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(122 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

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!

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

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

Don’t worry. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Christmas Day, 2013

Previous Christmas and Incarnational Posts

Equally Unrighteous (rerun)

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)

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

“Operating System not found”

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

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

Clearly, a Comic Classic

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

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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”*

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”*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

“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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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.”*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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*

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

Theological Terrorism*

Which is worse: atheists and other opponents of Christianity, or apostates within the church? John MacArthur answers: Can someone . . . be even more dangerous than the hostile critic who stands outside the church and overtly opposes everything the Bible teaches? Absolutely. False teachers and doctrinal saboteurs inside the church have always confused more people and done more damage than open adversaries on the outside. Is an attacking enemy who promises his arrival in advance and wears a uniform for easy identification as dangerous as a terrorist who is hidden and acts with deadly surprise? The answer is obvious. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 81. * First posted January 9, 200.

Postmodern Apostates

Although the term emergent is obsolete, the postmodern sand on which they built their house remains. This is as relevant now as it was when this was first posted eleven years ago. As you know, I’ve been reading The Truth War by John MacArthur. Like everyone else whom I have read on the subject of the Emergent [whatever] and postmodernism, he points out the fact that the postmodern belief system is not easily defined. That is certainly true, and I am afraid that that fact makes many (but certainly not MacArthur) reluctant to condemn it outright, and uncertain about how to react to it. But is that hesitancy justified? The typical postmodernist’s response to criticism is, “You don’t understand us! We are not all alike!” The implication is that, since we don’t understand them, we cannot judge them. But is that necessarily true? Let’s suppose they are right: let’s assume D. A. Carson, John MacArthur, and anyone else who has written about Emergent and postmodernism has completely misunderstood them and has no idea what they believe. Does that disqualify us from judging them to be outside the Christian faith? If we don’t understand what they are saying, can we still say they are wrong? Yes, we can. It is enough to know what they do not believe, as deduced from what they do not—and will not—say. The fundamentals of the Biblical, Christian faith are clearly stated in Scripture and are easily understood by any believer who diligently seeks to know. Those fundamentals—the Trinity, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the sovereignty of God, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, original sin and depravity, justification by faith, the atonement, the resurrection—are clearly stated propositions, and Scripture makes it plain that these truths exclude any other religion, no matter how sincere and devout. So I don’t have to know what Emergents believe. I don’t have to engage them in “conversation” in order to determine what they really believe. It is enough to know what they do not believe, and in knowing what they do not believe, I know who they are not. And they are intentionally vague and noncommittal on virtually everything. They consistently refuse to affirm the fundamentals of the faith, and so are unable to give a Biblical account for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15). Furthermore, they ridicule anyone who claims faith in anything certain. This is not the Biblical, Christian faith. Our faith is certain. We know the truth, and it has set us free (John 8:32). And we are growing in our knowledge of the truth. We are not becoming more confused, “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7), “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). The battle against postmodern heresy is no intramural disagreement. It is no less than a battle against apostasy. Our opponents are not brothers with disagreements on disputable matters. At stake is the Gospel itself, our opponents are enemies of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), and no negotiation is possible. The lines are drawn. Which side are you on?

Can Your Jesus Be Found in the Bible?*

Not everyone who believes in Jesus actually believes in Jesus. Christians today often actually seem more distressed about believers who think the Truth War is still worth fighting than about the dangers of false doctrine. Their complaint has become a familiar refrain: “Why don’t you just lighten up? Why don’t you ease up on the campaign against doctrines you disagree with? Why must you constantly critique what others are teaching? After all, we all believe in the same Jesus.” But Scripture clearly and repeatedly warns us that not everyone who claims to believe in Jesus really does. Jesus Himself said many would claim to know Jesus who actually do not (Matthew 7:22–23). Satan and his ministers have always masqueraded as ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 2:11). After all, this has been his strategy from the very start. So it is the very height of folly (and disobedience) for Christians in the current generation to decide all of a sudden that in the name of “love” we ought to sweep aside every aberrant idea about the gospel and unconditionally embrace everyone who claims to be a Christian. To do that would be to concede the whole battle for truth to the enemy. We must continue the fight. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 95–96. Not every Jesus saves. * First posted January 11, 2008.

Forgetting Who Is Lord*

The sad truth is that the larger part of the evangelical movement is already so badly compromised that sound doctrine has almost become a nonissue. The mad pursuit of nondoctrinal “relevancy.” Even at the very heart of the evangelical mainstream, where you might expect to find some commitment to biblical doctrine and at least a measure of concern about defending the faith, what you find instead is a movement utterly dominated by people whose first concern is to try to keep in step with the times in order to be “Relevant.” Sound doctrine? To arcane for the average churchgoer. Biblical exposition? That alienates the “unchurched.” Clear preaching on sin and redemption? Let’s be careful not to subvert the self-esteem of hurting people. The Great Commission? Our most effective strategy has been making the church service into a massive Super Bowl party. Serious discipleship? Sure. There’s a great series of group studies based on I love Lucy episodes. Let’s work our way through that. Worship where God is recognized as high and lifted up? Get real. We need to reach people on the level where they are. Evangelicals and their leaders have doggedly pursued that same course for several decades now, in spite of many clear biblical instructions that warn us not to be so childish (in addition to Ephesians 4:14, see also 1 Corinthians 14:20; 2 Timothy 4:3–4; Hebrews 5:12–14). What’s the heart of the problem? It boils down to this: Much of the evangelical movement has forgotten who is Lord over the church. They have either abandoned or downright rejected their true Head and given His rightful place to evangelical pollsters and church-growth gurus. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 149–150. * First posted January 14, 2008

The Perspicuous Word

Protestant Christianity has always affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture. That means we believe God has spoken distinctly in His word. Not everything in the Bible is equally clear, of course (2 Peter 3:16). But God’s Word is plain enough for the average reader to know and understand everything necessary for a saving knowledge of Christ. Scripture is also sufficiently clear to enable us to obey the Great Commission, which expressly requires us to teach others “all things” that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:18–20). Two thousand years of accumulated Christian scholarship has been basically consistent on all the major issues: the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, containing every spiritual truth essential to God’s glory, our salvation, faith, and eternal life. Scripture tells us that all humanity fell in Adam and our sin is a perfect bondage from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Jesus is God incarnate, having taken on human flesh to pay the price of sin and redeem believing men and women from sin’s bondage. Salvation is by grace through faith, and not a result of any works we do. Christ is the only Savior for the whole world, and apart from faith in Him, there is no hope of redemption for any sinner. So the gospel message needs to be carried to the uttermost parts of the earth. True Christianity have always been in full agreement on all those vital points of biblical truth. As a matter of fact, the postmodernized notion that everything should be perpetually up for discussion and nothing is ever really sure or settled is a plain and simple denial of both the perspicuity of Scripture and the unanimous testimony of the people of God throughout redemptive history. In one sense, the contemporary denial for the Bible’s clarity represents a regression to medieval thinking, when the papal hierarchy insisted that the Bible is too unclear for laypeople to interpret it for themselves. (This belief led to much fierce persecution against those who worked to translate the Bible into common languages.) In another sense, however, the postmodern denial of Scripture’s clarity is even worse that the darkness of medieval religious superstition, because postmodernism in effect says no one can reliably understand what the Bible means, Postmodernism leaves people permanently in the dark about practically everything. That, too, is a denial of Christ’s lordship over the church. How could He exercise His headship over His church if His own people could never truly know what he meant by what He said? Jesus Himself settled the question of whether his truth is sufficiently clear in John 10:27–28, when He said “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 157–158. First posted January 15, 2008.

Not an Opinion

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Postmodernism asks the same question, and the answer is the same now as it was then. Truth is that word to which Jesus came to testify (v. 37), beginning with the Law and the Prophets, fulfilled in the Gospels, and expounded by the Apostles. What is truth? . . . Truth is not any individual’s opinion or imagination. Truth is what God decrees. And He has given us an infallible source of saving truth in His revealed Word. For the true Christian, this should not be a complex issue. God’s Word is what all pastors and Church leaders are commanded to proclaim, in season and out of season—when it is well received and even when it is not (2 Timothy 4:2). It is what every Christian is commanded to read, study, meditate on, and divide rightly. It is what we are called and commissioned by Christ to teach and proclaim to the uttermost parts of the earth. Is there mystery even in the truth God has revealed? Of course. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul paraphrased Isaiah 40:13–14: “Who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But then Paul immediately added this: “We have the mind of Christ.” Christ has graciously given us enough truth and enough understanding to equip us for every good deed—including the work of earnestly contending for the faith against deceivers who try to twist the truth of the gospel. Although we cannot know the mind of God exhaustively, we certainly can know it sufficiently to be warriors for the cause of truth against the lies of the kingdom of darkness. And we are commanded to participate in that battle. God Himself sounded the call to battle when His spirit moved Jude to write his short epistle and it permanently entered the canon of Scripture. This is not a duty any faithful Christian can shirk. Earthly life for the faithful Christian can never be a perpetual state of ease and peace. That’s why the New Testament includes so may descriptions of the Christian life as nonstop warfare: Ephesians 6:11–18; 2 Timothy 2:1–4; 2 Timothy 4:7; 2 Corinthians 6:7; 10:3–5; 1 Thessalonians 5:8. I hope by now you understand that those unwilling to join the fight against untruth and false religion are no true friends of Christ. —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 183–184. First posted January 16, 2008.

Eyes Closed Shut

A good warning for those who are negligent in examining the teachers and teachings they encounter: To lack discernment is to sin against God. It is an inevitable result of turning from him. It is easy to look at those who have turned from God and look at their lustful and angry hearts and affirm that this is a result of their sin. When a Christian falls into moral sin he may well examine his life to determine how he has turned his back on God, but is the same true when he exhibits a lack of discernment? A wise pastor writes, “to willingly neglect the truth and to walk with our eyes closed shut while good and evil stare us in the face is to sin against God, ourselves, our families, and our church. . . . Again, this is worth stating over and over again. It is the responsibility of every Christian to learn, to be disciplined in the Word, so that we can know how to be discerning. To fail to discern is to walk in darkness.” This is the bad news. Scripture portrays those who lack spiritual discernment in three ways: they are spiritually immature, they are backslidden, and they are dead. Those who lack discernment or do not care for it will fit into one of these three categories. These are the dangers of ignoring discernment. But there is good news, too. The Bible declares that there are many benefits stored up for those who desire discernment, those who seek after and practice it. —Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (Crossway, 2007), 27. First posted January 17, 2008.

Discernment and Maturity

If you want to sit at the grown-ups’ table . . . The Bible teaches there is a clear relationship between spiritual discernment and spiritual maturity. For a Christian to be mature, he must also be discerning. Those who are not discerning must be immature, backsliding, or dead. Conversely, those who exhibit discernment must be alive, growing, and mature. It is clear from Scripture that all Christians are expected to pursue discernment, for the Bible cries out repeatedly for us to do so. It is the responsibility of each Christian to heed and to answer the call and so to guard the deposit God has entrusted to us. —Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (Crossway, 2007), 35. First posted January 18, 2008.

About Your Father

A few years ago I was visiting with a friend about a book he was reading. I can’t remember what book it was, something about growing up to be a man or some such thing. As usual, I am too late in thinking of some things I wish I had said in that conversation. So I thought I would record my thoughts here, before they escape me again. As I remember it, one of the chapters of this forgotten book was on the relationship of fathers and sons, and how that relationship contributes to the son’s development as a man. One of the assertions made was that a son may be carrying hurts and disappointments from his youth that he really needs to confront his father with and get . . . well, I’m not sure what. This is what I would say if I could go back to that conversation: I suppose it’s possible that you have issues that need ironing out between your father and you; but you should be very careful and think long and hard before you do that. I’m sure you have been hurt and disappointed. I’m sure your father failed you at some point. I know he did. I know that because he is a man, and that’s what men do. Including you. So think twice before you call your father out on any of his failings, because he’s a flawed man, just like you are. What’s more, he is very likely far more aware of his failings than you know. He has regrets just like you do. He may have wept bitter tears over things he wishes he could go back and do over, but never can. Don’t rub it in. That, in a nutshell, is what I would say to my friend. I didn’t know his father personally, but I know a little of his character as I heard it from his son. Now I would like to expand my words to a wider audience—to you, who I don’t know, and whose fathers I don’t know. And, while this was brought up as pertaining to fathers and sons, it should go without saying that it applies to all parent-child relationships. Some of you have had a truly bad time growing up. You have been abused to greater or lesser degrees, and you carry legitimate scars. Your father was a monster. You have pain from which Christ alone can deliver you. I don’t want to belittle your suffering. Your situation may be outside the scope of this post, but perhaps you can find something here of value to you. I do hope you are seeking comfort and healing in Christ and are not wallowing in the past. This is primarily for the rest of you, the vast majority, whose imperfect fathers did their imperfect best, and still managed to let you down. What did he do that so disappointed you that you can’t let it go? Maybe he spent too much time at work. He missed your ball games. He forgot to do something he had promised. Maybe he had a bad temper. He didn’t understand you. He misjudged your motives. He didn’t trust you. He said something hurtful. He belittled something that was important to you. Are these the kinds of wounds you are nursing that require some sort of resolution? If so—and I’ll be brutally honest—you’re a crybaby. You’re a self-centered brat and you ought to be ashamed. Buck up and be a man (or woman). Get over it. Because if you don’t, you’re going to have a miserable life, and you’re going to make everyone around you miserable. Your friends are going to let you down. Your wife (or husband) is going to let you down. Your children are going to let you down. Which brings us back around to where we started: You let your father down. So before you go to him with your list of grievances, be prepared to do your own confessing. Because you failed him. You disappointed him. You dishonored him. You disobeyed him. You betrayed his trust. You thought ill of him when he was taking a hard stand for your good. Yes, at some point, no matter who you are, you did all those things. Furthermore, you will or perhaps already have committed the same or similar offenses of which your father (or mother) is guilty against your own children. You will fail, and you will live to regret it. The older you get, the more things you will look back upon and wish you had done better, done differently, or not done at all. You will weep over your sins and your mistakes. Your heart will ache over the pain you have caused. You will want with all your heart to go back and do it over, but you’ll be unable to. Then, one day, maybe one of your children will read some trendy pop-psychology book and come back and unload on you for being what he (or she) is in the process of becoming. All of this failure is, to some degree, inevitable. It is hard-wired into the human condition. God provides us with sufficient grace to live as we ought, but we still fail. We must then depend on his grace to rise from our failures and move on. By grace we must bear the offenses of others as well. So give the old man a break. He loved you—not as well as he should have, as only God does, but certainly better than you deserved. And remember how much you have been forgiven. If you found this unsatisfactory, click here for an attempted clarification. First posted January 4, 2008.

With Confidence

This passage from my morning reading was especially encouraging today. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. —Hebrews 4:14–16 What does this passage tell us? Does it tell us, as many of today’s popular preachers would, that we ought not feel unworthy? No, it does not. The first thing it says is that we have a high priest. Who needs a priest? It is precisely and only those who are unworthy to enter the Father’s presence who need a priest to intercede for them. And we have such a priest. A priest who lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, yet without sin, and made the perfect sacrifice for our sin, and now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Therefore, we can come boldly, casting all our anxiety on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). And when we come before the throne, we will obtain mercy, which we desperately need, for we are guilty, and grace, without which we are utterly helpless. So come boldly, though your hands are not clean and your heart is not pure. Hold fast to your faith in Christ. Come, confessing your sin and seeking forgiveness. You are truly unworthy, but you have a high priest who intercedes for you. Come, obtain mercy. Receive grace. Come boldly. First posted January 28, 2008.

Worship without Music

Could you worship without music? Could you worship through the reading and preaching—or just the reading—of God’s Word? Would you know the real presence of God without the sensory experience that music provides? If not, is it possible that the feelings that music provoke in you have nothing to do with worship, and only reflect your own narcissism? Could you worship as the Israelites did in Nehemiah 8? And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance. Summary: the people listened to the reading and preaching of the Word—for eight days!—“and there was very great gladness” and “great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.” Would you have been glad? Would there have been “great mirth”? Or would you have just been tired and bored? That’s all I have to say. This post is intended as an introduction to an article by Greg Gilbert, at 9Marks, that you ought to read: Against Music. First posted February 2, 2008.

Christian = Evangelist

Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He then leaves the sought and saved in the world to continue that work. Christians are not all evangelists vocationally, but we are all evangelists in the 1 Peter 3:15 sense. A desire for the salvation of others is both a mark and the duty of every believer. Christians are those who believe the gospel. Whether it is by a parent in the home, a minister in the church, or a friend in private conversation, we must be evangelized to be saved by Jesus Christ. Furthermore, according to the four Gospels of the New Testament, the Christian faith is designed to be shared with others. The evangel is evangelistic! A true Christian church is not only evangelical, in that it holds to the Biblical gospel, but it is evangelistic—it zealously spreads and shares that gospel. This means that to be a Christian is to be called as an evangelist. . . . All Christians are called to evangelism. Jesus the Evangelist is our model. If we want to experience the power of God in our gospel witness, we must follow biblical principles of evangelism; we must present the true gospel in clear, scriptural terms; and we must follow Jesus’ example in the practice of evangelizing actual people. Let us seek God’s blessing for the salvation of many by preparing ourselves to be faithful witnesses to the gospel of God’s grace. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 1, 4. April 2, 2008

Why I Am Not Socialist

This is posted in honor of Bernie Sanders, whose birthday was yesterday. This is not a treatise on the practical failure of socialism. I will not be telling you why socialism doesn’t work and capitalism does. If you’re looking for a lesson in economics, read Adam Smith1, Milton Friedman2, or Thomas Sowell3. This is an explanation of why—all pragmatic considerations and emotional motivations aside—socialism is wrong, and should be rejected by all Christians as an inherently sinful system.4 Let me assure you that I am not cold and uncaring of the needs of others. I think it would be great if everyone had plenty to eat, nice clothes, and a solid roof over their heads. I would be happy to see everyone receive a good education and quality medical service. I would like to see everyone have everything they need in abundance. I would like to do what I can to make that a reality. Wouldn’t you? I hope you would. On the other hand, I know that all people should not have what they need. Scripture tells us that those who will not work should not eat.5 The logical end of that, of course, is that those who are unwilling to earn a living should be allowed to starve. This, by the way, was not the word of the mythical harsh God of the Old Testament. This was the command of the Apostles to the New Testament Church. I am also not among the wealthy targets of the “tax the rich” mentality. This is not a crusade to protect my wealth from the IRS—although, if I had any great wealth, I certainly would protect it, guilt-free. Socialism is often presented as the Christian response to poverty. Jesus cared for the poor, and so should we. The early church shared all things in common, didn’t they? Therefore, it is right that the entire nation share all things in common with everyone. Governments ought to redistribute the wealth of the fortunate, privileged classes with the less fortunate and underprivileged.6 There are a few problems with this thinking, however, one of which is the fundamental reason why I believe socialism is antithetical to Christianity. That problem is simply that governments do not produce and possess wealth to distribute. They must take it from those who produce it. Now I’m going to get straight to the point. This will be short and seem very simplistic, but that’s only because it really is this simple. First, let me illustrate the difference between Christian giving and socialist “giving.” Suppose I find someone in need and discern that their need is legitimate and they truly cannot meet it through normal means (something a government can never do). I dig into my resources and give what I can. Maybe that isn’t enough, so I alert others to the need and some of them are able to help, as well. The need is met and we give glory to God. Or, I see people in need and think, “someone should help them.” I see that there are people who have more than they need, so I go about robbing them and distributing their money as I see fit. You see, it’s one thing to give of your own resources and to exhort others to do the same. That is Christian charity. It’s something else entirely to give from someone else’s resources. We call that theft. We call it theft no matter how good the motivation behind it is. And when it’s done by force, we call it robbery. That’s what socialist governments do. ’Hold on, there,” you might say, “ours is a democratically elected government. They represent the will of the people, so it isn’t stealing.” Well, yes, it is. Just because the majority agrees that Joe Rich and John Middleclass should be robbed to keep Susie Singlemom in groceries—and let’s be honest, to keep Bubba Trailerpark in beer and cigarettes—doesn’t make it less than robbery. The majority does not have the right to democratically rob the minority.7 It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are or how many people agree with you. It doesn’t matter how much good is actually done. The end does not justify the means. When you reach into your neighbor’s pocket to fund your good deeds, you are a thief. If you see a need that ought to be filled, go to it. Put your money where your mouth is. Just don’t put my money where your mouth is. I have my own conscience to deal with, and you are not it. Now, I just know there is someone reading this and nodding, “You tell ’em, man!” Thanks for your support. But now is the time to look into your own heart and ask if you’re really practicing Christian charity. How many Susie Singlemoms8 do you know who are living on public assistance because their churches—and you—have more exciting ways to spend the money God has trusted to you? That new luxury item9—did you neglect one of “the least of these”10 within your sphere of influence to acquire it? Are you decrying the increasing socialism in America (or where ever you may be) while living like a socialist by passively letting government do your job? You also need to put your money where your mouth is. It has been said that we ought to vote and govern as cold, hard capitalists, because that ensures the greatest prosperity for the greatest number of people, but live as socialists, sharing our wealth with the needy. I agree with the first part of that statement, but the second part misunderstands what socialism is. Socialism is not giving what is mine. Socialism is taking what is yours and giving it away, and that is stealing, no matter how you try to justify it. We ought to live as Christians, following Christ’s example as we steward the resources God has entrusted to us. That is what the Bible teaches. 1 The Wealth of Nations 2 Capitalism and Freedom 3 Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One 4 Coincidentally, Chip Bayer posted on this subject the day after I wrote this article. Read his article here. 5 2 Thessalonians 3:10 6 The classifications of “fortunate” and “privileged” are Marxist inventions; but that is not the subject of this essay. 7 This is why the American founders designed a constitutional republic rather than a democracy. Democracy is nothing but a tyranny of the majority. 8 . . . or elderly widows, or families just “down on their luck” due to various difficulties? 9 I’m not advocating a monastic lifestyle. God’s normal means of preventing poverty is through work. That means the best way to fight poverty is to purchase the products and services that people produce (read the authors mentioned above for a better understanding of this principle). However, we must not neglect those who may be temporarily, or in some cases permanently, outside the normal economic process. 10 Matthew 25:31–46 First posted February 4, 2008.

Christians and Politics

I believe very strongly that Christians ought to take part in the political processes in the countries in which they live, from the national to the local level. I believe in promoting right political ideology at every opportunity. And I believe that there is an ideology that is right, and that Christians cannot land anywhere they want on issues of politics and economics and still live Biblically. There is a Biblically correct view of law and government that excludes all others, and I believe Christians ought to be actively promoting that Biblical view. But . . . I also believe that certain segments of the church—not just the apostate gospel-free church that tends to lean left, but the true church that still maintains the Biblical gospel and thinks it leans right (but, in fact, does not)—have, at best, badly obscured the gospel and severely crippled their witness in the world, and worse, in many cases have completely abandoned and actually repudiated the gospel in favor of a political transformation of society, which, ironically, can never be affected by anything but the gospel. While I would hate—really hate—to provoke you to political pacifism, I would much rather see you go Amish than join the religious right (with whose goals—if not their motives and methods—I largely agree) and prostitute your witness to politics. The gospel is what we are to be about. The gospel is everything we are to be about. Now, the reason I wrote this post today: I want you to listen to this seminar presented by Phil Johnson at the 2008 Shepherds Conference: Politically Incorrect? How to shepherd your congregation in an election. Listen, learn, and, if necessary, change your ways. First posted March 13, 2008.

The Content of a Faithful Christian Witness

In his book Jesus the Evangelist, Richard D. Phillips lists “Three key features of a faithful Christian witness” found in the apostle John’s descriptions of John the Baptist. The first is . . . the content of our witness. John 1:7 says that John “came as a witness, to bear witness about the light.” A Christian witness is first and foremost about Christ. We tell people what the early church enshrined in the Apostles’ Creed: that Jesus is God’s only Son and our Lord; That He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; that He suffered under Pontius Pilate,was crucified, died, and was buried; that He experienced death for three days and then rose from the grave; that he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and that from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. These claims make up a Christian witness. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it this way: We are meant to talk to people about the Lord Jesus Christ and to tell them he is the Son of God and that he has come into this world to save men and women. . . . We are meant to tell men exactly why the world is as it is; we are meant to tell them about sin in the human heart and that nobody and nothing can deal with it save the Son of God. . . . We are very ready to talk about are doctors, and to praise the man who cured us when so many failed; we talk about some business which is better than others, or about films and plays and actors and actresses, and a thousand and one other things. We are always glorifying people, the world is full of it, and the Christian is meant to be praising and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist set an ideal example of this. His message was not about his experiences or what he felt about God, but about Jesus. When he saw Jesus he declared, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). We, too, need to declare that Jesus saves people from their sins. On the next day, “John bore witness” to Christ again, saying “I saw the spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him” (John 1:32). We, too, must testify that Jesus is the one who came to do God’s will by Gods power. John the Baptist said, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34), and we must too. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 12–13. First posted April 3, 2008.

The Manner of a Faithful Christian Witness

The second of “Three key features of a faithful Christian witness” from Jesus the Evangelist by Richard D. Phillips: Second, what we read about John the Baptist should inform the manner of our witness. John 1:8a says, “He was not the light.” It is important for us to lead lives that commend our witness to Christ, but our testimony can never be based on what good people we are or what we ourselves have to offer non-Christians. When John began his extraordinary ministry, the priests and Levites came out from Jerusalem to inquire about him. “John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes back to me, the strap of whose sandle I am not worthy to untie.’” (John 1:26–27). With these words, John deliberately directed them away from himself and what he was doing to Jesus Christ and what He would do. When many Christians give their witness, they talk about themselves. This is why we speak of “giving our testimonies,” that is, telling people about our conversions and how Christ has helped us. There certainly is a placed for testimonies, but they should never form the heart of our witness. I remember seeing an ad in a secular newsmagazine that featured a handsome, smiling young man. It began by talking about his previous problems: He had been into drugs and had been lost and depressed, but now he was clean and fulfilled. The ad was like many Christian testimonies—except that it was on behalf of one of the more bizarre cults spreading today. It is true that cults can help a person get off drugs, but that does not make their beliefs true. Moreover, it is easy for people to brush testimonies aside, saying, “I’m glad it worked for him, but that has on relevance to me” Our witness must center not on our experience but on the facts of Christ’s coming to this world. It is especially important that we never think that what we are doing for Christ is of ultimate importance. James Montgomery Boice warns us, “Whenever a Christian layman, minister, writer, teacher, or whoever it might be, gets to thinking that there is something important about him, he or she will always cease to be effective as Christ’s witness.” We also must never permit people to glorify us for what God has done in our lives. If people notice that you have changed, you should praise God and tell them that it was Jesus’ work, for they will gain what you have, not by admiring you, but only by believing on Jesus. In some cases, redirecting praise in this manner will result in people who previously admired you becoming hostile; the world hated Christ, and it will often hate a faithful witness to Him. But we must accept this risk so as to bear testimony not to ourselves but to Christ. In John 5:35a, Jesus said that John the Baptist “was a burning and shining lamp.” Some Bible versions say that John was a “light,” but the Greek word Jesus used (luxnos) means a candle or a lamp. A lamp does not shine on its own. Its light has to be kindled from another source, and it needs a supply of oil or it will go out. The same is true of us. In our witness, we are to shine not our own light but Christ’s light. Just as a lamp requires oil, we depend on our fellowship with Christ and the Holy Spirit’s enlivening ministry through God’s Word in order that Christ’s light may shine through us. To use a different metaphor, we are the moon reflecting the light of the sun. On our own. we are in darkness, but a great light has shined and is shinning on us, and we are to reflect it into the world. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 13–15. First posted April 4, 2008

The Goal of a Faithful Christian Witness

This is the last of “Three key features of a faithful Christian witness” from Jesus the Evangelist. John the Baptist shows the goal of a faithful Christian witness. John “came as a witness . . . that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). Our goal is for others to believe though our witness. Boice writes, “It is possible for a person to become so mechanical in his witness that he can go through all the motions of witnessing without actually looking and praying for the response to Christ in faith by the other person. If we could remember this, we would find witnessing exciting, and we would learn that winning the argument often becomes far less important than winning the person to the Lord.” Since our goal is to persuade unbelievers and win over sinners, we should labor earnestly in prayer before and after our witness; and we should persist in telling others about Jesus even in the face of hardship and persecution. If we will commit to this pattern of faithful witness, as modeled by John the Baptist, we will find that God will cause people to believe through us. We will have the great joy of being used by the Lord for the salvation of others. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 15. First posted April 7, 2008.

Wanted: Andrews

I love preachers, and I love listening to preaching, but I think I can say that the most important human agencies in my conversion were not preachers as such, but individuals who invested themselves in me on a personal level. And I am not the exception. Andrew’s witness to Peter took the form of a personal testimony: “We have found the Messiah” “(John 1:41). Our witness should always include a biblical explanation about Jesus, but it is also important for us to speak of our own experience with the Lord. Peter knew what Messiah meant. John tells his Greek readers that this term means “the Christ”—that is, the “Anointed One” who would come to save and lead Israel. But Andrew also shared his personal experience. [Alexander] MacLaren comments, “The mightiest argument that we can use, and the argument that we can all use, if we have got any religion in us at all, is that of Andrew, ‘We have found the Messiah.’” What kind of things should we tell others about Jesus? We should tell them what caused us to believe. We should tell what we have experienced in our hearts: the joy of knowing our sins are forgiven, the peace that comes through the Holy Spirit, the love we feel as children of God, and the excitement of seeing the truth with new eyes. If you have a good doctor, you tell your friends that they should see him when they are sick. Are your friends not sick in their souls? If you find a store with a great sale, you call your family members and friends to let them know. But here are blessings that money cannot buy—blessings that are, in fact, available to all by God’s free gift of grace—and that never perish or fade. We should tell people what it has meant to us to turn away from sins that had dragged us down for so long, and to have a power within that enables us to walk in faith with God. A personal testimony does not replace a biblical proclamation about Jesus, but it is an important complement. And it requires that we have a close relationship with the Lord. If we are not excited about God’s Word, if we are not warmed by close fellowship with God, and if we are not humbled by Christ’s suffering on the cross for our sins, we will not be very effective witnesses. Yet it is essential that we be able to give such a witness. MacArthur is right when he says: Most people do not come to Christ as an immediate response to a sermon they hear in a crowded setting. They come to Christ because of the influence of an individual. . . . In the overwhelming majority of [new believers’ testimonies], they tell us they came to Christ primarily because of the testimony of a coworker, a neighbor, a relative, or a friend. . . . There’s no question that the most effective means for bringing people to Christ is one at a time, on an individual basis. Between these two brothers—Peter and Andrew—we see the two main kinds of witnesses God provides in the church: the public preaching of the Word and the personal testimony of individual Christians. Every church needs a Peter who will preach the gospel publicly, and God greatly uses faithful preaching. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, when three thousand people believed on Christ, is one such example. But as important as preaching is, it is at least as necessary that a church have a legion of Andrews: those who bring people to Jesus one by one through their heartfelt testimonies. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 49–50. First posted May 16, 2008.

A Lifelong Process

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. —John 3:3 The term born again has become popular. Surveys show that the majority of Americans consider themselves to be born again, by which they mean that they have had some spiritual experience. But for many, there has been no real change in their lives. When it comes to issues such as sexual sin, their conduct in marriage, their use of time and money, and their life ambitions, a great many so-called “born-again” people are no different than non-Christians. This is a problem because, according to the Bible, if we have not been changed, we have not been born again, regardless of any spiritual experiences we think we have had. To be born again, Paul said, is to be “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). If our witness of the gospel is to be true and accurate, then we must present people with this reality. . . . Sinclair Ferguson tells of a young man who came to church and eventually was converted. He told an elder: “I can’t believe how much this church has changed within the last few weeks. The hymns are so lively now. The worship is so wonderfully meaningful. Why, even the preacher is better!” have you experienced something like that? Spurgeon asks, “Do you feel [that] . . . now you love God, now you seek to please him, now spiritual realities are realities to you, now the blood of Jesus is your only trust, now you desire to be made holy, even as God is holy? If there is such new life as that in you, however feeble it may be, though it is only like the life of a new-born child, you are born again, and you may rejoice in that blessed fact. Jesus’ teaching that the new birth is revealed in its effects not only challenges us to examine ourselves for such evidences, it encourages us in our weakness and gives us hope about what the future holds for us. The Holy Spirit’s work does not end with the new birth—having made us alive, He goes on to bring us more and more to life, working in us the life of God and molding our character into Christlikeness. The new birth is the beginning of a lifelong process of spiritual animation and growth, and is the pledge of glorious things yet to come. How wonderful that Christians are no longer what we once were, but how wonderful it also is that we someday will become what we are not yet. Paul says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 66, 67. First posted May 19, 2008.

Indistinct Sounds

Since I’ve been complaining a lot lately about the current state of “Christian” “music,” this is as good a time as any to post this excerpt from the archives. On singing: Rebecca shared a nice hymn on Sunday, complete with a performance of said hymn by Fernando Ortega. She commented that it was “one of the few versions I could find that was not sung in a breathy female voice.” She almost set me off on my own list of irritations with popular singers, but I saved it for you. Rebecca already mentioned breathy (kiss me, baby!) singing. I’ll add: growling, whining, moaning, groaning, panting, yelling, screaming, and any other vocal affectation. Just because your favorite pop singers do it doesn't mean you should. They shouldn’t, either. Please—sing with the voice God gave you. It might not be a great one, but trust me, it’s better than the one you’re faking. My most hated musical crime is poor enunciation. I’m not referring to the careless kind, although that’s bad enough, nor do I mean variations attributable to local dialects (although singing seems to neutralize those to a large extent). I mean the intentional kind, in which the singer pronounces words in ways he never would if he was speaking, because it’s cool. Come on, people. Get Hooked on Phonics. In conclusion, let me add a couple of verses ripped completely out of context: Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? —1 Corinthians 14:7–8

Me & My Bible

Not long after I was saved, I attended a Lutheran Bible school. With typical new-believer zeal, I soon became convinced that I should pursue vocational ministry. With typical young-man impudence, I had my own ideas on how that should be done. I knew that, in order to be recognized and accepted, I would have to go to college and seminary (I sometimes called it “cemetery”); but that was just a formality, necessary to appease the establishment. All a man really needed, I thought, was his Bible and the Holy Spirit. If a man just knew his Bible inside and out, and was filled with the Holy Spirit, what more could he need? Seminary was a place where men filled their heads with the philosophies of men. I definitely didn’t want that. Of course, it was alright if I chose some books to read on my own. That was different. What I certainly did not need, however, was Bible commentaries or systematic theologies. I didn’t need men to tell me what the Bible meant. That was the Holy Spirit’s job. At some point in my journey, I heard of a guy named Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon never went to college or seminary. I didn’t know anything about Spurgeon, except that he was a famous preacher, admired by many. What did he have that I didn’t have? Well, Spurgeon had many things that I didn’t have, including unique gifting and a massive intellect. More importantly, he had the humility to know that he needed more than his Bible and the Holy Spirit. At a time when books were not the cheap commodity they are today, Spurgeon’s personal library contained some 12,000 books, including commentaries. Spurgeon possessed no degrees, but he was far from uneducated. He clearly saw the need to learn from other men. As he put it, It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. —Commenting and Commentaries The Lord was gracious to lead me away from that kind of thinking. One of the ways he did that was to put me in contact with other men who had the same attitude as I, and let me see the depth of their ministries. There was no depth. Their theology was immature and shallow. They tended to ride hobby-horses, and be easily taken in by the odd doctrines of other uneducated men. They often fashioned their own strange beliefs from small portions of Scripture isolated from the whole of God’s Word. They were completely ignorant of basic hermeneutics. In contrast to those men, the teachers that I admired and hoped to emulate were well educated formally or at least, like Spurgeon, were voracious readers and diligent students. I was not pleased to find myself in the first group. I saw the fruit of both philosophies, and knew which kind I wanted to produce. This is really a matter of humility, isn’t it? “Just me and God” says “No man is my superior. I am equal to all those who have gone before me.” In fact, it says more than that. It says that I am their superior. They learned from others, but I can do it on my own. How foolish. We all need teachers; it is few of us who will ever become their equals, and fewer still who will exceed their knowledge, skill, and wisdom. The Lord never did lead me into any vocational ministry, and graciously prevented me from getting there my own way. Nevertheless, I am grateful for this lesson. I am so glad that I learned to learn from others. June 2, 2008

Slave of Christ

Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. —1 Corinthians 4:16 When Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says we should follow his example, it behooves us to give attention to that example. Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; —Romans 1:1–6 In this passage, we see more than one important characteristic of Paul; but we need read only three words to find the first, and most important: he considered himself to be a slave of Jesus Christ. Of all the Bible translations on my shelf, not one renders this phrase as it should, with the word slave. The NASB, quoted here, comes closest, yet still softens the word to “bond-servant.” But the word used here (δουλος, for those who care) is correctly translated as slave. Paul did not think of himself as possessing any independence. There was no sense of self-ownership. He was owned by the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore had no rights to anything that the Lord himself did not grant him—and he was even willing to yield those rights, if doing so would enable better service to his master (2 Thessalonians 3). He was completely yielded to serving God in the calling he had been given. All of his own needs and desires were entirely subservient to his assigned task: preaching “the gospel of God.” Are you and I yielded to God as slaves? Do we think of ourselves as his property, serving him because he owns us, or is our service to him something that is ours to give to him? Paul said “I am the property of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and lived accordingly. Let us do the same. June 3, 2008

Particular Redemption and Evangelistic Motivation

The doctrine of Particular Redemption (more commonly known as Limited Atonement) is ought to be a great comfort to believers and strengthen our assurance of salvation. It should also motivate us in evangelism. If it glorifies Jesus that He makes salvation possible for everyone, it glorifies Him even more that He actually saves particular individuals. Christian salvation is universal in its offer but particular in its application. A great example of this comes in the account of how Jesus went out of His way to bring His gospel to the woman at the well and, through her, to an entire village. Here we see Jesus the Evangelist bringing the gospel to those whom He would save. John 4 contains a number of famous statements, but the most glorious may be the one in verse 4. John begins this chapter by telling us that Jesus started gathering followers, who were baptized by the twelve disciples, and then He “left Judea and departed again for Galilee” (John 4:3). John then says: “and he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). What makes this statement so wonderful is the way in which it was not true. Geographically, Jesus did not have to pass through Samaria, and for many reasons it was inconvenient for Him to do so. But John informs us that Jesus had to go this way; it was necessary for Him. The reason was Jesus’ determination to save his own, among whom was this woman by the well. . . . One way to motivate yourself to care for others is to realize how much Jesus sacrificed to care for your own soul. We see His particular concern for individuals in His journey through Samaria. Had Jesus merely wanted to open a way for salvation for whoever would come, He need never have gone to Samaria. What He soon was to do in Jerusalem—namely, His death on the cross for our sins—was sufficient to make a way to God. Jesus did not have to go to Samaria for this. But Jesus died not only generally for all who would come, but actually to save particular people known to Him, including the woman He knew was coming to draw water from this well. If you are a believer, the same is true of you. Just as Jesus personally brought the gospel to the Samaritan woman, so He personally sought you for salvation. If you have heard the gospel and believed, it was not by chance! Jesus cared for your soul, so He died on the cross for your sins, He sent His witnesses to you, and He commissioned the Holy Spirit to open your heart to believe. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” He said (John 15:1). Realizing His sacrificial care for your soul ought to inspire you to care for the salvation of people you know and love that He might send you as His witness to them. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 110–112. June 4, 2008

A rerun so old you probably can’t remember it’s subject

In order to live the Purpose-Driven Life®, we must (according to the example of a certain Purpose-Driven® author) search several Bible translations to find the one that suits us best. So here you go: your purpose in six different translations. Take your pick, and go to it. 2 Corinthians 5:9 Wycliffe: And therfor we stryuen, whether absent, whether present, to plese hym. Geneva: Wherefore also we couet, that both dwelling at home, and remouing from home, we may be acceptable to him. KJV: Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. NKJV: Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. NASB: Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. ESV: So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. June 5, 2008

One Draught of Living Water

I may . . . pass for being a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets—that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue—that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame . . . [I] may partake of trendy diversions—that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote . . . represented a serious impact on our time—that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you, and beg you to believe me, multiply those tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing—less than nothing, a positive impediment—measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty. —Malcolm Muggeridge, quoted in Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 127. June 9, 2008

Awareness of Sin

On the benefits of awareness of sin: However uncomfortable it makes us feel, it is healthy for us to realize that our every moment is lived before the face of God. Knowing this will rescue us from the folly of thinking that sin can be cultivated unawares. We are all more tempted to sin when we think no one will ever know. Therefore, the knowledge that our every deed is recorded in heaven should preserve us from temptation and stiffen our resolve it live in obedience to God’s law. Knowledge of our sin has other benefits. It helps cultivate a tight humility. The apostle Paul’s spiritual progress was paralleled by an increasing awareness of his sin. In one of his earliest letters, he describes himself as the “the least of all apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). A little later, he calls himself “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). By the end of his ministry, he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Our spiritual maturation will likewise progress as we see more clearly the true depth of our sin, the true holiness of God, and the great gulf between us—and thus also see the true greatness of His love for us that moved Him to give His Son to save sinners so infinitely below Him. This is why the humbles Christians are the happiest Christians, and why humble and happy Christians tend to be holy Christians, as well. All of these benefits stem from an awareness of our sin. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 135–136. June 10, 2008

Loving Care in the Gospel

Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. —1 Corinthians 4:16 When Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says we should follow his example, it behooves us to give attention to that example. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. —Romans 1:8–15 Paul was personally invested in the spiritual growth of those whom God had placed under his care. He was thankful for those who would read his letter, that their faith was proclaimed, that they, like him, were “not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 8).He prayed for them “unceasingly” (v. 9–10). He desired to be with them (v. 10–12) to encourage them in the faith, and to be encouraged by them. Paul, though an apostle, was humble, recognizing his need for fellowship with the saints. Though he was their ecclesiastical superior, he knew he was also their equal in Christ. He was “eager to preach the gospel” to them (v. 15). We see that Paul’s desire for the saints in Rome makes a full circle: he is thankful for their faith; he desires to encourage that faith; and he wants to bring them back to the object of their faith, i.e., the gospel. The gospel is central to his every thought concerning them. Should not the gospel be central to our desires for and interactions with those whose welfare God has entrusted to us? June 11, 2008
What does the statement that Jesus is the Son of God mean? Jews and Muslims maintain that this claim makes Christianity polytheistic. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, believe that the biblical designation Son of God indicates that Jesus was a unique being, in a special class by himself, but still a created being not possessing divinity in the same sense as the Father. This is not a new idea, but goes back to the Arian heresy of the first century AD. Even before that, the phrase Son of God was not commonly understood in the biblical sense. John’s Gospel was written to present Jesus as the Son of God to peoples who would have been confused by the title, Jews who used it as a title for the coming human Messiah, and Greeks whose mythology included many sons of gods. John’s Gospel was concerned with destroying those misconceptions and introducing the Son of God as no less than God Incarnate. Packer writes, [John] does not bring the term Son into his opening sentences at all, instead, he speaks first of the Word. There was no danger of this being misunderstood; Old Testament readers would pick up the reference at once. God’s Word in the Old Testament is his creative utterance, his power in action fulfilling his purpose. The Old Testament depicted God’s utterance, the actual statement of his purpose, as having power in itself to the effect the thing proposed. Genesis 1 tells us how at creation “God said, Let here be . . . and there was . . .” (1:3). “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. . . . He spoke, and it came to be” (Ps 33:6, 9). The Word of God is thus God at work. John takes up this figure and proceeds to tell us seven things about the divine Word. (1) “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1). Here is the Word’s eternity. He had no beginning of his own; when other things began, he—was. (2) “And the Word was with God” (1:1). Here is the Word’s personality. The power that fulfills God’s purposes is the power of a distinct personal being, one who stands in an eternal relation to God of active fellowship . . . (3) “And the Word was God” (1:1). Here is the Word’s deity. Though personally distinct from the Father, he is not a creature; he is divine in himself, as the Father is. The mystery with which this verse confronts us is thus the mystery of personal distinctions within the unity of the Godhead. (4) “Through him all things were made” (1:3). Here is the Word creating. He was the Father’s agent in every act of making that the Father has ever performed. All that was made was made through him. . . . (5) “In him was life” (1:4). Here is the Word animating. There is no physical life in the realm of created things except in and through him. Here is the Bible answer to the problem of the origin and suntenance of life, in all its forms: life is given and maintained by the Word. Created things do not have life in themselves, but life in the Word, the second person of the Godhead. (6) “and that life was the light of men” (1:4). Here is the Word revealing. In giving life, he gives light too; that is to say, all people receive intimations of God from the very fact of being alive in God’s world, and this, no less than the fact that they are alive, is due to the work of the Word. (7) “The Word became flesh” (1:14). Here is the Word incarnate. The baby in the manger at Bethlehem was none other than the eternal Word of God. And now, having shown us who and what the Word is—a divine Person, author of all things—John indicates an identification. The Word, he tells us, was revealed by the Incarnation to be God’s Son. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father” (1:14). The identification is confirmed in verse 18: “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” (KJV). Thus John establishes the point at which he was aiming throughout. He has now made it clear what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God. The Son of God is the Word of God. We see what the Word is; well, that is what the Son is. Such in the prologue’s message. When, therefore, the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of his distinct personal deity. The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact the child in the manger was—God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 56–57. October 29, 2008

A Real Human Baby

Jesus is fully God; but he was also fully man. This is a mystery that has been explained, and explained away, in several ways. Many have committed heresy on this count. I doubt that any have, or ever will, explained it adequately. J. I. Packer writes, The Word became flesh: a real human baby. He had not ceased to be God; he was no less God then than before; but he had begun to be man. He was not now God minus some elements of his deity, but God plus all that he had made his own by taking manhood to himself. He who made man was now learning what life felt like to be a man. He who made the angel who became the devil was no in a state in which he could be tempted—could not, indeed, avoid being tempted—by the devil; and the perfection of his human life was achieved only by conflict with the devil. The epistle to the Hebrews, looking up to him in his ascended glory, draws great comfort for this fact. “He had to be made like his brothers in every way. . . . Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. . . . For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been temped in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 2:17–18; 4:15–16). The mystery of the Incarnation is unfathomable. We cannot explain it; we can only formulate it. Perhaps it has never been formulated better than in the words of the Athanasion Creed. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man . . . perfect God, and perfect man . . . who although he be God and man: yet he so not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking the manhood into God.” our minds cannot get beyond this. What we see in the manger is, in Charles Wesley’s words, Our God, contracted to a span; Incomprehensibly made man. Incomprehensibly. We shall be wise to remember this, to shun speculation and contentedly to adore. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 57–58. October 30, 2008

Worship Christ

Angels from the Realms of Glory Angels from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth; Ye who sang creation’s story Now proclaim Messiah’s birth. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Shepherds, in the field abiding, Watching o’er your flocks by night, God with us is now residing; Yonder shines the infant light: Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Sages, leave your contemplations, Brighter visions beam afar; Seek the great Desire of nations; Ye have seen His natal star. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Saints, before the altar bending, Watching long in hope and fear; Suddenly the Lord, descending, In His temple shall appear. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Sinners, wrung with true repentance, Doomed for guilt to endless pains, Justice now revokes the sentence, Mercy calls you; break your chains. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Though an Infant now we view Him, He shall fill His Father’s throne, Gather all the nations to Him; Every knee shall then bow down: Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. All creation, join in praising God, the Father, Spirit, Son, Evermore your voices raising To th’eternal Three in One. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King. Don’t get me wrong, I like this hymn. I like the theology it preaches, and I’ll admit liking it on the sentimental grounds that I’ve grown up with it and have always liked it. Still, I don’t care for the last line of the refrain: “Worship Christ, the newborn King.” We are not called to worship a baby Jesus (as many Roman Catholics sometimes do), nor were the shepherds. The angels announced “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That Savior just happened to be an infant at the time, but his age was not really relevant to the shepherds. They didn’t go to Bethlehem to worship a newborn king, they went to worship the King who was, at the moment, newly born. John MacArthur writes, Christmas is not about the Savior’s infancy; it is about his deity. The humble birth of Jesus Christ was never intended to be a façade to conceal the fact that God was being born into the world. —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas, (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 9. To slightly paraphrase the sixth stanza of the hymn, and the refrain, Though an Infant then they viewed Him, He shall fill His royal throne, Gather all the nations to Him; Every knee shall then bow down. Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the sovereign King. December 19, 2011

The Firstborn

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. —Colossians 1:15–20 Paul says Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Those who reject the deity of Christ have made much of that phrase, assuming it means Jesus was a created being. But the word translated “firstborn” is protokos, which describes Jesus’ rank, not His origin. The firstborn, the protokos, in a Hebrew family was the heir, the ranking one, the one who had all the rights of inheritance. And in a royal family, the protokos had the right to rule. Christ is the One who inherits all creation and has the right to rule over it. In Psalm 89:27, God says of David, “I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” There the meaning of “firstborn” is given in plain language: “the highest of the kings of the earth.” That’s what protokos means with regard to Christ—He is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16). God has appointed His Son “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). He is the primary One, the Son who has the right to the inheritance, the ranking Person, the Lord of all, heir of the whole of creation. —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas, (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 14–15. December 20, 2011
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” —Matthew 1:23 The name Immanuel is the heart of the Christmas story. It is a Hebrew name that means, literally, “God with us.” It is a promise of incarnate deity, a promise that God Himself would appear as a human infant, Immanuel, “God with us.” This baby who was to be born would be God Himself in human form. If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: “God with us.” We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ, but the greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth! Immanuel, infinitely rich, became poor. He assumed our nature, entered our sin-polluted world, took our guilt on Himself although He was sinless, bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). All of that is wrapped up in “God with us.” —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas, (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 20–21. December 21, 2011

The Seldom-Told Story

Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told. Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die. —John MacArthur, God’s Gift of Christmas, (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 108–109. December 23, 2011

Both Ends and Means

Richard Phillips explains why Calvinism is not an impediment to evangelism: [D]ivine sovereignty does not stand against evangelism because God ordains not only the ends but also the means. He predestines some to be saved and commands us to preach to that end. If we do not preach and teach the gospel, then none will be saved. But God has ordained that some will be redeemed; He has chosen His people to be saved. So he has also ordained that we should preach and share the gospel, and therefore we will, exercising our human responsibility in accordance with His sovereign purpose. God commands all who are His to engage in evangelism; it is part of our obedience to Him. Packer explains: “We are not all called to be preachers; we are not all given equal opportunities or comparable abilities for personal dealing with men and women who need Christ. But we all have some evangelistic responsibility that we cannot shirk without failing in love both to our God and neighbor.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 171. June 12, 2008

Only by Sovereign Grace

The monergist’s approach to evangelism is necessarily different from the synergist’s because the monergist knows that conversion is a result of the miracle of regeneration—and he knows he is unable to perform miracles. [U]nderstanding God’s sovereignty makes us dependent on Him because we see that it is only because of sovereign grace that the conversion of spiritually dead sinners is even possible. The Calvinist knows that unbelievers are not merely sick; they are “dead in . . . trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We know that people are dead when they no longer respond to stimuli. We talk to them and they do not answer. We touch them and they do not move. This is the way people who are spiritually dead respond to God and his word. When the Bible is taught, they have no comprehension; when the gospel offer is made, they make no response. This presents a most depressing situation for an evangelist. Given man’s utter depravity, an evangelist cannot hope to lead anyone to faith in Christ by his own power. Paul states, “The natural person does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Note that Paul says not only the natural person “does not” accept the gospel but that he “is unable to.” Elsewhere, the apostle says “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Packer therefore writes: “Our approach to evangelism is not realistic until we have faced this shattering fact, and let it make it’s proper impact on us. . . . Regarded as a human enterprise, evangelism is a hopeless task.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 174–175. June 13, 2008

Only by Sovereign Grace

The monergist’s approach to evangelism is necessarily different from the synergist’s because the monergist knows that conversion is a result of the miracle of regeneration—and he knows he is unable to perform miracles. [U]nderstanding God’s sovereignty makes us dependent on Him because we see that it is only because of sovereign grace that the conversion of spiritually dead sinners is even possible. The Calvinist knows that unbelievers are not merely sick; they are “dead in . . . trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We know that people are dead when they no longer respond to stimuli. We talk to them and they do not answer. We touch them and they do not move. This is the way people who are spiritually dead respond to God and his word. When the Bible is taught, they have no comprehension; when the gospel offer is made, they make no response. This presents a most depressing situation for an evangelist. Given man’s utter depravity, an evangelist cannot hope to lead anyone to faith in Christ by his own power. Paul states, “The natural person does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Note that Paul says not only the natural person “does not” accept the gospel but that he “is unable to.” Elsewhere, the apostle says “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Packer therefore writes: “Our approach to evangelism is not realistic until we have faced this shattering fact, and let it make it’s proper impact on us. . . . Regarded as a human enterprise, evangelism is a hopeless task.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 174–175. June 13, 2008

Adoption versus Justification

The doctrine of justification is surely a wonderful thing, but adoption is better still. Joel Beeke explains the distinction between the two: “Undoubtedly the new testament never separates justification and adoption, but neither does it confuse them. In human terms it is quite possible to imagine a man being justified without the remotest thought of his being adopted. The fact that a judge pronounces the verdict ‘not guilty’ does not commit him to take the accused to his home and allow him the privileges of his son!” [Sinclair Ferguson, Know Your Christian Life: A Theological Introduction, (InterVarsity Press, 1981), 82.]Though both justification and adoption are forensic concepts—the former derived from the realm of criminal law and the latter from family law—their practical outworkings differ substantially. Justification in abstraction from adoption leaves us with a rather bare, legal concept—though of course, the privilege of having our sins forgiven and being made acceptable to God must never be underestimated. But adoption enlarges our understanding of what it means to be acceptable to God. We are acceptable not just as moral agents, but as the image bearers of our Father who are being subjectively conformed to Christ. We are acceptable as sons of God who have the privilege of calling God our Father and bear the responsibility of serving Him as His children. —Joel R. Beeke, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption (Reformation Heritage, 2008), 32–33. June 17, 2008

Everlasting Love

The wonder of adoption is that those who had no love for God were chosen to be the objects of his love, not just for a while, but forever. [H]ow astonishing it is that, unlike people’s heirs who don’t share their estates with their friends, we as God’s adopted children share the same privileges that belong to God’s only-begotten Son! The puritans reveled in what Christ prays in John 17:23: “[Thou] hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” This is the essence of God’s fatherhood. It shows us how far God is willing to go to reconcile us to himself. How great is the love the father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1)—we who deserve His judgment, dethroned Him from our lives, spurned His love, and defied His laws. We never deserved God’s love, yet He graciously lavished His love on us. Here, surely, is the great assurance of the child of God, that God the father loved him when he was bound for hell. God loved the sinner who had no thought of God in his heart, and He adopted him. How wonderful is the assurance of the Father’s words: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). —Joel R. Beeke, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption (Reformation Heritage, 2008), 44. June 18, 2008

Trinitarian Adoption

The gospel is inherently Trinitarian. Joel Beeke shows how one aspect of the gospel, spiritual adoption, is an act of Trinitarian cooperation: The puritans emphasize that all the members of the Trinity are involved in our adoption. Stephen Marshall summarizes it this way: adoption is the gracious act of God the Father whereby he chooses us, calls us to himself, and gives us the privileges and blessings of being his children. God the Son earned those blessings for us through his propitiatory death and sacrifice, by which we become children of God (1 John 4:10), and applies them to us as Elder Brother. And the Holy Spirit changes us from children of wrath, which we are by nature, into children of God by means of regeneration; unites us to Christ; works in us a “suitable disposition” towards God and Christ; and seals our sonship as the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the sons of God. In that witnessing, the Spirit shows us God’s work of grace in our hearts and lives, and also “carries our hearts to God, and testifies to the Soul that God is [our] Father.” —Joel R. Beeke, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption (Reformation Heritage, 2008), 45–46. June 19, 2008

The Church, Local and Universal

Can one belong to the church without belonging to a church? Not likely, says Mark Dever. Sometimes theologians refer to a distinction between the universal church (all Christians everywhere throughout history) and the local church (those people who meet down the street from you to hear the Word preached to and to practice baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Other than a few references to the universal church (such as Matt. 16:18 and the bulk of Ephesians), most references to the church in the New Testament are to local churches, as when Paul writes, “To the church of God in Corinth” or “To the churches in Galatia.” Now what follows is a little intense, but it’s important. The relationship between our membership in the universal church and our membership in the local church is a lot like the relationship between the righteousness God gives us through faith and the actual practice of righteousness in our daily lives. When we become Christians by faith, God declares us righteous. Yet we are still called to activity be righteous. A person who happily goes on living in unrighteousness calls into question whether he ever possessed Christ’s righteousness in the first place (see Rom. 6:1–18; 8:5–14; James 2:14–15). So, too, it is with those who refuse to commit themselves to a local church. Committing to a local body is the natural outcome—it confirms what Christ has done. If you have no interest in actually committing yourself to an actual group of gospel-believing, Bible-teaching Christians, you might question whether you belong to the body of Christ at all! Listen to the author of Hebrews carefully: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Heb. 10:23–27)Our state before God, if authentic, will translate into our daily decisions, even if the process is slow and full of missteps. God really does change his people. Isn’t that good news? So please, friend, don’t grow complacent through some vague idea that you possess the righteousness of Christ if you’re not pursuing a life of righteousness. Likewise, please do not be deceived by a vague conception of a universal church to which you belong if you’re not pursuing that life together with an actual church. —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 21–22. June 20, 2008

Imperfect Church

My church isn’t perfect. I could write a medium-sized post listing the improvements I’d like to see. How about you? Does your church fall short of your expectations? Mark Dever has a word for us: Does a particular church fail to meet your expectations in terms of what it does, as in whether or not it follows what the Bible says about church leadership? If so, remember that this is a group of people who are still growing in grace. Love them. Serve them. Be patient with them. Again, think of a family. Whenever your parents, siblings, or children fail to meet your expectations, do you suddenly throw them out of the family? I hope you are forgive and are patient with them. You might even stop to consider whether it’s your expectations that should be adjusted! By this same token, we should ask ourselves whether we know how to love and persevere with church members who have different opinions, who fail to meet our expectations, or even who sin against us. (Don’t you and I have sin that ever needs to be forgiven?) —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 36. June 23, 2008

The Best Bibles

I like Bibles, some more than others. Here is the which and the why. Wycliffe New Testament (1385) This was the first English translation (Middle English, to be precise) of the New Testament. My interest in the Wycliffe is historical. I want to maintain ties to the important people and events of the past that helped lay the foundation for the church today. John Wycliffe, the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” and his Bible are certainly among the high points of church history. I don’t actually have a Wycliffe New Testament in any form, but I hope to have one eventually. Since I probably won’t be affording the two million or so that an actual, hand-scribed copy is worth, I’ll have to settle for a facsimile edition. I might even get an updated-spelling edition, like this one. Geneva Bible (1560) Like the Wycliffe New Testament, the Geneva marks an important point in church history, and connects us to some of the greatest theologians the church has known. During the oppressive reign of Queen “Bloody” Mary, many Reformed believers took refuge in Geneva, Switzerland. There, led by Myles Coverdale and John Foxe, and under the protection of John Calvin, fugitive theologians produced the Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible was a first in several ways: First chapter and verse divisions. First Roman style typeface (the King James, produced fifty-one years later, retained a Gothic Blackletter style). First marginal study notes. William Shakespeare quotes hundreds of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible. The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English speaking Christians. Between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions of this Bible were published. Examination of the 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible than by any other source. The Geneva Bible itself retains over 90% of William Tyndale’s original English translation. The Geneva in fact, remained more popular than the King James Version until decades after its original release in 1611. The Geneva holds the honor of being the first Bible taken to America, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims. It is truly the (English) “ Bible of the Protestant Reformation” Unfortunately, the Geneva was never updated (until just recently) as the King James was, and went out of print. Now, a new version of the 1599 Geneva, published by Tolle Lege Press with updated spelling, is available. Those are translations I like for their historical value. The following are those that I would actually carry to a Bible study (the Tolle Lege updated 1599 Geneva almost makes it into this group, but not quite). Authorized Version (King James, 1611, final revision 1769) The King James Bible is not one for which Protestants should feel any great historical affection. It was produced as an Anglican antidote to the Geneva Bible. However, it is, I believe, a superior translation, and certainly a superior literary work. When the King James finally overtook the Geneva in popularity, it made a place for itself in church history that cannot be ignored. It was my preferred Bible for years, until I discovered Reformed theology, church history, and the Geneva Bible. And contrary to popular opinion, I don’t find it difficult to understand. It is not written in Old English, as some believe, or even Middle English*. It is written in modern English, the same language we speak. Yes, some of the language is antiquated (and some of the spelling in the 1611 edition can make reading it a bit awkward at first), but any difficulty with it is easily overcome with a little effort by any reasonably literate person. That, by the way, goes for the Geneva Bible as well. New King James Version This is a good translation, but it completely fails in its attempt to “retain the beauty of the King James” while updating the language. I suspect it was produced, at least in part, as a bone to the King James Only crowd, and it hasn’t pleased them at all. This is not to discourage you from using it. It’s a fine translation in modern, up-to-date English. I’ve used it, and if you’re using it and like it, that’s just fine. Of course, when we talk about good translations, the question we have to asks is, translation of what? All the translations above are based on the best manuscript evidence available at the time, but archaeology has since given us older manuscripts. By and large, this is not a major issue (except to a small but loud cult of poorly educated nuts); the Geneva and KJV remain trustworthy translations in general. However, the older manuscripts confirm what Calvin already suspected, that some passages included in the Byzantine text are apocryphal (Mark 16:9ff; John 7:53–8:11), and others are incorrect (the “Johannine comma,” 1 John 5:7–8; “book/tree of life,” Revelation 22:19). Which brings us to the last two on my list, both based on the newest manuscript evidence. New American Standard Bible This is the Bible you should use for serious study if you’re going to rely solely on an English text. It is the most literal translation available and, especially since its 1995 updating, is perfectly readable. English Standard Version While my Reformed brethren have been convulsing in paroxysms of rapturous delight over the ESV, I’ve never gotten fashionably excited about it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good translation; I encourage anyone who likes it to use it, give it away, and promote it. I just don’t see the necessity of another translation. The NASB has everything the ESV claims to have. I like it better than the NKJV, because (in addition to the textual problem) it isn’t claiming to retain the language of a great literary work though not retaining the language of a great literary work. But it reads just a little like the NIV, which you will not find on this list. Anyway, I have a couple of study Bibles in the ESV, and I like them, use them when I want the notes they contain, and have even given a few copies away. These are all essentially literal, or formal equivalent, translations—the only kind I will use. * Old English is a language you would not recognize at all, more closely related to Old Norse or modern Icelandic than English. Middle English is the language of Chaucer and Wycliffe. Click here for a comparison of the languages. June 24, 2008

The Most Essential Part of Worship

Preaching is one of the most valuable services to both God and man. The practice of expositional preaching presumes a belief that what God says is authoritative for his people. It presumes that his people should hear it, and need to hear it, lest our congregations be deprived of what God intends to use for shaping us after his image. It presumes that God intends the church to learn from both Testaments, as well as from every genre of Scripture—law, history, wisdom, prophesy, gospels, and epistles. An expositional preacher who moves straight through books of the Bible and who regularly rotates between the different Testaments and genres of Scripture, I believe, is like a mother who serves her children food from every food group, not just their two or three favorite meals. Back to the Heart of Worship During a daylong seminar on Puritanism that I taught at a church in London, I remarked at one point that Puritan sermons were sometimes two hours long. A member of the class gasped audibly and asked, “What time did that leave for worship?” Clearly, the individual assumed that listening to God’s Word preached did not constitute worship. I replied that many English Protestants in former centuries believed that the most essential part of their worship was hearing God’s Word in their own language (a freedom purchased by the blood of more than one martyr) and responding to it in their lives. Whether they had time to sing, though not entirely insignificant, was of comparatively little concern to them. —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 65, 67. June 26, 2008

What Is the Good News?

A Biblical Understanding of the Good News is, according to Mark Dever, one of the marks of a healthy church. What is the good news? Is it “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’? The Gospel is not the news that we’re okay. It’s not the news that God is love. It’s not the news that Jesus wants to be our friend. It’s not the news that he has a wonderful plan or purpose for our life. . . . the gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a sacrificial substitute for sinners and rose again, making a way for us to be reconciled to God. It’s the news that the Judge will become the Father, if only we repent and believe. Here are four points I try to remember whenever sharing the gospel, whether in private or in public—(1) God, (2) man, (3) Christ, and (4) response. In other words: Have I explained that God is our holy and sovereign creator? Have I made it clear that we humans are a strange mixture, wonderfully made in God’s image yet horribly fallen, sinful, and separated from him? Have I explained who Jesus is and what he has done—that he is the God-man who uniquely and exclusively stands in between God and man as a substitute and resurrected Lord? And, finally, even if I’ve shared all this, have I clearly stated that a person must respond to the gospel and must believe this message and so turn from his life of self-centeredness and sin? Sometimes, it’s tempting to present some of the very real benefits of the gospel as the gospel itself. And these benefits tend to be things that non-Christians naturally want, like joy, peace, happiness, fulfillment, self-esteem, or love. Yet presenting them as the gospel is presenting a partial truth. And, as J. I. Packer says, “A half truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” Fundamentally, we don’t need just joy or peace or purpose. We need God, himself. Since we are condemned sinners, then, we need his forgiveness above all else. We need spiritual life. When we present the gospel less radically, we simply ask for false conversions and increasingly meaningless church membership lists, both of which make the evangelization of the world around us more difficult. —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 76–77. June 27, 2008

Five Reasons for Church Discipline

Each local church has a responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders and members, particularly when either compromises the church’s witness to the gospel (see Acts 17; 1 Corinthians 5; 1 Timothy 3; James 3:1; 2 Peter 3; 2 John). Biblical church discipline is simply obedience to God and a confession that we need help. Can you imagine a world in which God never uses our fellow human beings to enact his judgment, one in which parents never disciplined their children, the state never punished lawbreakers, and churches never reproved members? We would all arrive at judgment day never having felt the lash of earthly judgment and so been forewarned of the greater judgment then upon us. How merciful of God to teach us now about the irrevocable justice to come with these temporary chastisements (see Luke 12:4–5). Here are five positive reasons for practicing corrective church discipline: the good of the disciplined individual; other Christians as they see the danger of sin; the health of the church a whole; the corporate witness of the church and, therefore, non-Christians in the community; and the glory of God. Our holiness should reflect God’s holiness. It should mean something to be a member of the church, not for our pride’s sake, but for God’s name sake. Biblical church discipline is another important mark of a healthy church. —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 106. June 28, 2008

Wilberforce’s Hope, America’s Hope

Twelve years later, I still agree with Wilberforce. Election day is coming, and I will be voting. I will be voting for the candidates that best represent “liberty and justice for all.” More specifically, I will be voting for the candidates whose views most closely reflect an understanding of and commitment to the United States Constitution. I will vote for bills that are permitted by the Constitution, and against any that are not—no matter how much benefit they may promise. I believe that involvement in the political process is a citizen’s duty, and that Christians are called to be good citizens. However, my hope is not in the outcome of any election. Whether the winners are the blatantly anti-Christian candidates, or their opponents, the moral pretenders and the occasional righteous man, my hope is in God alone, and his gospel. I must confess equally boldly that my own solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her navies and armies, nor on the wisdom of her rulers, nor on the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion that she still contains many who love and obey the Gospel of Christ. I believe that their prayers may yet prevail. —William Wilberforce July 1, 2008

Keeping Abreast of the Age

While postmodern “Christians” insist that they are, like, so totally not whatever anyone says they are, and definitely not anything like the liberals (or anyone else) of the past, I keep seeing them pop up whenever I read the objections of dead theologians to the errors of their day. Consider these words from Horatius Bonar (1808–1889): Some well-meaning theological literateurs, or rather amateur theologians, who patronize religion in their own way, are fain to warn us of the danger of not “keeping abreast of the age,” as if we were imperiling Christianity by not by not being quite so learned in modern speculations as they are. We should like, certainly, to keep abreast of all that is true and good, either in this age or any other; but as to doing more than that, or singling out this age as being pre-eminently worthy of being kept abreast of, we hesitate. To be “up to” all the errors, fallacies, speculations, fancies, mis-criticisms of the age, would be an achievement of no mean kind; to require us to be “up to” all this under threat of endangering Christianity, or betraying the Bible, is an exaction which could only be made by men who think that religion is much beholden to them for their condescending patronage; and will only be accepted by men who are timid about the stability of the cross of Christ if left unpropped by human wisdom; and who, besides, have three or four lifetimes to spare. We may be in a condition for believing, and even for defending the Bible, without having mastered the whole deistical literature of the last century, or the present. We may be qualified to accept the doctrine of sacrificial substitution even though we are not “up to” everything that has been spoken against it . . . In attempting to “keep abreast of the age,” there is some danger of falling short of other ages; and we are not sure but that the object of those who shake this phrase so complacently in our faces, both as a taunt and a threat, is to draw us off from the past altogether, as if the greater bulk of all its literature were rude lumber, a mere drag upon progress. . . . Old theological terms and Scripture phraseology are set aside . . . Sharp adhesion to old doctrines is imbecility; and yet defined expression of the new is avoided, the mind of the age being in a transition state, unable to bear the whole of what the exact and honest exhibition of “advanced” Christianity would require to utter. . . . They shrink from bold and definite statements of Reformation doctrine, lest they should be pronounced “not abreast of the age”—stereotyped, if not imbecile. Indefinite language, mystical utterances, negative or defective statements, which will save the speaker’s or writer’s orthodoxy without compromising his reputation for “intellect” and “liberality”—these are becoming common. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 31–32. Sound familiar? July 2, 2008

In Proportion to Holiness

It is evident that in proportion to our holiness will be the abundance of our peace. Not that we are to draw our peace from our holiness. That cannot be. Personal holiness can never be the foundation of our peace. But still in may be perfectly true that as our holiness increases our peace will deepen and grow more intense. The light of the body does not come from the eye, though it comes through the eye. It comes from the sun. The eye merely admits it. But if the eye be dim there will be less light admitted; and just as the eye becomes clearer more light will be let in. Yet still it is true that the light does not come from the eye but from the sun. So with holiness. In proportion as the soul becomes holy, in that proportion does it admit new peace, and in that proportion is it in a fitter condition for enjoying peace. A healthy body enjoys the beauties of the bright scenes of earth, more than a pained or sickly one, and just as it is healthy, so has it a capacity for the enjoyment of these things. Even so with the soul and holiness. While we utterly disclaim the Christ-dishonouring thought, that our holiness is the foundation of our peace, or forms any qualification on account of which peace is conferred upon us, it is yet true that just as we become holier men, we shall be the more abundantly filled with the peace of God that passeth all understanding. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 55–56. July 3, 2008

Be Much Alone with God

Be much alone with God. Do not put Him off with a quarter of an hour morning and evening. Take time to get thoroughly acquainted. Converse over everything with Him. Unbosom yourself wholly every thought, feeling, wish, plan, doubt to Him. He wants to converse with His creatures; shall His creatures not want to converse with Him? He wants, not merely to be on “good terms” with you, if one may use man’s phrase, but to be intimate; shall you decline the intimacy, and be satisfied with mere acquaintance? What! Intimate with the world, with friends, with neighbors, with politicians, with philosophers, with naturalists, or with poets, but not with God! That would look ill indeed. Folly, to prefer the clay to the potter, the marble to the sculptor, this little earth and its lesser creatures to the mighty Maker of the universe, the great “All and in all!” —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 62–63. July 5, 2008

Love not the world!

Christian, dwell alone! Seek not the society of the world. Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? If you have any sympathies with the world—if it contains attractions for you—if God and the things of God are not enough for you—there is something wrong. Love not the world! Seek not its society. Seek the things above. Beware of the fascinations of company,the spells which gaiety throws over the young. Stand your ground. Be not whirled away into the tossing current of gay society on any pretext whatever. Church of the living God, be separate—dwell alone! That is your security, your strength, your influence. Let the world see that you are not of it; that you do not need it. And you will serve it best by dwelling alone. Not by coldness, sourness, distance; but by love, geniality, gentleness, patience, by all acts of benevolence and words of peace. These are things which are only to be found by “dwelling alone.” —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 83–84. July 7, 2008

God’s will, not man’s

There can be no grace where there is no sovereignty. Deny God’s right to choose whom he will and you deny his right to save whom he will. Deny his right to save whom he will, and you deny that salvation is of grace. If salvation is made to hinge upon any desert or fitness in man, seen or foreseen, grace is at an end. . . . Men may call these speculations. They may condemn them as unprofitable. To the law and to the testimony! Of such speculations, the Bible is full. There man is a helpless worm, and salvation from first to last, is of the Lord. God’s will, and not man’s, is the law of the universe. If we are to maintain the gospel—if we are to hold fast to grace—if we are to preserve Jehovah’s honor—we must grasp these truths with no feeble hand. For if there be no such being as a Supreme, pre-determining Jehovah, then the universe will soon be chaos: and if there be no such thing as free electing love, every minister of Christ may close his lips, and every sinner upon earth sit down in mute despair. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 83–84. July 8, 2008

Christ the Substitute

It is not by incarnation but by blood-shedding that we are saved. . . . If Christ be not the Substitute, He is nothing to the sinner. If He did not die as a Sin-bearer, He has died in vain. Let us not be deceived on this point, nor misled by those who, when they announce Christ as the Deliverer, think they have preached the gospel. If I throw a rope to a drowning man, I am a deliverer. But is Christ no more than that? . . . The very essence of Christ’s deliverance is the substitution of Himself for us, His life for ours. . . . He did not redeem us by a little loss, a little sacrifice, a little labour, a little suffering, “He redeemed us to God by His blood;” “the precious blood of Christ.” —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 83–84. July 9, 2008

The 15-Year-Old Economist

This item from CNN Monday almost set me off on a rant. I’ll stop with a very brief economics lesson. ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- One day while driving with her father, Hannah Salwen noticed a Mercedes stopped next to a homeless man sitting on the curb. “I said to my dad, ‘If that guy didn’t have such a nice car, then that guy could have a nice meal,’” the 15-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, recalled. (full article) Here we have another reiteration of old socialist canard that if the rich were less rich, the poor would be less poor—which is complete nonsense. “That guy” #2 is not homeless because “that guy” #1 has a Mercedes. #1 has a Mercedes because he earned the money to buy it. #2 is homeless because he doesn’t earn anything, or at least enough to provide a home for himself. If #1’s earnings ceased entirely, #2’s earnings would remain the same. If you really want to help the homeless man on the curb, help him to increase his earning potential. You know the old maxim: give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and really annoy PETA (or something like that). July 10, 2008

Trust the Texts

Everyone who studies the Bible will eventually ask, if there are no surviving original manuscripts, if every manuscript we have is a copy or a copy of a copy, how do we know the available manuscripts are reliable? This is undeniably a vital question. If the ancient texts we possess are not accurate, how can we know the Bible we have is really the Word of God? In his introduction, Greenlee offers three basic reasons to trust the texts from which our Bibles are translated: the vast number of manuscripts available for comparison, the age of the surviving manuscripts, and the consistency of the surviving manuscripts. [T]he number of available mss. of the N.T. is overwhelmingly greater than those of any other work of ancient literature. . . . The earliest extant mss. of the N.T. were written much closer to the date of the original writing than is the case in almost any other piece of ancient literature. . . . The plays of Aeschylus are known in some fifty mss., the works of Sophocles in one hundred, the Greek Anthology and the Annals of Tacitus in one ms. each, the poems of Catullus in three hundred of independent value; while there are a few hundred known mss. of works of Euripides, Cicero, Ovid, and Virgil. In the case of the N.T., in sharp contrast, there are over 4000 extant mss. in Greek, 8000 in Latin, and 1000 in other languages. As regards the time interval between the extant mss. and the autograph, the oldest known mss. of most of the classical Greek authors are dated a thousand years or more after the author’s death. The time interval for the Latin authors is somewhat less, varying down to a minimum of three centuries in the case of Virgil. In the case of the N.T., however, two of the most important mss. Were written within 300 years after the N.T. was completed, and some virtually complete N.T. books as well as extensive fragmentary mss. of many parts of the N.T. date back to one century of the original writings. Since scholars accept as generally trustworthy the writings of the ancient classics, even though the earliest mss. were written so long after the original writings and the number of extant mss. is in many instances so small, it is clear that the reliability of the text of the N.T. is likewise assured. In the N.T. and in other ancient literature as well, there is no question concerning the reading of most of the words. Textual criticism needs to operate in only a limited portion of the text. . . . the main body of the text and its general sense are left untouched . . . textual criticism engages in turning a magnifying glass upon some of the details. —J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Eerdmans, 1964), 15–17. July 11, 2008
It is truth that makes us free, for all error is bondage. If, then, you would be free men, grasp the truth tenaciously, bravely, calmly; bind it round you as a girdle, treasure it in your heart of hearts. “Buy the truth and sell it not;” that is, get it at any cost, part with it never. Error is sin, for which every man shall give an account to God; and sin is no mischance or misfortune that claims pity only, but not condemnation or punishment; else what means the fiery law? What means the cross of the sin-bearer? What means the great white throne? What means the everlasting fire? . . . Let neither your words nor your lives give any uncertain sound. Every man to whom the Bible comes is responsible for believing all the truth which the revelation proclaims, and for rejecting all the error which it condemns. Cleave, then, to the Word of the living God; and sit, as teachable disciples, at the feet of Him who has said, “Learn of me.” —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 109–110. July 14, 2008

Morality at the Expense of Theology

There is a tendency among some to undervalue doctrine, to exact morality at the expense of theology, and to deny the importance of a sound creed. I do not doubt that a sound creed has often covered an unsound life, and that “much creed, little faith,” is true of multitudes. But when we hear it said, “Such a man is far gone in error, but his heart is in the right place; he disbelieves the substitution on the cross, but he rests on Christ Himself,” we wonder, and ask, “What then was the Bible written for?” it may be (if this be the case) a book of thought . . . , but it is no standard of truth, no infallible expression of the mind of an infallible being! The solemnity with which that book affirms the oneness of truth, and the awful severity with which it condemns every departure from the truth, as a direct attack on God Himself, shows us the danger of saying that a man’s heart may be in its right place though his head contains a creed of error. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 115. July 15, 2008

Be Discriminating

I have come to the conclusion that Horatius Bonar could never have written a book called A Generous Orthodoxy*. Be discriminating. Do not call error truth for the sake of charity. Do not praise earnest men merely because they are earnest. To be earnest in truth is one thing; to be earnest in an error is another. The first is blessed, not so much because of the earnestness, but because of the truth; the second is hateful to God, and ought to be shunned by you. Remember how the Lord Jesus from heaven spoke concerning error: “which thing I hate” (Rev. 2:6–15; 1 Tim. 6:4, 5). True spiritual discernment is much lost sight of as a real Christian grace; discernment between the evil and the good, the false and the true. “Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). This “discernment,” which belongs to every one who is taught of God, is the very opposite of that which is called in our day by the boastful name of “liberality.” Spiritual discernment and “liberal thought” have little in common with each other. “Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9). The “liberality which puts bitter for sweet. And sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20), is a very different thing from the “charity which thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:5). Truth is a mighty thing in the eyes of God, whatever it may be in those of men. All error is, more or less, whether directly or indirectly, a misrepresentation of God’s character, and a subversion of his relation (Rev. 22:18, 19). —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 123–124. * Read reviews of A Generous Orthodoxy by Tim Challies, Albert Mohler, Gary Gilley, Bob DeWaay, and John Hendryx. July 16, 2008

The Four-Leaf Clover

I’m Norwegian, so I don’t really celebrate St Patrick’s Day, but it is St Patrick’s Day, and I’m lazy, so here’s this: There was no question about it, Paddy Fitzpatrick was lucky. Everyone knew it. Since that serendipitous day so long ago, when wandering aimlessly in the country, despondent, mourning the loss of his one true love, he had been exceedingly lucky. It began, as these things so often do, with an accident, an unfortunate event without which a fortunate event would have been missed. It was nothing serious. A broken shoelace, nothing more; but as he knelt to tie the broken ends together, cursing bad luck added to worse, his eyes came to rest on something wonderful and rare. It was a four-leaf clover. . . . Continue reading For St Patrick’s Day, 2019

A God to Suit

More evidence from the pen of Horatius Bonar that there is nothing new under the sun: “Postmodernism” just repackages the same old idolatry. Man is now thinking out a Bible for himself; framing a religion in harmony with the development of liberal thought; constructing a worship on the principles of taste and culture; shaping a god to suit the expanding aspirations of the age. The process of evolution on all these points is so satisfactory and so well advanced that disguise is no longer needful. Faith and certainty, in things outside our senses, are, in the meantime at least, not to be taken into account. . . . Amid all this dazzling confusion, it is well to keep in mind that the way leading to life is narrow, the way leading to death is broad. The danger arising from want of spiritual discrimination is more serious than many think. For one authentic light there are a thousand spurious ones. The false christs are many, the true Christ is but one; and whilst glorying in the vitality of truth we must stand in awe of the marvelous fecundity of error. Discrimination is not censorious. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 125–126. July 17, 2008

Values without Value

Pardon the provocative title. Today I’m just scribbling out a few thoughts on a word that has become increasingly annoying to me: values. Values has been a very fashionable word to describe what people believe for several years now. It has probably been most commonly used in conjunction with the word “family,” as in “family values.” A politician’s stated commitment to family values is almost sure to buy him votes, even if he himself is a divorced adulterer. Many churches have replaced statements of faith with lists of “core values.” I’m not sure what motivates that thinking—probably just a desire for softer, less confrontational and demanding language—but I’m not impressed. I’m not interested in your values. Values are the things that are important—valuable—to you. Values are subjective. Values are not moral imperatives. Your values may be different from my values. My values include things like wool sweaters, real butter, and Smyth-sewn bindings. These are good things, and I’m willing to explain to anyone who will listen why they are superior to their alternatives. However, as good as my arguments might be, they would carry no moral authority, not because they wouldn’t be right, but because I would be explaining why those things are important to me, and why I think they should be important to you. I’m not interested in values; I’m interested in doctrines, and the morals that are the product of doctrines. Morals are in an entirely different category than values. Morals are derived from authoritative commands. They are objective, and binding whether I value them or not. I might value life, and you might not; but God commands both of us to not commit murder. You might value sexual purity, and I might not; but God commands both of us to refrain from adultery. To live according to values makes me my own authority. Submitting to God’s moral commands acknowledges God as the supreme authority. More important than morals are the doctrines behind them. To have values rather than morals is weak enough; to speak of values as a substitute for doctrines is to entirely emasculate your faith. Genuine faith and true religion is based not upon values, but upon doctrine—and not just any doctrine, but biblical doctrine. Please—if you value God, if you value objective truth—do away with “values.” July 18, 2008
This post is nearly twelve years old. It’s proof is the fact that you almost certainly don’t remember its details, or if you do, you never would have thought of them had you not been reminded. A while ago, after watching a movie on DVD, probably due to some masochistic impulse, I watched the “special features” on the disc. You know, the usually incredibly boring “making of” segments and interviews with the director, cast, and sundry crew. As I watched, it struck me how important some of these entertainers thought their work was. Words like “innovative” and “ground-breaking,” describing various aspects of their latest product, abounded. It was evident that they were really quite impressed with themselves. I found myself scoffing at them: Come, on, people, it’s just a movie! Maybe a good movie, or even a great one, but still, just a movie. How important can it be? To put it into perspective, let’s consider some numbers. Just last weekend, The Dark Knight opened, breaking the previous record for opening weekend ticket sales (Spiderman 3, 2007) and grossing $155.34 million. Well, that’s pretty impressive, I suppose. But how impressive, in the big picture, is it really? According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, the average 2007 ticket price was $6.88. Using that number, I estimate that 2.5 million people watched The Dark Knight opening weekend. That’s a lot of people, nearly four times the population of North Dakota—but only 7.5% of the entire U.S. population. That’s not so big, after all. Now, I don’t know how many more will see the movie in coming weeks. Seriously, who cares? Twenty years from now, will it matter? Ten years? Five? Who will remember? The next blockbuster will come and go, and Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, et al, will eventually be forgotten; and the stars of the latest big show will think that they, too, have made a profound contribution to . . . whatever it is they think they’re doing. So, what’s my point? I’m not sure; there are probably several that could be made. In any case, I have growing impression that I ought to go read Ecclesiastes. July 21, 2008

Dogma before Life

These words by Horatius Bonar, though written around one hundred and fifty years ago, have never been more true than they are today. While those who would call themselves “the church” today are always looking for something fresh and innovative, they continually fall back on the same errors that have been common in ages past. The good news, then, is that we need no fresh answers. The saints who have gone before us and, indeed, Scripture itself, have said all that needs to be said. Christianity, say many among us, is a life, not a dogma; and they reckon this the enunciation of a great and unappreciated truth. It is, however, a mere truism, or it is an unmeaning antithesis, or it is an absolute falsehood. It sounds oracular and great; it is only pompous. Christianity is both life and dogma; quite as much one as the other. But it is a dogma before it is life; it cannot be the latter till it has been the former. It is out of the dogma that the life emerges; not the dogma out of the life; and the importance that is attached in Scripture to knowledge—right knowledge—should make us cautious in disparaging doctrine, as if it were harmless when wrong, and impotent or uninfluential when right. The mystics of different ages have tried hard to depreciate doctrine, to praise what they call “the spirit” at the expense of “the letter’; And it is somewhat remarkable that infidelity has generally taken their side . . . . . . doctrine in general, at least if precise and defined, is inconsistent with liberty of thought and expansion of intellect. “Life” is a pliable thing; it is unfenced and common; it may mean anything a man likes to call it or to fancy it; there is no imperiling of human liberty in calling Christianity a life; the men of “progress” and “freshness” are safe in making their standard; for Christianity = life may mean just Christianity = 0; at least it is an equation capable of being manipulated as to bring out any result which the theological algebraist may desire. And then there is the advantage of having a popular and high-sounding watchword. “Christianity a life, not a dogma” sounds noble. . . . it is an axiom rather than a proposition. It takes largely; it convinces hundreds without further inquiry or argument . . . it would enable us to believe anyone to be pious—Moslem, Hindoo, Romanist, Pantheist, or Sceptic—who could produce a worthy and earnest life. . . . Religion without creed, religion without truth, religion without the Bible, religion without Christianity, religion without Christ—is set down now, not simply among things possible, but amongst things desirable. . . . “Unconditioned” religion is to be accepted as not inconsistent with philosophy or liberty, but conditioned or defined religion is to be regarded as imbecility. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 145–146. July 22, 2008

The Vexed Soul’s Refuge

This one true goal or resting-place where doubt and weariness, the stings of a pricking conscience, and the longings of an unsatisfied soul would all be quieted, is Christ Himself. Not the church, but Christ. Not doctrine, but Christ. Not forms, but Christ. Not ceremonies, but Christ. Christ the God-man, giving his life for ours; sealing the everlasting covenant, and making peace for us through the blood of His cross; Christ the divine storehouse of all light and truth, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” [Col 2:3]; Christ the infinite vessel, filled with the Holy Spirit, the enlightener, the teacher, the quickened, the comforter, so that “out of his fullness we may receive, and grace for grace” [John 1:16]. This, this alone is the vexed soul’s refuge, its rock to build on, its home to abide in till the great temper be bound and every conflict ended in victory. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 171. July 23, 2008

Only Human Flesh

The incarnation was essential to but not adequate for the atonement. Sinclair Ferguson writes, Atonement was impossible without an incarnation. Hebrews explains why the Son of God “had to be made like his brothers in every way.” It is so “that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17, NIV). Our salvation requires not only the conquest of our enemy, Satan, but the removal of a yet more terrifying enmity: the wrath of the holy God of heaven. “Purification” and “atonement” must be made “for the sins of the people” (Heb. 1:3; 2:17, NIV). This was made clear to the people of God in the Old Testament by the constantly repeated ritual sacrifices they were required to make. They thus learned that they deserved death because of their sins; but they also were taught that in grace God Himself provided a sacrifice to take their place. However, even an Old Testament believer could see that the animal sacrifices could not in themselves make adequate atonement (Heb. 10:11). Otherwise there would have been no need for them to be repeated. The flesh and blood of bulls and goats could not atone for the sins of human flesh and blood (Heb. 10:4)! Only human flesh and blood could be an appropriate substitute-sacrifice. So the author of Hebrews says: When [Christ] came into the world, He said: “. . . a body you have prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come’ In the volume of the book it is written— To do your will, O God.’” —Hebrews 10:5–7 Jesus offered Himself as the substitutionary atonement! Sometimes theologians have spoken misleadingly, as though the incarnation is itself the atonement (the “at-one-ment” of God and man in Christ). It is not. But without it there could be no atonement. He took our nature in order to bear our punishment. Only thus can we be at peace with God. —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 26–27. July 24, 2008

Self-Denying Christianity

Learn self-denying Christianity. Not the form or name, but the living thing. “Even Christ pleased not himself” [Romans 5:3]. Let us in this respect be His true followers; bearing burdens for Him; doing work for Him; not grudging effort, or cost, or sacrifice, or pain; spending and being spent for Him; abjuring the lazy, luxurious, self-pleasing, fashionable religion of the present day. A self-indulgent religion has nothing to do with the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ; or of that cross of ours which He has commanded us to take up and carry after him, renouncing ease and denying self. Our time, our gifts, our money, our strength, are all to be laid upon the altar. We are to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 197. July 25, 2008

For Murderers and Sunday School Teachers

Last week, I watched the movie The Green Mile again. I’m not one to use movies to teach, but in the case of this film I believe there is something that we would do well to take note of and learn. In addition to being a compelling story, The Green Mile presents theology, as most of the world understands it, in stark terms. For those who have not read the book or seen the movie, The Green Mile is the story of Paul Edgecomb, played by Tom Hanks, the man in charge of Death Row at a state prison during the 1930s. I won’t spoil it by giving the plot, which does not matter for our purposes. I will just share a couple of scenes that are pertinent to my point. In the first scene, a prisoner, Arlen Bitterbuck, has just had the top of his head shaved in preparation for execution in the electric chair. Edgecomb is sitting with him in his cell, and Bitterbuck asks, “Do you think, if a man sincerely repents on what he done wrong, that he might get to go back to the time that was happiest for him, and live there forever? Could that be what heaven’s like?” Edgecomb replies, “I just about believe that very thing.” In the second scene, Edgecomb is faced with executing a man he believes to be innocent. Speaking with his wife, he tells her, “To tell you the truth, Honey, I’ve done some things in my life that I am not proud of. This is the first time I’ve ever felt real danger of hell.” Aside from the faulty view of heaven, there is a fallacy presented in these two scenes that represents the world’s view of damnation: men are damned for committing wicked deeds. If Arlen Bitterbuck had not committed the crime that landed him on death row, his soul would be safe. If Paul Edgecomb can find a way around executing a man he believes is innocent, he will have nothing to fear. Implicitly, these two men were on the road to heaven until they reached a certain fork in the road. The first took the wrong turn, and is now looking for a way back. The second is at the fork, and has little choice but to take the wrong turn. Both fear that their souls are in jeopardy because of what they have done or are about to do. Sadly, this is how most of the world, at least those who believe in life after death, see it. But what does Scripture say? Scripture says we’re not damned for what we have done, but for what we have not done. Regardless of who we are, or what evil we have avoided, we have failed to live up to God’s perfect standard. Lest we think “perfect” is an exaggeration, that maybe our best is good enough, Romans 3:23 assures us, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” All have fallen short. Every one of us has failed. We have fallen short, we have failed to measure up, and not to just any standard that we or any other mortal can set or even conceive. We have failed to measure up to the glory of God. Before any death row inmate committed his crime, he was in as much need of salvation as after. After he committed his crime, he was no more in danger of hell than before. The most kind, gentle, generous, moral person is lost and utterly without hope if he is trusting in his own goodness to save him. Both the convicted murderer and the good husband, father, and corrections officer stand on level ground before God, both in need of grace. In your communications with unbelievers, when the opportunity arises, are you bringing that message? Or do you come across as a moralist? Are you encouraging your wicked acquaintances to change their evil ways, while the righteous whitewashed sepulchres get a pass? Are you assuming the overtly sinful are more in need of salvation than the nice family man who goes to church and coaches Little League? Are you leading the outwardly unrighteous to believe that they need to change their ways to gain God’s favor, while lulling the inwardly unrighteous to believe they have it? If so, you are bringing a false gospel. Are you a good person, doing your best, who imagines that your best is good enough to get you into heaven? Forget it. God requires absolute perfection. Can you deliver? I can’t. I have sinned. Worse than that, I am sinful. I can no more change that than a leopard can change his spots. I am by nature a rebel against God, and God’s justice requires a penalty. That penalty is death (Romans 6:23). Well, someone did die. God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to be born a man and live a perfect life so he could be the perfect sacrifice in your place and mine. He bore the full wrath of God against the sin of all who believe in him when he was crucified. He paid the death I owed. He won the victory over sin and death when, three days later, he rose from the dead. And his righteousness, his sinless perfection, is credited to all who trust in him. Clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we can stand before God spotless and without blemish. That righteousness is required of all men, from the Sunday School teacher to the murderer on death row—and it is available to both, without distinction. July 28, 2008
On the drive home from a recent trip to the Big City, my wife and I were assaulted by a “sermon” that did little more than describe, in graphic detail, the beating and crucifixion of Christ. It was the radio version of The Passion of the Christ (which I have intentionally never seen), I suppose. I would say it was a fairly accurate description, avoiding the exaggeration that often accompanies such things, and containing relatively little of the typical speculation about “what scholars think that might possibly conceivably maybe have meant.” It was pretty much just the gruesome facts of what a Roman crucifixion entailed. Unfortunately, that was all it was, and as such, it was pretty useless. The message of the cross is not primarily about the physical suffering of Christ. His physical suffering is not even the greatest part of what he suffered. The most horrific agony of the cross was not the brutal scourging or the crown of thorns. It was not the nails in his hands and feet. It was not the excruciating pain of hanging from those nails. It was not any of the consequential medical complications that preachers love to expertly describe to spice up the Good Friday sermon. Christ’s anguish, which began in Gethsemane, was not essentially physical. It was an anguish that can never be communicated through pictures or movies. It was, first and foremost, spiritual. It was the torture of being separated from the Father and bearing my sin that was the essence of his suffering. And this is the heart of the Gospel. I am not saved because Christ suffered the pain of crucifixion. I am saved because he died bearing my sins. Jesus took the guilt of my sins upon himself and bore the full force of the Father’s holy wrath poured out upon him. He, the only begotten son of God, became the most loathsome creature in the Father’s eyes when my sins were laid on him. The most eloquent preacher cannot adequately describe the horror, so I know I can’t even come close. As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us not become focused on the cross as an instrument of torture. Let us focus on Christ as the bearer of sin—my sin, and yours, if you believe in him. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. —2 Corinthian 5:21. March 19, 2008

Called to Evangelism

Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He then leaves the sought and saved in the world to continue that work. Christians are not all evangelists vocationally, but we are all evangelists in the 1 Peter 3:15 sense. A desire for the salvation of others is both a mark and the duty of every believer. Christians are those who believe the gospel. Whether it is by a parent in the home, a minister in the church, or a friend in private conversation, we must be evangelized to be saved by Jesus Christ. Furthermore, according to the four Gospels of the New Testament, the Christian faith is designed to be shared with others. The evangel is evangelistic! A true Christian church is not only evangelical, in that it holds to the Biblical gospel, but it is evangelistic—it zealously spreads and shares that gospel. This means that to be a Christian is to be called as an evangelist. . . . All Christians are called to evangelism. Jesus the Evangelist is our model. If we want to experience the power of God in our gospel witness, we must follow biblical principles of evangelism; we must present the true gospel in clear, scriptural terms; and we must follow Jesus’ example in the practice of evangelizing actual people. Let us seek God’s blessing for the salvation of many by preparing ourselves to be faithful witnesses to the gospel of God’s grace. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 1, 4. April 2, 2008

An Acted Parable

Sinclair Ferguson on the priesthood of Christ: [O]n the Day of Atonement, Aaron slew a sacrifice, entered the Holy of Holies with the blood, and poured it out on the mercy seat between the cherubim (Lev. 16:15–16). This ritual was an acted parable, a copy of what Christ was to do on the great day when He made atonement. The blood of animals is both inappropriate and inadequate to provide the cleansing necessary to approach God. Animal sacrifice could not atone for human sin. Neither could any finite individual atone for sin against the infinite God. Only the blood of the divine image incarnate could cleanse our sin and enable us to enter safely into the presence of God, who is a consuming fire (Heb. 1:3; 12:29). The work of atonement took place in the presence of the God of heaven. Indeed, it involved a transaction within the fellowship of the persons of the eternal Trinity in their love for us; the Son was willing, with the aid of the Spirit, to experience the hiding of the Father’s face. The shedding of the blood of God’s Son opened the way to God for us (Acts 20:28). That is both the horror and the glory of our Great High Priest’s ministry. —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 54–55. July 29, 2008

Monergistic Regeneration: A Live Demonstration

Sinclair Ferguson on Jesus’s live demonstration of monergistic regeneration: With one command, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43) [Jesus] raised His dead friend. It is fascinating to notice that our Lord accomplished this by two means: prayer and His word (vv. 41–43). He is the Ezekiel-like prophet who speaks both to the bones and the spirits of those who have fallen prey to the curse of sin. He brings new life to the dead. What the prophets of God did spiritually, the Prophet of God did quite literally and physically. The emphasis on prayer should not go unnoticed–the apostles certainly grasped it (Acts 6:4). In addition, a pattern is illustrated that is characteristic of Christ’s ongoing activity as the giver of new life: resurrection comes by this new life (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Question: Surely the instrumentality of the Word (to which we actively respond) implies an activity on our part? Do we not, in this sense, contribute something to being born again?Answer: No more than Jesus’s command implies that Lazarus contributes life energy to his own resurrection. Lazarus comes out of the tomb because Jesus raises him from the dead, not in order that he might be raised from the dead. In him, our Lord’s words are fulfilled: “Most assuredly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). When prayer to the father and the word of command to the dead come from the lips of Jesus, His voice opens deaf ears and raises the dead. What was true then remains so now (which is why we join prayer and preaching), and will continue to be at the last, when by his powerful command Christ once again will raise the dead (1 Thess. 4:16). In undiluted Monergism, He called the galaxies into being, and He gives life to the dead in the same way (Rom. 4:17). —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 70–71. July 31, 2008

A Trinitarian Transaction

Sinclair Ferguson on the Trinitarian transaction that sent the Holy Spirit: [T]he coming of the Spirit indicated that a heavenly transaction had taken place. The often-overlooked words of Acts 2:33 record it: “being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit. . . .” Here, momentarily, a door into heaven is opened and we are given a glimpse into the fellowship between the Son and the Father. The ascended Son comes to the Father. What will he say? “Father, do you remember what you promised the Great King? You said, ‘Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession’ (Ps. 2:8). You said about the Suffering Servant, ‘Behold, My Servant . . . Kings shall shut their mouths at him. . . . He shall see his seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. . . . I will divide Him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul unto death . . .’ (Isa. 52:13, 15; 53:10, 12). Father, fulfill your promises to me.” How was this world-wide dominion to be established? All authority now belonged to Jesus. He had promised that the disciples would receive the Holy Spirit and He would give them power to become witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. The disciples, therefore, would go into all the world proclaiming Jesus. He would be with them to the end—through the presence of the Spirit-witness. —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 90–91. August 6, 2008

When Revival Is Real

Many events are named “revival.” Few deserve the title. Sinclair Ferguson describes genuine revival: In his Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Jonathan Edwards draws on 1 John 4 to show that all true works of God share several features: 1. A high esteem for Christ. 2. The overthrow of Satan’s Kingdom in our hearts. 3. A reverent view of, and close attention to, God’s Word in Scripture. 4. The presence of the Spirit of truth convincing us of the reality of eternity and the depth of our sin and need. 5. A deep love for both God and man. But what does this mean in real-life terms? A Microcosmic View . . . Many years ago, I witnessed revival in its most microcosmic form in a sudden, unexpected, and remarkable work of God’s Spirit on a friend. The work was so dramatic, the effect so radical, that news of it spread quickly to different parts of the country. . . . I [asked] my friend . . . What this remarkable experience had involved. The answer was illuminating. Five things seemed to have happened . . . 1. A painful exposure of the particular sin of unbelief occurred. Listening to preaching was a staple of my friend’s spiritual diet, but what came with overpowering force was a sense that God’s Word had actually been despised inwardly. God’s own Word, preached in the power of the Spirit, stripped away the mask of inner pride and outward reputation for spirituality. There was a fearful exposure to sin. 2. A powerful desire arose to be free from all sin. A new affection came, as if unbidden, into the heart. Indeed, a desire seemed to be given actually to have sin increasingly revealed and exposed in order that it might be confessed, pardoned, and cleansed. Disturbing though it was, there was a sweetness of grace in the pain. 3. The love of Christ now seemed marvelous beyond measure. A love for Him flowed from a heart that could not get enough of Christ, ransacking Scripture to discover more and more about Him. 4. A new love for God’s Word was born—for reading it, for hearing it expounded and applied, and especially for knowing every expression of God’s will, so that it might be obeyed. 5. A compassionate love for others now flowed. It came from this double sense of sin and need on the one hand and grace and forgiveness on the other. Christian witness ceased to be a burden and became the expression of Spirit-wrought and powerful new affections. It was thus for King David: Have mercy upon me, O God . . . According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight. . . . Purge me . . . Wash me. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God. . . . My tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness. —Psalm 51:1–4, 7, 10, 14 —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 103–104. August 7, 2008


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