as our will is made free by grace.1 Matthew Henry wrote: And here we may observe that as sin is called the work of the flesh, because the flesh, or corrupt nature, is the principle that moves and excites men to it, so grace is said to be the fruit of the Spirit, because it wholly proceeds from the Spirit, as the fruit does from the root . . .2 And John Gill: Not of nature or man’s free will, as corrupted by sin, for no good fruit springs from thence; but either of the internal principle of grace, called the Spirit, ver. 17. or rather of the Holy Spirit . . ; the graces of which are called fruit, and not works, as the actions of the flesh are; because they are owing to divine influence efficacy, and bounty, as the fruits of the earth are, to which the allusion is; and not to a man’s self, to the power and principles of nature; and because they arise from a seed, either the incorruptible seed of internal grace, which seminally contains all graces in it, or the blessed Spirit, who is the seed that remains in believers; and because they are in the exercise of them acceptable unto God through Christ, and are grateful and delightful to Christ himself, being his pleasant fruits; which as they come from him, as the author of them, they are exercised on him as the object of them, under the influence of the Spirit . . .3 Finally, John MacArthur: Contrasted with the deeds of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. Deeds of the flesh are done by a person’s own efforts, whether he is saved or unsaved. The fruit of the Spirit, on the other hand, is produced by God’s own Spirit and only in the lives of those who belong to Him through faith in Jesus Christ.4 The fruit of the Spirit is a list, then, of indications that one belongs to Christ and has therefore “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” It is a standard of measure to which we can refer when examining ourselves in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” The question this passage asks us is, Are we filled with the Spirit? The filling of the Spirit is something we need continuously. D. L. Moody, when asked why this is, reportedly replied, “Because I leak.” Whether that exchange actually occurred, or is apocryphal, it certainly is true. What are we to do? We can’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. Contrary to the beliefs of many, there is no one we can go to for an “anointing,” no one who can zap us with the Spirit. Consider these two parallel passages: Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Can you see the parallel? Ephesians: Colossians:be filled with the SpiritLet the word of Christ richly dwell within you speaking to one another in psalms . . . teaching and admonishing one another with psalms . . . giving thankswith thankfulness . . . giving thanks be subject to one another in the fear of Christ Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord We can see that the results of being filled with the Spirit are precisely the same as those of letting “the word of Christ richly dwell within” us. The Holy Spirit fills us as we devote ourselves to “the word of Christ.” On this parallel, John MacArthur writes, The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word dwell in one’s life richly. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and power of the word, the expressions are interchangeable.5 This truth is seen also in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer (John 17), when he prayed that the Father would “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (verse 17). So, coming back to Galatians 5, we can conclude that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the fruit of letting the Word of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit’s voice, richly dwell within us. 1 1599 Geneva Bible, (Tolle Lege Press, 2006) 2 Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. 6 (Hendrickson, 2006), 545. 3 Exposition of the Old & New Testaments: Vol. 9 (Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006), 49. 4 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Moody, 1987), 163. 5 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians & Philemon (Moody, 1992), 159.

Christmas Eve, 2013

Tuesday··2013·12·24
Don’t worry. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Christmas Day, 2013

Wednesday··2013·12·25
Previous Christmas and Incarnational Posts

Equally Unrighteous (rerun)

Monday··2013·12·30
Seven years ago today, Saddam Hussein was hanged. What I wrote a few days later seems worth remembering. Equally Unrighteous

My Prayer for the New Year (rerun)

Wednesday··2014·01·01
One last day of slacking before getting back to regular blogging. From 2007: My Prayer for the New Year

“Operating System not found”

Wednesday··2014·06·11
As you may have surmised from the title of this post, I’m having computer problems this morning. I’m using my wife’s computer with Windows 7, which I despise. Consequently, my internet activity today will be minimal. Being in a rather grumpy mood, I will send you (in lieu of a regular post) to a collection of posts that will enable you to share in my suffering, which is an entirely biblical thing to do (2 Corinthians 1:7). Just click the angry face at the right.

Thanksgiving Day, 2014

Thursday··2014·11·27
Too busy giving thanks to blog. Since you’re here, you might enjoy some of these previous Thanksgiving Day posts.

Clearly, a Comic Classic

Thursday··2017·09·28
I posted this once several years ago. I’m reposting it now just because it’s good, clean comedy, and still cracks me up. Johnny Carson with Jack Webb (1968)

Give Up Giving Up

Thursday··2019·03·07
I started writing a post on Lent for today (why not, everyone else is doing it), but then I remembered I had already written one (five years ago to the day). It’s not about the Lenten season itself, but rather the “fasting” that goes with it. Here it is: Having grown up Lutheran, I am accustomed to the observation of Lent. As far as I can remember, however, I don’t think anyone in my church was fasting or giving anything up. The Roman Catholics in our communities did, of course, but that was them, and I thought it was just another Papist oddity, and enjoyed pulling Slim Jims out of my pockets on Friday when everyone else was eating fish (which, let me remind you, is meat, no matter how you fry it). [continue reading]

God’s Way*

Monday··2019·03·18
In this day of pragmatism, it is good to be reminded that God has not ordained ends alone, but means as well. William Gurnall writes, The Christian’s armour which he wears must be of divine institution and appointment. The soldier comes into the field with no arms but what his general commands. It is not left to every one’s fancy to bring what weapons he please; this will breed confusion. The Christian soldier in bound up to God’s order; though the army be on earth, yet the council of war sits in heaven; this duty ye shall do; these means ye shall use. And [those who] do more, or use other, than God commands, though with some seeming success against sin, shall surely be called to account for this boldness. The discipline of war among men is strict in this case. Some have suffered death by a council of war even when they have beaten the enemy, because out of their place, or beside their order. God is very precise in this point; he will say to such as invent ways to worship him of their own, coin means to mortify corruption, obtain comfort in their own mint: ‘Who hath required this at your hands?’ This is truly to be ‘righteous over-much,’ as Solomon speaks, when we will pretend to correct God’s law, and add supplements of our own to his rule. Who will pay that man his wages that is not set on work by God? God tells Israel the false prophets shall do them no good, because they come not of his errand, Je. xxiii. 32; so neither will those ways and means help, which are not of God’s appointing. God’s thoughts are not as man’s, nor his ways as ours, which he useth to attain his ends by. If man had set forth the Israelitish army, now to march out of Egypt, surely this wisdom would have directed rather to have plundered the Egyptians of their horses and arms, as more necessary for such an expedition, than to borrow their jewels and ear-rings. But God will have them come out naked and on foot, and Moses keeps close to his order; yea, when any horses were taken in battle, because God commanded they should be [hamstrung], they obeyed, though to their seeming disadvantage. It was God’s war they waged, and therefore but reasonable they will be under his command. They encamped and marched by his order, as the ark moved or rested. They fight by his command. The number is appointed by him—the means and weapons they should use—all are prescribed by God, as in the assault of Jericho. And what gospel of all this—for surely God hath an eye in that to our marching to heaven, and our fighting with these cursed spirits and lusts that stand in way—but that we should fight lawfully, using those means which we have from his mouth in his Word? —William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth, 2002). * Originally posted March 14, 2007

For the sake of the elect*

Tuesday··2019·03·19
Erasmus feared that the teaching of a human will that is not free, even if true (which he denied), served no good purpose and would cause people to neglect their own responsibility to respond to the gospel. Luther responded: ‘What use or need is there, then, of publishing such things when so many harmful results seem likely to follow?’ I reply: It should be enough to say simply that God has willed their publication, and the reason of the Divine will is not to be sought, but simply to be adored, and the glory given to God, Who, since He alone is just and wise, wrongs none and can do nothing foolish or inconsiderate—however much it may seem otherwise to us. This answer will satisfy those who fear God. However (to say a little more than I need, since there is so much more that I can say), there are two considerations which require the preaching of these truths. The first is the humbling of our pride, and the comprehending of the grace of God; the second is the nature of Christian faith. For the first: God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realises that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another—God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation. So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left that they can do for themselves. Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God. This, I repeat, one reason—that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive His gracious promise. The second reason is this: faith’s object is things not seen. That there may be room for faith, therefore, all that is believed must be hidden. Yet it is not hidden more deeply than under a contrary appearance of sight, sense and experience. Thus, when God quickens, He does so by killing; when He justifies, He does so by pronouncing guilty; when He carries up to heaven, He does so by bringing down to hell. As Scripture says in 1 Kings 2, ‘The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up’ (1 Sam. 2.6). (This is no place for a fuller account of these things; but those who have read my books are well acquainted with them.) Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957) 100–101. * Originally posted September 6, 2006

Clown Eucharist*

Wednesday··2019·03·20
Church historian J.  A. Merle D’Abigne writes of the condition of the Church at the time of the Reformation: At the same time, a profane spirit had invaded religion, and the most solemn recollections of the Church; the seasons which seemed most to summon the faithful to devout reflection and love, were dishonored by buffoonery and profanations altogether heathenish. The humours of Easter held a large place in the annals of the Church. The festival of the Resurrection claiming to be joyfully commemorated, preachers went out of their way to put into their sermons whatever might excite the laughter of the people. One preacher imitated the cuckoo; another hisses like a goose; one dragged to the altar a layman dressed in a monk’s cowl. A second related the grossest indecencies; a third recounted the tricks of the Apostle St. Peter;—among others, how, at an inn, he cheated the host, by not paying his reckoning. The lower orders of the clergy followed the example, and turned their superiors into ridicule. The very temples were converted into a stage, and the priest into mountebanks. — J.  A. Merle D’Abigne, The History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century (London: D. Walther, 1843), 1:37–38. Clown Eucharist, Trinity Church, New York City Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? What they were doing five hundred years ago is being done today. Why? Because the spirit of the age during the sixteenth century is the spirit of our age. People want to be entertained, to have fun, to be made to feel good. Religious leaders want to fill their auditoriums and be admired and make people happy. That is the essence of the gospel in mainstream churches today. In five hundred years, human nature has not changed. Consequently, the methods of attracting audiences have not changed. Religious leaders are still selling the same sugar-coated garbage to those who love it so. At the same time, because human nature has not changed, the genuine need of sinners has not changed. Sinners do not need self-esteem. They do not need to be entertained. They do not need to go to “church” and be religious. They need the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is not found in entertainment, fun, and games. It is found in the pages of Holy Scripture, and nowhere else. Pastors, preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2). Christians, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2). * Originally posted September 24, 2006

Saul’s Free Will*

Thursday··2019·03·21
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closely pursued Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. 3 The battle became heavy against Saul, and the archers overtook him; and he was wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and abuse me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took his sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he likewise fell on his sword and died. 6 Thus Saul died with his three sons, and all those of his house died together. 7 When all the men of Israel who were in the valley saw that they had fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their cities and fled; and the Philistines came and lived in them. 8 It came about the next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they stripped him and took his head and his armor and sent messengers around the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to their idols and to the people. 10 They put his armor in the house of their gods and fastened his head in the house of Dagon. 11 When all Jabesh-gilead heard all that the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men arose and took away the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons and brought them to Jabesh, and they buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. 13 So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, 14 and did not inquire of the Lord. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse. —1 Chronicles 10 Saul turned from God to a medium, and it cost him his kingdom, his life, and the lives of his sons. That is one of the lessons of this chapter, and probably the one that stands out to most readers. But there is another lesson in this account that is more easily overlooked. It is found in two facts: Saul took his own life. Of his own free choice, he fell on his sword, intentionally killing himself (v. 4). God took Saul’s life. As judgment for his disobedience and idolatry, God killed Saul (v. 13–14). Are these facts contradictory? Not at all. They only demonstrate that God exercises his sovereignty over the actions and wills of men. * Originally posted May 4, 2007

A Society of Christians*

Monday··2019·03·25
One of the books I am presently reading is Revival & Revivalism by Iain Murray. The following quotation refers to a revival that took place in Virginia in 1787–1790. The most important consequence of the Great Revival for the Presbyterians was the new ethos which came to prevail in the churches. Old Side prejudices lost their hold and a ‘unanimity of sentiment’ came to distinguish the denomination in the South. The main cause for this was undoubtedly the priority now given to experimental religion. Prayer was restored to its rightful place and ‘fervent charity’ came to be expected among all Christians. The same influence inevitably brought a return to biblical standards of church membership. It was no longer assumed that those who attended church from birth were Christians, nor was ‘profession of faith’ henceforth taken as sufficient evidence of conversion. Ministers and elders considered how people lived, and what they did, as well as what they said. It was understood afresh that the true usefulness of the church is bound up with her spirituality and her unity. The premature admission of men and women and young people to the Lord’s Table (communicant membership), which had formerly been too common, now gave way to a more faithful examination of candidates. The wisdom of the counsel of John Blair Smith was universally recognized: ‘He advised those who were awakened not to be too hasty in professing conversion, and urged them to examine the foundations of their hopes well before they entertained a hope they had made their peace with God . . . Generally months, and in some instances a year or more was suffered to pass before they were received into the church.’ William Hill believed that the revival ‘gave a character to the Presbyterian Church of the South for vital, exemplary piety which has pervaded several States and given a tone to religious exercises far and wide’. How this affected the churches in practical way is well illustrated by a statement of principle drawn up by one of the many new churches of the 1790s: A church is a society of Christians, voluntarily associated together, for the worship of God, and spiritual improvement & usefulness.A visible church consists of visible or apparent Christians.The children of visible Christians are members of the visible church, though in a state of minority.A visible Christian is one, who understands the doctrines of the Christian religion, is acquainted with a work of God’s Spirit in effectual calling, professes repentance from dead works, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and subjection to him as a king and whose life and conversation corresponds with his professionSealing ordinances ought not to be administered to such as are not visible Christians.A charitable allowance ought to be made for such, whose natural abilities are weak, or who have not enjoyed good opportunities of religious instruction, when they appear to be humble and sincere.Children and youth, descended from church members, though not admitted to all the privileges of the church, are entitled to the instructions of the church, and subjected to its discipline.—Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 105–107. What would our churches look like today if this represented the general practice of congregations? *  Originally posted November 4, 2007

The Right Means*

Tuesday··2019·03·26
Charles Finney claimed that the right use of the right means would infallibly produce converts. He was, of course, wrong. But neither does God bring revival without the use of means. This the orthodox ministers who opposed and were opposed by Finney knew. Iain Murray writes: From the general introduction to the period of the Second Great Awakening we turn to some particular observations. In the first place, if it be asked, What special means were used to promote these revivals? The answer is that there were none. The significance of this fact will be more apparent in later pages. This is not to say that the spiritual leaders of this new era held the view that the gospel could be advanced without means being employed. They were united in regarding such an attitude as a serious abuse of the doctrine of divine sovereignty. As Ebenezer Porter affirmed: The God of this universe is not dependent on instruments . . . He could fill the world with Bibles by a word,—or give every inhabitant of the globe a knowledge of the gospel by inspiration. But he chooses that human agency should be employed in printing and reading and explaining the Scriptures. God is able to sanctify the four hundred millions of Asia, in one instant, without the agency of missionaries; but we do not expect him to do this without means, any more than we expect him to rain down food from the clouds, or turn stones into bread. These men were united in the belief that God has appointed the means of prayer and preaching for the spread of the gospel and that these are the great means in the use of which he requires the churches to be faithful. There are no greater means which may be employed at special times to secure supposedly greater results. It is therefore the Spirit of God who makes the same means more effective at some seasons than at others. This has perhaps not always been as evident as it was in 1800. Sometimes revivals have coincided with the emergence of hitherto unknown preachers whose abilities have been credited with securing change. But in the case of the Second Great Awakening, nearly all the preachers prominent at the outset had already been labouring for many years. . . . The facts are indisputable. A considerable body of men, for a long period before the Second Great Awakening, preached the same message as they did during the revival but with vastly different consequences—the same men, the same actions, performed with the same abilities, yet the results were so amazingly different! The conclusion has to be drawn that the change in the churches after 1798 and 1800 cannot be explained in terms of the means used. Nothing was clearer to those who saw the events than that God was sovereignty pleased to bless human instrumentality in such a way that the success could be attributed to him alone. . . . Jeremiah Hallock, a leader in Connecticut, wrote: ‘As means did not begin this work of themselves, so neither did they carry it on. But as this was the work of the Omnipotent Spirit, so the effects produced proclaimed its sovereign, divine author.’ Asahel Hooker, another eminent Connecticut pastor, drew the same conclusion after seeing the same change among his own people: ‘It is the evident design of Providence to confound all attempts which should be made by philosophy and human reason to account for the effects wrought without ascribing them to God, as the marvelous work of the Spirit and grace.’ —Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 126–128. *  Originally posted May 8, 2007

“The Word shows . . . the face of those lusts”*

Wednesday··2019·03·27
Be careful to read the Word of God with observation. In it thou hast the history of the most remarkable battles that have been fought by the most eminent worthies in Christ’s army of saints with this great warrior Satan. Here thou mayest see how Satan hath foiled them, and how they recovered their lost ground. Here you have his cabinet-counsels opened. There is not a lust which you are in danger of, but you have it described; not a temptation which the Word doth not arm you against. It is reported that a certain Jew should have poisoned Luther, but was happily prevented by his picture which was sent to Luther, with a warning from a faithful friend that he should take heed of such a man when he saw him, by which he knew the murderer, and escaped his hands. The Word shows thee, O Christian, the face of those lusts which Satan employs to butcher thy precious soul. ‘By them is thy servant warned,’ saith David, Ps. xix. 11. —William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 1:85. * Originally posted July 16, 2007

“Such a merchant is Satan”*

Thursday··2019·03·28
Is Satan so subtle? O then, think not to be too cunning for the devil, he will be too hard for thee at last. Sin not with thoughts of an after-repentance; it is possible that thou meanest this at present, but, dost thou think, who sits down to play with this cheater, to draw out thy stock when thou pleasest? Alas, poor wretch! he has a thousand devices to carry thee on, and engage thee deeper, till he hath not left thee any tenderness in thy conscience. As some have been served at play, intending only to venture a shilling or two, yet have by the secret witchery in gaming, played the very clothes off their back before they had done,—O how many have thus sinned away all their principles, yea, profession itself, that they have not so much as this cloak left, but walk naked to their shame! [They are] like children, who got into a boat, think to play near the shore, but are unawares by a violent gust carried down to the wide sea. O how know you that dally with Satan, but that at last you may (who begin modestly) be carried down to the broad sea of profaneness? Some men are so subtle to overreach and so cruel when they get men into their hands, that a man had better beg his bread than borrow of them. Such a merchant is Satan, cunning to insinuate, and get the creature into his books, and when he hath him on the hip, [there is] no mercy to be had at his hand than the lamb may expect from the ravenous wolf. —William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 1:84. * Originally posted July 11, 2007.

Cheese Couplets*

Friday··2019·03·29
If G. K. Chesterton was right, literature is in a sad state. Chesterton is supposed† to have said, “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” Hard to believe, but I think it may be true. Sure, there may be a verse or two on cheese hidden away somewhere in a Shel Silverstein book, but I’m afraid this beautiful gift has been almost entirely, inexplicably, overlooked by the poets. I aim to rectify that. Colby is fine, but what I like better Is the lovely bouquet of an extra-sharp cheddar. For a good, tasty snack that will never miss, Try a nice dunkel bier and a platter of Swiss. My lips smack When I eat Pepper Jack. Grab a sheep and pull and squeeze— Have yourself some Roquefort cheese. Though Muenster cheese may sound quite German, It’s American, like Munster (Herman). Primost looks like peanut butter, but it’s not— It’s from the udder. Feta is a royal treat, Although it smells a lot like feet. When cheese smells bad, that means it’s good— I’d say that of my verses, if I could. And here’s a submission from the psalmist, David Regier: Give me your tired, your poor, your curdled masses Longing to be Brie. * Originally posted May 9, 2007. † I’ve never read Chesterton, and I’m too lazy to verify the quotation.

The Word Shows Thee*

Thursday··2019·04·04
Be careful to read the Word of God with observation. In it thou hast the history of the most remarkable battles that have been fought by the most eminent worthies in Christ’s army of saints with this great warrior Satan. Here thou mayest see how Satan hath foiled them, and how they recovered their lost ground. Here you have his cabinet-counsels opened. There is not a lust which you are in danger of, but you have it described; not a temptation which the Word doth not arm you against. It is reported that a certain Jew should have poisoned Luther, but was happily prevented by his picture which was sent to Luther, with a warning from a faithful friend that he should take heed of such a man when he saw him, by which he knew the murderer, and escaped his hands. The Word shows thee, O Christian, the face of those lusts which Satan employs to butcher thy precious soul. ‘By them is thy servant warned,’ saith David, Ps. xix. 11. —William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 1:85. * Originally posted July 16, 2007.

Entirely Dependent*

Tuesday··2019·04·09
Many Christians who are members of Bible-preaching, evangelical churches have been duped somehow into thinking that their perseverance in the faith is dependent on their own natural abilities to endure to the end. They have become practical deists, thinking that after God make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) he simply left us to our own devices while he just sits back observing us through life’s difficulties, waiting to see if we will make it to the end. In his first wartime address, delivered at Guildhall in London on September 4, 1914, Sir Winston Churchill (1874—1965) said: “Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer. You have only to persevere to save yourselves.” Considering what Churchill accomplished during his life, he proved this statement to be entirely appropriate. The British Prime Minister’s wartime victories demonstrated time and again his ability to persevere to the end he overcame great odds, and his self-sustained resilience enabled him to endure all the struggles of leadership during the Second World War. And while his assertion is accurate, it is accurate only insofar as it pertains to our natural human abilities. Churchill’s call to persevere in order to save oneself is by all means applicable to soldiers in wartime. It is a stern charge to fight to the end in order to overcome the enemy. Moreover, It conveys a similar exhortation found in the Bible. In Hebrews, we are called to run the race set before us (12:1). The apostle Paul likewise admonishes us to endure so that we might “reign with [Christ]” (2 Timothy 2:12). And while teaching his disciples, Christ himself said: “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). In these passages and others, the Bible’s teaching is clear; we must persevere to the end in order to be saved. However, this is only one part of the biblical equation. If our perseverance in the faith is dependent upon us, we will surely fail and will by no means finish the race set before us. Moreover, our assurance of salvation will waver each and every day if we are counting on ourselves and our own natural abilities to persevere to the end (Romans 4:20; Hebrews 10:23). In order to have full assurance, we must be entirely dependent upon Christ and his Word, which he has provided for us as our only infallible rule to faith and life (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.2). In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul writes to the saints and faithful believers in Christ at Colossae: For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1–3) —Burk Parsons, Assured by God (P&R 2006), 20–21. * Originally posted July 23, 2007.
Much of the reason that Christians lack full assurance of their salvation is because they do not possess a right understanding of the purpose of salvation. Most Christians think their salvation is first and foremost about them. When I begin premarital counseling with a couple in our church, one of the first things we talk about is the purpose of marriage. I usually astonish the couple when I tell them that their marriage is not about them. After the initial shock, the young man and woman usually just look at me with blank stares. I then go on to explain that marriage is first and foremost about God and his kingdom (Ephesians 5:30–32). We spend some time talking about the creation ordinance to be fruitful and multiply, and, considering the possibility that the couple may not have children in the future, I explain that their marriage is intended to bring glory to God as each fulfills his or her covenant role in the relationship. I explain that they are getting married not just to live under the same roof with the same last name, but that their relationship is to reflect the relationship between Christ and his bride (5:25–29). When the couple understands that, they have a solid foundation on which to build a loving and full marriage. —Burk Parsons, Assured by God (P&R 2006), 26. * Originally posted July 24, 2007.

Grace of Repentance*

Thursday··2019·04·11
Let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him. —Clement of Rome, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter VII. * Originally posted July 30, 2007.

Devoted to the Service of the Temple*

Thursday··2019·04·18
Devoted to the Service of the Temple: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins is a collection of the writings of seventeenth-century Particular Baptist pastor Hercules Collins edited by Dr. Michael Haykin and Pastor Steve Weaver. At 139 pages, including a bibliography, it is a short, easy read, but one that is packed full of rich pastoral theology. The book begins with a thirty page introduction, providing a brief biography of Hercules Collins and the historical setting of his writings, followed by thirty-five short chapters, which are excerpts of his writings. This book can easily be read in one sitting, as I did, or one chapter (2–3 short pages) a day, as a devotional. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find such rich theology in any devotional book written today. We owe considerable gratitude to Dr. Haykin and Pastor Weaver for bringing us this collection of writings from this great, though lesser known, “dead theologian.” I heartily recommend it to you, and leave you with this quotation from chapter five, titled God is the Gospel: There are many good objects in heaven and earth besides thee. There are angels in heaven and saints on earth. But, soul, what are these to thee? Heaven, without thy presence, would be no heaven to me. A palace without thee, a crown without thee, cannot satisfy me. But with thee can I be content, though in a poor cottage. With thee I am at liberty in bonds. . . . [I]f I have thy smiles, I can bear the world’s frowns. If I have spiritual liberty in my soul that I can ascend to thee by faith and have communion with thee, thou shalt choose thy portion for me in this world, “For in the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul.” —Hercules Collins, Devoted to the Service of the Temple: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007). * Originally posted August 15, 2007, but the book is still available (cheap!) and worth your attention. Click the link, buy the book. You’ll thank me later.
We will return with our regularly scheduled edification after this brief rant: I recently had a conversation that went something like this: Local insipid, soulless, Christian radio station: Give your praise to the Lord / Come on everybody / stand up and sing one more / hallelujah / Give your praise to the Lord / I could never tell ya [sic] / just how much good that it’s / gonna [sic] do ya [sic] . . . Me: Man, that is one annoying, stupid song. Annoying person singing along: What’s wrong with this song? Me: Where shall I start? OK, first, the melody, if you can call it that. It sounds like it was written by an asthmatic who can only sing two measures before stopping to gasp for air. But that’s not the worst of it. The words are horrible. APSA: So, you’re against praising the Lord, now? Me: Not at all, but if you’re praising the Lord because of how much good it’s going to do you, you’re not really praising the Lord. You’re practicing self-help therapy. APSA: You’re so picky. Me: [Sigh . . .] I can’t stand it. Discernment is out. Ignorant enthusiasm is in. According to a scientific study I am about to make up, 92.7% of American Evangelicals don’t know Paul of Tarsus from Paul McCartney. They don’t know Simon Barjonah from Paul Simon. They think John Bunyan needed a podiatrist, and that Polycarp & Spurgeon are fish. If Christian radio is a fair representation of Evangelicalism at large—and, according to the study cited above, it is—then Evangelicalism is a dead movement, utterly bankrupt theologically and intellectually brain-dead. If there was a convention for truly artistically gifted CCM performers, all the participants could ride in one car. If all the Christian broadcasters who are able to distinguish John MacArthur from Joyce Meyer had a party, they couldn’t get up a Bridge game. If all the Christian publishers who know the difference between John Owen and John Eldredge went to the gym, they couldn’t field a basketball team.† If . . . [Sigh . . .] * Originally posted September 7, 2007 † I suppose “field” is the wrong word here. If all the bloggers who know anything about sports had a party, I wouldn’t be invited.
What is your attitude toward the Word of God? Do you approach it casually, or with awe and reverence? In ancient times the prophets felt the greatest fear when they received a message from God or an angel. Even Moses could hardly endure this great terror. Since the Word had not yet become flesh, they could not understand it because of its abounding glory and their own great weakness. But now, after the Word has been made flesh, it has become very captivating and is imparted to us by men of our very own flesh and blood. That, however, does not mean we should love it less or treat it with less reverence. It is the same Word as before, even though it does not come to us with terror, but with winning love. Those who do not want to love and honor it now, must at last endure all the more anguish. —Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 17. * Originally posted September 13, 2007.

The First Step of Idolatry*

Thursday··2019·04·25
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks . . . Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts . . . to degrading passions . . . to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper . . . —Romans 1:21–28 Notice in the text [Romans 1:18–32] the steps or stages of (heathen) perversion. The first step of their idolatry is ingratitude: they were not thankful. So Satan showed Himself ungrateful over against His Creator before he fell. Whoever enjoys God’s gifts as though he had not graciously received them, forgotten the Donor, will soon find himself filled with self-complacency. The next step is vanity: they ‘became vain in their imaginations.’ in this stage men delight in themselves and in creatures, enjoying what is profitable to them. Thus they become vain in their imaginations, that is, in all their plans, efforts and endeavors. In and through them they seek whatever they desire; nevertheless, all their efforts remain vain since they seek only themselves: their glory, satisfaction and benefit. The third step is blindness; for, deprived of truth and steeped in vanity, man of necessity becomes blind in his whole feeling and thinking, since now he is turned entirely away from God. The fourth step or stage is man’s total departure from God, and this is the worst; for when he has lost God there remains nothing else for God to do than to give them up to all manner of shame and vice according to the will of Satan. In the same way also, man sinks into spiritual idolatry of a finer kind, which today is spread far and wide, ingratitude and love of vanity (of one’s own wisdom, of righteousness, of, as it is commonly said, of one’s ‘good intention’) prevent man so thoroughly that he refuses to be reproved, for now he thinks that his conduct is good and pleasing to God. He now imagines he is worshiping a merciful God. Whereas in reality he has none, indeed, he worships his own figment of reason more devoutly that the living God. Oh, how great an evil ingratitude is! It produces desire for vain things, and this again produces blindness; and blindness produces idolatry, and idolatry leads to a whole deluge of vices. Conversely, gratitude preserves love for God and so the heart remains attached to Him and is enlightened. Filled with light, he worships only the living God and such true worship is followed immediately by a whole host of virtues. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 29–30. * Originally posted September 17, 2007.

Luther on Works versus Faith*

Tuesday··2019·04·30
knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. —Galatians 2:16 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:8–9 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. —Romans 2:13 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. —James 2:24 Contradictions! The Bible is full of them. How are we to make sense of this? Let’s ask Dr. Luther: Here [in Romans 3:1–20] the question arises: How can a person be justified without the works of the Law, or how can it be that justification does not flow from our works? For St. James writes: “We see how that by works a man is justified, and and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). So also St. Paul: “Faith . . . worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6); and: “The doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). To this we reply: as the Apostle distinguishes between the law and faith, the letter and grace, so also he distinguishes between the works resulting from these. He calls those deeds “works of the Law” that are done without faith and divine grace, merely because of the law, moved by either fear of punishment or the alluring hope of reward. By works of faith he calls those deeds which are done in the spirit of (Christian) liberty and flow from love to God. These can be done only by such as are justified by faith. Justification, however, is not in any way promoted by the works of the Law, but they rather hinder it, because they keep a person from regarding himself as unrighteous and so in need of justification. When James and Paul say that a man is justified by works, they argue against the false opinion of those who think that (for justification) a faith suffices that is without works. Paul does not say that true faith exists without its proper works, for without these there is not true faith. But what he says is that it is faith alone that justifies, regardless of works. Justification therefore does not presuppose the works of the law, but rather a living faith which performs its proper works, as we read Galatians 5:67. By the law is the knowledge of sin (3:20). Such knowledge of sin is obtained in two ways. First, by meditation (of the Law), as we read in Romans 7:7: “I had not know lust except the law had said, thou shalt not covet.” Secondly, by experience, namely, by trying to fulfill the Law, or we may say, through the Law as was assure to fulfill its obligations. Then the Law will become to us as occasion to sin, for then the perverted will of man, inclined to evil, but urged by the Law to do good, becomes all the more unwillingly and disinclined to do what is good. It hates to be drawn away from what it loves; and what it loves is sin, as we learn from Genesis 8:21. But just so, man, forced by the Law and obeying it unwillingly, sees how deeply sin and evil are rooted in his soul. He would never notice this, if he did not have the Law and would not try to follow it. The Apostle here only mentions this though, since he intends to treat it more fully in Chapters 5 and 7. Here he merely meets the objection that the Law would be useless if its works could not justify. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 59–60. * Originally posted September 19, 2007.

Abraham Believed*

Monday··2019·05·06
“I believe in God.” I have had some interesting conversations that began with that statement. Sadly, few who make it can honestly drop that little preposition: in. Most people I know will say, yes, I believe in God, but when confronted with what God has said about himself and about them, have to admit that, well, no, I don’t actually believe that. And that is the great stumbling block. Here are a few words from Luther on what it means to believe God: Abraham believed God (4:3). This must be understood in the sense that Abraham was always ready to believe God. He steadfastly believed God. This fact we learn from Genesis 12 and 13, where we are told that Abraham believed God who called and commanded him to leave his country and go into a strange land. Again he believed God when, according to Genesis 1:22ff., he was commanded to slay his son Isaac, and so forth. Whatever he did, he did by faith as the Apostle declares in Hebrews 11:8–10. So also what is stated in our text (v. 3) is said of Abraham’s faith in general, and not merely with regard to the one promise recorded in Genesis 15:4–6. To believe God means to trust him always and everywhere. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 66. * Originally posted September 20, 2007.

Growing through Tribulation*

Monday··2019·05·13
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. —Romans 5:3–5 Knowing that tribulation worketh patience (5:3). He who has faith indeed has all the excellent things (which are mentioned in the text), but in a hidden way. Through tribulation they are tried and purified to the highest degree. Whatever (virtues) tribulation finds in us, it develops more fully. If anyone is carnal, weak, blind, wicked, irascible, haughty, and so forth, tribulation will make him more carnal, weak, blind, wicked and irritable. On the other hand, if one is spiritual, strong, wise, pious, gentle and humble, he will become more spiritual, wise, pious, gentle, and humble, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 4:1: “Thou hast enlarged me when in was in distress.” Those speak foolishly who ascribe their anger or their impatience to such as offend them or to tribulation. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient. So everyone may learn from tribulation how his heart is constituted. Those are ignorant, childish and indeed hypocritical who outwardly venerate the relics of the holy Cross, yet flee and detest tribulation and affliction. Holy Scripture calls tribulation the cross of Christ in a special sense, as in Mathew 10:38: “He that taketh his not cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Let everyone be sure that he is not Christian but a Turk and an enemy of Christ who refuses to bear this cross; for here the Apostle speaks of all (believers) when he says: “We glory in tribulations.” And in Acts 14:22 we read: “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God.” “Must” does not mean that tribulation comes by chance, or that it is a matter of choice for us, of that we may take it or leave it. In many Scripture passages our Lord is called a “Savior” and a “Helper in need,” and this means that all who do not desire to endure tribulation, rob him of his titles and names of honor. To such people our Lord will never become a Savior, because they do not admit that they are under condemnation. To them God is never mighty, wise and gracious, because they do not desire to honor Him as creatures that are weak, foolish and subject to punishment. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 74–75. * First published September 24, 2007

Love for God’s Sake*

Wednesday··2019·05·15
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. —Romans 5:3–5 Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts 5:5. Hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God, that is, the love which of God and works in us as unshakable adherence to Him, is shed abroad in our hearts. This love we receive by grace and not on account of our merit; and it makes us willing to endure tribulation. If men are unwilling and of an unstable mind, they do not endure it by the Holy Ghost. St. Augustine remarks on the passage: “Step by step he (the Apostle), leads us toward love, which, as he says, we have as a gift from the Holy Spirit. He shows us thereby that we must ascribe all that we might claim for ourselves to God who by grace grant us His Holy Spirit.” We must understand these words as an added motivation or instruction of the Holy Spirit, showing why we can glory in tribulation, though this is impossible by our own strength. It is not the effect of our own power, but it comes from the divine love which is given us by the Holy Ghost. Let us note: 1. It is shed abroad, hence not born in us or originated by us. 2. It is by the Holy Ghost, therefore it is not acquired by our virtuous efforts as we may acquire good habits which lie on merely moral plane. 3. In our hearts, that is, it is in the innermost course of our being, not merely on the surface, as a foam is swimming on the top of the water. Such (superficial) love is that of the hypocrites who imagine and pretend to love. 4. Which is given unto us, that is, which is not merited, for we deserve the very opposite. 5. It is called love (caritas) in contradistinction to the inert and lower form of love with which we love creatures. It is a precious and worthy love, by which we most highly esteem that which we love, as we esteem God above all things, or as we love Him with highest esteem. He who loves God merely for the sake of His gifts or the sake of any advantage, loves Him with the lowest form of love, that is, with a sinful desire. Such (earthly) love means to use God, but not to delight in God. 6. Of God, because only God is so loved. The neighbor is loved for God’s sake, that is, because God wills this. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 76–77. * First published September 25, 2007.

The Sanctified Mind*

Thursday··2019·05·16
and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. —Romans 6:18–19 Yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness (6:19). The Apostle when here speaking of holiness has in mind the chastity of the body, in particular, that purity which comes from the Spirit of faith, who sanctifies us both inwardly and outwardly. Otherwise it would be a pagan chastity and not holy chastity, or (true) holiness, since the soul remains defiled. First the soul must become pure through faith, so that the sanctified mind purifies also the body for God’s sake. Of this our Lord speaks in Matthew 23:26: “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 90. * First published September 27, 2007.

When Satan Tempts*

Thursday··2019·05·23
Satan temps not when he will, but when God pleaseth, and the same Holy Spirit which led Christ into the field, brought him off with victory. And therefore we find him marching in the power of his Spirit, after he had repulsed Satan, into Galilee, Lu. iv. 14. When Satan temps a saint he is but God’s messenger, 2 Co. xii. 7. “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger Satan to buffet me.” So our translation. But rather as Beza, who will have it in [the nominative case] the messenger Satan, implying that his was sent of God to Paul; and indeed the errand he came about was too good and gracious to be his own, lest I should be exalted above measure. The devil never meant to do Paul such a good office, but God sends him to Paul, as David sent Uriah with letters to Joab; neither knew the contents of their message. The devil and his instruments, both are Gods instruments, therefore the wicked are called his sword, his axe; now let God alone to wield the one and handle the other. He is but a bungler that hurts and hackles his own legs with his own axe; which God should do, if his children should be the worse for Satan’s temptations. Let the devil choose his way, God is for him at every weapon. If he will try it by force of arms, and assault the saints by persecution, as the Lord of hosts he will oppose him. If by policy and subtlety, he is ready there also. The devil and his whole council are but fools to God. Nay, their wisdom, foolishness, cunning and art, commend everything but sin. The more artificial the watch, the picture, &c., the better; but the more wit and art in sin the worse, because it is employed against an all-wise God, that cannot be outwitted, and therefore will in the end but pay the workman in greater damnation. “The foolishness of God is wiser that men;” yea, than the wisdom of men and devils, that is, the means and instruments which God opposeth Satan withal. What weaker than a sermon? Who sillier than the saints in the account of the wise world? Yet God is wiser in a weak sermon, than Satan is in his deep plots, wherein the state heads of a whole conclave of profound cardinals are knocked together—wiser in his simple ones, than Satan in his Ahitophels and Sanballats. And truly God chooseth on purpose to defeat the policies of hell and earth by these, that he may put such to greater shame, 1 Co. i. 21. How is the great scholar shamed to be baffled by a plain countryman’s argument? Thus God calls forth Job to wrestle with Satan and his seconds—for such his three friends showed themselves in taking the devil’s part—and sure he is not able to hold up the cudgels against the fencing-master, who is beaten by one of the scholars. God sits laughing while hell and earth sit plotting, Ps. ii. 4; “He disappointeth the devices of the crafty,” Job v. 12, he breaketh their studied thoughts and plots, as the words import, in one moments pulling down the labors of many year’s policy. Indeed as great men keep wild beasts for game and sport, as the fox, the boar, &c., so doth God Satan and his insturments, to manifest his wisdom in the taking of them. It is observed, that the very hunting of some beast affords not only pleasure to the hunter, but also more sweetness to the eater. Indeed God, by displaying of his wisdom in the pursuit of the saint’s enemies, doth superadd a sweet relish to their deliverance at last. He brake the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gave him to be meat to his people. After he had hunted Pharaoh out of all his forms and burrows, now he breaks the very brains of all his plots, and severs him up to his people, with the garnishment of his wisdom and power about. —William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 1:101–102. * First posted October 10, 2007.

Remember the Martyrs*

Tuesday··2019·05·28
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. —Hebrews 11:32–40 The Martyrdom of Polycarp Chap. IX—Polycarp Refuses to Revile Christ. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade hem to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their customs, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand toward them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” Chap. X—Polycarp Confesses Himself A Christian. And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” he answered, “Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortunes of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.” The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” But Polycarp said, “To thee I have thought it right to offer and account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (Which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.” Chap. XI—No Threats Have Any Effect On Polycarp. The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, except thou repent.” But he answered, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.” But again the proconsul said to him “I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despiseth the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.” But Polycarp said “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and the eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.” —The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Hendrickson, 2012), 1:41. So Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John, went to his death. Others continue to suffer for their faith today. A testimony sent to The Voice of the Martyrs from a believer in Myanmar (Burma): One day we were sitting at the temple entrance receiving collections from the people, one of the Christians passing by gave me a tract. I kept it to take home with me and read it later. When I read this tract it spoke of receiving the gift of eternal life when believing in Jesus Christ. I started to question and wonder, “How can we know eternal life? What is this eternal life the tract spoke of?” I asked my wife and children about the matter of eternal life, and they simply joked about it saying, “Father you are a good man, you will surely be a rich man in your next life.” But the thought would not leave me, I felt it deeply as I was growing older, When I die, will there be a place that I go to? So I kept thinking about this over and over in my heart and mind, until finally at midnight I called on Jesus, “Lord Jesus I believe, please give me eternal life.” The Lord Jesus heard my prayer and answered my call. Then the light shone into my soul, light in my heart which was great joy. Simply stated, I am at peace, a real peace in my heart which I had never experienced before, which is difficult to put into words. Early the next morning I knew in my heart that I must throw out the image of Buddha, which I had previously worshipped every day. Without speaking to my wife, I took the image and threw it into a small river near my village. . . . Please pray for me as I have been forced to leave my village, my wife and my two children who I love dearly. I pray that I may soon be able to return back to them. I love them but I cannot do what they have asked me to do—curse my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, come back to Buddha and my family. May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on my family and my fellow-villagers. And I was thinking the other day about one time when someone chuckled a little about my faith, and how well I had taken it. * Originally posted October 15, 2007.

On Calling In Sick*

Thursday··2019·05·30
I picked up Steve Lawson’s little book The Expository Genius of John Calvin late last night and got about half-way through it before falling asleep. Calvin’s life is a monument to God in many ways. One of the things that impresses me about him is his incredible work ethic, driven by his passion for his calling to preach the Word. [Calvin’s] drivenness can been in his letter to one Monsieur de Falais in 1546: “Apart from the sermons and the lectures, there is a month gone by in which I have scarce done anything, in such wise I am almost ashamed to live thus useless.” It should be noted that Calvin had preached a mere twenty sermons that month and given only twelve lectures. He was hardly the idle servant he imagined himself to be. —Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 45. It can hardly be disputed that Calvin drove himself harder than was wise, and his health suffered for it. Yet such was his passion for preaching and teaching the Word that he simply could not do nothing, even when bedridden. Theodore Beza wrote of him, “He had no expression more frequently on his lips than that life would be bitter to him if spent in indolence.” Lawson writes: Eventually, Calvin did become an invalid, but he had himself carried to church on a stretcher in order to preach. —Ibid., 48. Think of that the next time you’re tempted to call in sick. This is a great little book that could easily be read in one or two sittings, and I encourage every pastor to read it. However, this is not just a book for pastors. We all need encouragement and inspiration to be passionate and diligent in our pursuit of God and his Word. * Originally posted October 16, 2007.

“Unbelief fears Satan as a lion, faith treads on him as a worm.”*

Monday··2019·06·03
And now, Christian, may be their confidence, together with the distracted state of Christ’s affairs in the work, may discompose thy spirit, concerning the issue of these rolling providences that are over our heads; but be still, poor heart, and know that the contest is not between the church and Satan, but between Christ and him. These are the two champions. Stand now, O ye army of saints, still, by faith, to see the all-wise God wrestle with a subtle devil. If you live not to see the period of these great confusions, yet generations after you shall behold the Almighty smite off this Goliath’s head with his own sword, and take this cunning hunter in the toil of his own policies; that faith which ascribes greatness and wisdom to God, will shrink up Satan’s subtlety into a nigrum nihil—a thing of nothing. Unbelief fears Satan as a lion, faith treads on him as a worm. Behold therefore thy God at work, and promise thyself that what he is about, will be an excellent piece. None can drive him from his work. —William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 1:110. * First posted October 17, 2007.

Presumption versus Promise*

Thursday··2019·06·06
Let us learn, therefore, not to become drunk on our foolish hopes. Rather, let us hope in God and in God’s promises, and we will never be deceived. But if we base our hopes on our own presumptuousness, God will strip everything away. This is one of our most essential doctrines, since human nature is so driven by presumptuousness. For we are so influenced by insupportable pride that God is forced to punish us harshly. We think we are so much higher than God that we ought to be more powerful than God. Consequently, seeing how inclined we are toward this vice, all the more ought we to pay heed to what Micah says here: that we must not rest content with the thought that whatever happens will happen. Rather, we must realize that so long as God’s hand is upon us, we are condemned to be miserable. For there is no other cure shy of our returning to God and founding our hopes on his promises. Therein lies our surest remedy, equal to any and all disasters that might befall us. —John Calvin, cited in Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 106–107. * First posted October 22, 2007.

Mixing Counterfeit with True*

Monday··2019·06·10
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. —1 Timothy 4:16 It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ. It is plainly by this means, principally, that he has prevailed against all revivals of religion, since the first founding of the Christian church. By this he hurt the cause of Christianity, in and after the apostolic age, much more by all the persecution of both Jews and heathens. The apostles, in all their epistles, show themselves much more concerned at the former mischief, than the latter. By this, Satan prevailed against the reformation, begun by Luther, Zuinglius, &c. to put a stop to its progress, and bring it into disgrace, ten times more than by all the bloody and cruel persecutions of the Church of Rome. By this, principally, has he prevailed against revivals of religion in our nation. By this he prevailed against New England, to quench the love and spoil the joy of her espousals, about a hundred years ago. And, I think, I have had opportunity enough to see plainly, that by this the devil has prevailed against the late great revival of religion in New England, so happy and promising in its beginning. Here, most evidently, has been the main advantage Satan has had against us; by this he has foiled us. It is by this means that the daughter of Zion in this land now lies on the ground, in such piteous circumstances, with her garments rent, her face disfigured, her nakedness exposed, her limbs broken, and weltering in the blood of her own wounds, and in no wise able to arise; and this, so quickly after her late great joys and hopes: Lam. i. 17. “Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the Lord hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries shall be round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.” —Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, Works (Banner of Truth, 1974), 1:235. * First posted October 30, 2007.

Oppressed, Weeping, Persecuted, Ruined, Happy*

Monday··2019·06·17
What if we were to cling to the idea—so firmly planted in our heads that we seem to have been born with it—that if we suffer affliction in the world we can never really be blessed? If that were the case, which of us would not run a mile from the Lord Jesus Christ or willingly consent to be his disciple, even supposing we accepted his teaching and hailed him as God’s Son who calls us to himself? In that case we might well say, ‘Yes, but surely he knows our weakness and frailty? Why should he not put up with us as we are?’ Each one of us would take our shoulder from the wheel if we truly held the idea—deeply rooted, as I said—that blessedness is only for those who are comfortable and at ease. That is why our Lord preached as he does here to his disciples, demonstrating that our happiness and blessedness do not come from the world’s applause, or from the enjoyment of wealth, honors, gratification and pleasure. On the contrary, we may be utterly oppressed, in tears and weeping, persecuted and to all appearances ruined: none of that affects our standing or diminishes our happiness. Why? Because we have in view the ultimate outcome. That is what Christ would have us remember, so as to correct the false ideas we feed upon and which so muddle our thinking that we cannot accept his yoke. He reminds us that we must look further ahead and consider the outcome of our afflictions, our tears in the persecutions we suffer and the insults we bear. When once we see how God turns all of that to good and to our salvation, we may conclude that blessing will assuredly be ours, however contrary such things to our nature. —John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth, 2006), 20. * First Posted November 5, 2007.
Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. —Fanny Crosby I was sampling some music by a country musician I won’t name here, and came across a couple of religious albums he has produced. I’m always a bit cynical of these things, as I see celebrities sing hymns one minute and songs about adultery and drunkenness the next. But that’s a tangent for another day. As I was listening, I heard the song Blessed Assurance. It’s not a great song, but it’s not horrible, either. The first verse, quoted above, is probably the best part of the song. It almost captures the essence of our salvation in beautiful language. Purchased of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood, we are heirs of salvation, and our blessed assurance of that salvation certainly is a foretaste of the divine glory of Heaven. (The remaining verses are pretty squishy.) Yet I say it “almost captures the essence of our salvation” because, while Jesus is mine, that is not the fact upon which my assurance rests. My assurance of salvation is in the knowledge that I am his. There is nothing I have that I cannot lose, and that would include my salvation if it depended on me. But Jesus loses no one, and nothing can be taken from him. I was given to him by the Father, and I am assured that I will be kept and raised up on the last day. My salvation is guaranteed, not because he is mine, but because I am his. Blessed assurance—I belong to Christ. * First posted December 10, 2007.
Looking for the Uncaused Cause Imagine nothing. What do you see? A lot of empty space as far as the eye can see in all directions? No planets, no stars, no meteors, no solids, liquids, or gasses, and no heat or light—just a lot of black, empty, zero Kelvin space, right? Wrong. Space is something. Space can be measured, even if it’s infinite space. Now try again. Imagine nothing. Can you do it? I can’t. The harder I try, the more my head hurts. That’s what it—or rather, the absence of “it”—looked like before “God created the heavens and the earth.” There was only God, who had always been there, with no beginning, and “there” was nowhere, because there was nowhere to be yet. Forget angels dancing on the head of a pin. No pin. No place to put the pin. Can you fit that into your mind? I certainly cannot. My headache increases its intensity. Of course, not everyone believes in God, or even a god. Last week, as my wife and I were driving home after a fun-filled day of shopping, we listened to a radio interview with Bernard Haisch, author of The God Theory. The interviewer was George Noory, successor to Art Bell, so . . . well, I guess it was an appropriate forum for the nonsense that ensued. Haisch was raised a Roman Catholic, but is now very happy to be free of the evils of religion. He believes in intelligent design, but prefers not to call the designer “God” because of the religious overtones of the word. He believes in the Big Bang and Darwinian Evolution. Haisch and his host held forth for some time, speculating on what might have been and what the purpose of it all might be. When all was said and done, and the interview ended, there were no real answers. The only claim that was made with any solid conviction was that the Biblical account was certainly not the answer, as any fool should plainly see. And the ultimate question was not only unanswered; it remained unasked. It is the question that, as far as I know, is never asked by atheists or proponents of “intelligent design.” Suppose I accept evolution and the big bang. Suppose I say, “Alright, that’s plausible. The universe burst into being one day, and life was somehow generated on one or more of the resulting fragments floating in space. Umpteen millennia later, here we are. I can buy that.” Sure. But what was there before that? What went bang? And once you answer that, where did it come from? This question can be asked and answered as many times as you want, but eventually, we must find ourselves in eternity, where there not only is nothing, but no place to put it; because if you start with something—anything—you have to explain where it came from and what caused it. No one is going back that far and answering that question. No one, that is, but God and those of us who accept his Word on the matter. How can science explain eternity—time without beginning? How can science explain nothing? When some brilliant scientist can answer that ultimate question, I’ll consider it. Until then, I have my answer. And it’s not only an answer that appeals to faith, it’s the only answer that makes any sense. Dr. Haisch and his host, near the end of the interview, finally said something I could emphatically agree with. “If everything in the Bible is true,” chuckled Haisch, “we’re all in a lot of trouble.” “So true,” agreed Noory. That, my friends, is the truth. Of course, there is a remedy for our “trouble’; but you’d have to believe the Bible to find it. * First posted December 17, 2007.

Recompense which Fully Satisfies*

Tuesday··2019·07·02
Many today, in a silly, compulsive wish to know, ask what kind of glory believers will have in paradise, whether they will stand of be seated or move about, whether they may still enjoy the created things of earth, to what point and to what end. In short, they love to indulge in useless speculations, to pass through every room in paradise in the hope of seeing what goes on there, but they have no desire to draw near to paradise themselves! We, on the other hand, are already on our way. So let us continue on, as long as we are in this world, and when we have reached our inheritance, then we will know what heaven is like. Suppose a man wanted to buy a house thirty miles away, and promptly sat down and said, ‘Well now, I’d like to know what the house is made of, how commodious it is, and how it is situated.’ If, for all that, he refused to visit the house, how laughable it would be! So we must all learn to grow stronger in our knowledge of God, so that that we might worship him purely, place our confidence in him, and call on him in every necessity. And when we have profited by being trained up in these things, we will finally understand what God’s promise of blessedness and joy really means and how far it extends. At present, to be sure, the manner of God’s working is unknown to us, since Scripture declares that the mind cannot conceive what God has prepared for us. In the meantime, it is enough to know that the Lord Jesus Christ forbids his disciples to practice craftiness and to seek more light than is permissible. For by such means we appear wiser than we are, deceiving some and cheating others. We may not perhaps succeed as the world counts success, for we behave with integrity. We may let many opportunities for gain pass us by. We will willingly accept loss if by our actions we resist offending God. Since, then we are people of peaceable spirit, and have neither wit nor skill to fish in troubled waters, we are bound to lose out. We know, however, that while the world may condemn us, we have a recompense which fully satisfies: we will have God to enjoy. —John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth, 2006), 51–52. * First posted January 2, 2008.

Bearing Reproach*

Wednesday··2019·07·03
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. —Matthew 5:11–12, cf. Luke 6:22–26 In brief, we are exhorted to remember continually what our Lord Jesus teaches in this passage. When we are unjustly afflicted, provided our conscience testifies before God that we are blameless, we must not lose heart, thinking that we are worse off than unbelievers. Why? Because the happiness we are to seek is from above. When we are on earth, we must prepare to do battle. But there is also the promise of rest which will be ours, of victory and the glory which goes with it. That promise calls us to look away from the world and to lift up our minds to the realm above. Moreover we are not only encouraged to put up with personal injury and trouble, but also with criticism, slander, and false report. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all to bear, since a brave person will endure beatings and even death more easily than humiliation and disgrace. Among those pagans who had a reputing for courage were noble souls who feared death less than shame and dishonor among men. We, therefore, must arm ourselves with more than human steadfastness if we are to calmly swallow all the insults, censures, and blame which the wicked will undeservedly heap upon us. That, nevertheless, is what awaits us, as St. Paul declares. Since, he says, our hope is in the living God, we are bound to suffer distress and humiliation; we will be objects of suspicion; men will spit in our face. That is God’s way of testing us. We must therefore be ready to face these things and to take our Lord’s teaching here as our shield for the fight. For the rest, he warns us that reproaches will come not only from those who openly decry the gospel and who have no time for pure and true religion, but also from those who pass themselves off as members of the church and who have every appearance of sincerity: they will be the first to pull us down and to shame us in men’s eyes. —John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth, 2006), 66–67. * First posted January 4, 2008.

More than Propositions, but Not Less*

Monday··2019·07·08
The reason behind postmodernism’s contempt for propositional truth is not difficult to understand. A proposition is an idea framed as a logical statement that affirms or denies something, and it is expressed in such a way that it must be either true or false. There is no third option between true and false. (This is the “excluded middle” in logic.) The whole point of a proposition is to boil a truth statement down to such a pristine clarity that it must be either affirmed or denied. In other words, propositions are the simplest expressions of truth value used to express the substance of what we believe. Postmodernism, frankly, cannot endure that kind of stark clarity. In reality, however, postmodernism’s rejection of the propositional form turns out to be totally untenable. It is impossible to discuss truth at all—or even tell a story—without resorting the use of propositions. Until fairly recently, the validity and necessity of expressing truth in propositional form was considered self-evident by virtually everyone who ever studied logic, semantics, philosophy, or theology. Ironically, to make any cogent argument against the use of propositions, a person would have to employ propositional statements! So every argument against propositions is instantly self-defeating. Let’s be clear: truth certainly does entail more than bare propositions. There is without question a personal element to the truth. Jesus Himself made that point when He declared Himself truth incarnate. Scripture also teaches that faith means receiving Christ for all that He is—knowing Him in a real and personal sense and being indwelt by Him—not merely assenting to a short list of disembodied truths about Him (Matthew 7:21–23). So it is quite true that faith cannot be reduced to mere assent to a finite set of propositions (James 2:19). . . . Saving faith is more than a merely intellectual nod of approval to the bare facts of a minimalist gospel outline. Authentic faith in Christ involves love for His person and willingness to surrender to His authority the human heart, will, and intellectual consent in the act of faith. In that sense, it is certainly correct, even necessary, to acknowledge that mere propositions can’t do full justice to all the dimensions of truth. On the other hand, truth simply cannot survive if stripped of propositional content. While it is quite true that believing the truth entails more than the assent of the human intellect to certain propositions, it equally true that authentic faith never involves anything less. To reject the propositional content of the gospel is to forfeit saving faith, period. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 14–15. * First posted January 7, 2008.

Stand for Truth*

Monday··2019·07·15
As Christians, we are entrusted with the truth of the gospel. It is our duty to stand for truth, and against all enemies of truth. Postmodernism is simply the latest expression of worldly unbelief. Its core value—dubious ambivalence toward truth—is merely skepticism distilled to its pure essence. There is nothing virtuous or genuinely humble about it. It is proud rebellion against divine revelation. In fact, postmodernism’s hesitancy about truth is exactly antithetical to the bold confidence Scripture says is the birthright of every believer (Ephesians 3:12). Such assurance is wrought by the Spirit of God Himself in those who believe (I Thessalonians 1:5). We need to make the most of that assurance and not fear to confront the world with it. The gospel message in all its component facts is a clear, definitive, confident, authoritative proclamation that Jesus is Lord, and that He gives eternal and abundant life to all who believe. We who truly know Christ and have received that gift of eternal life have also received from Him a clear, definitive commission to deliver the gospel message boldly as His ambassadors. If we are likewise not clear and distinct on our proclamations of the message, we are not being good ambassadors. But we are not merely ambassadors. We are simultaneously soldiers, commissioned to wage war for the defense and dissemination of the truth in the face of countless onslaughts against it. We are ambassadors—with a message of good news for people who walk in a land of darkness and dwell in the land of the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:2). And we are soldiers—charged with pulling down ideological strongholds and casting down the lies and deception spawned by the forces of evil (1 Corinthians 10:3–5; 2 Timothy 2:3–4). Notice carefully: our task as ambassadors is to bring good news to people. Our mission as soldiers is to overthrow false ideas. We must keep those objectives straight; we are not entitled to wage warfare against people or the enter into diplomatic relations with anti-Christian ideas. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12); and our duty as ambassadors does not permit us to compromise or align ourselves with any kind of human philosophies, religious deceit, or any other kind of falsehood (Colossians 2:8). —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 24–25. * First posted January 8, 2008

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