Category Archives: Bible

True Worship

“…true worship is biblical worship, that is to say, it is a response to the biblical revelation…the reading and preaching of God’s word in public worship, far from being alien intrusions into it, are rather indispensible aspects of it. It is the word of God which evokes the worship of God.”

“The Living Church” by John Stott, IVP 2007, pp.35-36

The Only Permanence

Quoting Paul Tillich’s “The Shaking of the Foundations”:

[T]he 90th Psalm…starts with a song of praise: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place age after age.” In order to describe human transitoriness, the poet glorifies the Divine Eternity.  Before looking downward he looks upward.  Before considering man’s misery he points to God’s majesty.  Only because we look at something infinite can we realize that we are finite.  Only because we are able to see the eternal can we see the limited time that is given us.  Only because we can elevate ourselves above the animals can we see that we are like animals.  Our melancholy about our transitoriness is rooted in our power to look beyond it.  Modern pessimists do not start their writings by praising the Eternal God.  They think that they can approach man directly and speak about his finiteness, misery and tragedy.  But they do not succeed.  Hidden–often to themselves– is a criterion by which they measure and condemn human existence.  It is something beyond man.  When the Greek poets called men the “mortals”, they had in mind the immortal gods by which they measured human mortality.  The measure of man’s transitoriness is God’s eternity; the measure of man’s misery and tragedy is the Divine Perfection.  That is what the psalmist means when he calls God our dwelling place, the only permanence in the change of all the ages and generations.  That is why he starts his song of profoundest melancholy with the praise of the Lord.

Affirmations of God And Man, Edmund Fuller, 1967

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2090&version=KJV

To See the King in His Beauty

Your eyes will behold the King in his beauty.  Isaiah 33:17

The more you know about Christ, the less will you be satisfied with superficial views of Him; and the more deeply you study His transactions in the eternal covenant, His engagements on your behalf as the eternal Security, and the fullness of His grace that shines in all His offices, the more truly will you see the King in His beauty. Learn to look at Him this way. Long increasingly to see Jesus.

Charles Spurgeon

https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/daily-devotionals/11/16/0/

Blessed Hope

Quoting Charles Hodge in an excellent podcast on “Blessed Hope”:

“Our duty, privilege and security are in believing, not in knowing, and trusting God and not our own understanding.  They are to be pitied who have no more trustworthy teacher than themselves.”

Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, but based on the promises of God in Christ Jesus.  All of them.

Noting the influence of relativism not only in our culture, but also in Christianity, this comment by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul was shared:

“I’m afraid that in the United States of America today the prevailing doctrine of justification is not justification by faith alone, it’s not even justification by good works, or by a combination of faith and works.  The prevailing notion of justification on our culture today is justification by death.  All one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die.”

Fatally sad.

 

On Predestination: The Universal becomes Particular

I find this quote from a Scottish theologian, Donald Macleod, helpful.

Who has the right to believe? Who has the right to come to Christ? That question has been discussed very thoroughly in Reformed theology and the answer has been unambiguous: every human being, without … exception whatsoever, is entitled to come to Christ and to take Him as his own Saviour. Every man as a man, every sinner as a sinner, the foulest, the vilest, the most vicious—it was put in the strongest possible terms—had the right to come.

This was based on certain clear emphases of the Word of God itself. For example, God commands every human being to believe. No one is exempt from that command. We have the right to come to Christ, whoever we are, because God commands us to come to Christ.

We have the right, secondly, because of God’s offer and invitation to come to Christ. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa. 45:22); “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28); “Let the wicked forsake his way … and let him return to the Lord” (Isa. 55:7). The offer was absolutely universal.

Thirdly, there is a universal divine promise: if we believe, we shall be saved. That is God’s promise. Now it is a conditional promise. The reward is conditional upon our believing. But God’s promise is made categorically: if we turn to God in Christ we shall be saved. Alternatively, it can be put in these terms: the warrant is universal because it arises from the fact that the Bible explicitly states that there is no price to be paid. This salvation is utterly gratuitous (Isa. 55:1). We receive the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17). We take it without money and without price (Isa. 55:1).

Some Reformed preachers went to great lengths to express this fact that every human being, no matter how sinful, has the right to come and take Christ as his Saviour. They were predestinarians of the deepest dye (men like Thomas Boston, John Duncan, and Martin Luther) but they believed equally firmly in the free, universal offer of the gospel. John Duncan put it most succinctly: “Sin is the handle by which I get Christ.” [He went on,] “I don’t read anywhere in God’s Word that Christ came to save John Duncan … but I read this: He came to save sinners and John Duncan is a sinner and that means he came to save John Duncan.” Luther argued in the same way. He said to the devil, “Thou sayest I am a sinner. And I will take thine own weapon and with it I will slay thee and with thine own sword I will cut thy throat because sin ought to drive us not away from Christ but towards Christ.” The Bible and Reformed theology have taught us to come—just as we are.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Now it may be that in Reformed theology there is no theological answer to the question, “How can it be simultaneously true that only the predestined are saved and that God commands all men to believe?” All we can say is that both horns of the dilemma are equally valid. For the moment our concern is with only one aspect of the truth: every human being is warranted to come to Christ. The great thing here is that the universal becomes … particular. If all are warranted, each is warranted. If each is warranted, I am warranted. This is supremely important in relation to those who are tempted to spiritual despair: the backslidden, those who were once bright, shining Christians, but from whose lives the glory has gone and who feel that for them there is no hope. Wherever we stand, we have the warrant to believe.

From a sermon, “Amazing Grace”, by Alistair Begg.

Lent: A Time for Humility and Repentance

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I have returned to Robert Webber’s The Book of Daily Prayer, for Lent.
From the introduction to that section:
    We have now come to a season of the Christian year that differs significantly from Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  Before we can think about our spiritual pilgrimage during this season, we need to have some understanding of how the Lenten season differs from the preceding seasons.
    Lenten season is the time when we especially identify with the sufferings of Jesus.  During Lent we walk the way of the cross.  In Advent we longed for the coming of Christ, at Christmas we celebrated his birth, and after Epiphany we encountered Christ in his many manifestations.  Now in Lent we share in the rejection Christ felt when the religious leaders and others turned from him, rejected him, and plotted his death.
    Because we identify with the sufferings of Christ during Lent, Lent is chiefly a time for repentance and renewal.  What we want to accomplish during Lent is the opposite of what the Pharisees, the mockers,  and doubters did.  They rejected Jesus.  They were proud, haughty, and confident of their righteousness.  Lent is the antithesis of those attitudes.  Lent is a time to fall at the feet of Jesus and admit our sinfulness and our need of him.  Lent is a time to confess, to cry “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”  Lent is a time for humility and repentance.  It is a time to get on our knees and get right with God.

Vindication vs. Intercession

In an entry of Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest titled “The Distraction of Contempt” my father underlined this:

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Recently I have been thinking about the meaning and causes of “having a critical spirit” so this caught my attention (and it is November 23 today).

I have at least three thoughts on this.  One is that Christ followers are called to take up their cross and follow Jesus.  Just as he was misunderstood and maligned I can expect that too.  So as much as I want to make sure I am understood and correct misconceptions, I need to accept that is not always possible, especially when there is a world view divide.  Secondly, and more importantly, I think, is that ultimately it is God who convicts and corrects, not me.  But I have been taught to intercede so that needs to be my primary response.

Birth From the Top Down

Another new hymn to me, this one found in Sinclair B. Ferguson’s book Know Your Christian Life.  

From the chapter “Born Again” in which this old hymn is referenced:

    The new birth is, firstly, heavenly in origin.  Over and over again Christ emphasised this to Nicodemus.  He needed to be born of water ‘and the Spirit’, for only the Spirit gives birth to spirit…Indeed the principle is heavily underlined by the expression ‘born again’.  The word John uses, translated ‘again’, can mean either again or from above. It is difficult to be dogmatic about its significance here.  On the one hand, Nicodemus appears to follow through Jesus’ words in terms of being born ‘again’ i.e. for a second time.  He raises the question whether someone can re-enter the womb.  But the other uses of the word in John strengthen the case for translating ‘from above’.  In John 3: 31; 19;11, 23, it conveys the idea from the top downwards.  If we take it in this sense then we are still able to make sense of Nicodemus’ response.  When Jesus tells him that he needs to be born from above, only faintly understanding the meaning, he lamely asks whether another birth is possible.

    The corollary of this is often ignored.  If we are members of that kingdom it must be by heavenly birth!  In other words, if we are Christians it can only be because God has wonderfully intervened to give us new life.  Every Christian ought to think long and hard about this, because we have an inevitable and at times very worldly tendency to regard some ‘conversions’ as being more wonderful or amazing than others. ‘Miraculous’ we say when a famous celebrity is ‘born again’, and of course we are right.  But the miracle involved in the new birth of John or James Smith, whose name never appears in either Christian or secular press, is no less miraculous, no less wonderful and no less a cause of joy in heaven.  It involves the same exercise of divine power and the same abundance of God’s love.  What we need to do, therefore, if we would enter into the joys of our new birth is not to cast a glance over our shoulder enviously regarding the spiritual biography of another, but to search the Scriptures to see the rich measure of grace that God pours into every new child of God!

Guided by Thinking, Not Feeling

From a sermon by Alistair Begg on Christian living:

Now, in the divine order of things, God’s purpose is this: that our thinking was supposed to be informed and shaped and governed by his revelation. Okay? So that the way in which we think, in the purposes of God, was that we were supposed to “think God’s thoughts after him,”[5] as it has been said. And it is when we think on the basis of God’s revelation—what he has made known of himself and of his purposes—that we then inform and we influence and we direct our powers of volition. So it is as I learn to think correctly that I then bring my doing into line with my right thinking.

That’s why we’ve got such a dreadful predicament in evangelicalism, because by and large evangelicals don’t think! It’s not a feature of evangelical Christianity, thinking. You talk to people about issues, they don’t know the issues. They only know the heroes. And then they line up behind the heroes: “What did Mr. X say about it? Oh, I like him. I think I probably believe what he believes. Oh, no, I like him a little better. I think I believe what he believes.” But they don’t think the issues out. And it is imperative that our thinking, then, constrains our doing. And that’s, you see, what transforms it all.

That’s why the hymn writer says, if I may pause for a moment, “’Tis what I know of thee, my Lord and God, that fills my heart with praise, my lips with song.”[6]Now, this isn’t the same as saying, “I just want to praise you, lift my hands and say I love you.”[7] Because as I’ve mentioned to you before, the circumstance of the hymn writer in the first instance may have been absolutely brutal. His job may have been lost, his marital existence may have been fractured, his children may have been a challenge to him. And if then he was going to allow the circumstances of his life to determine joy or sorrow, he has no chance in the world. So what then will grant to that individual stability? The answer is, “’Tis what I know of thee, my Lord and God, that fills my heart with praise, my lips with song.” In other words, it is his thinking that then determines his doing.

[5] Attributed to Johannes Kepler.

[6] Horatius Bonar, “Not What I Am, O Lord, but What Thou Art.” Paraphrase

[7] Arthur Tannous, “I Just Want to Praise You” (1984).

Faith Based on Evidence

I’ve been reading Sinclair B. Ferguson’s “Know Your Christian Life”  and really enjoying Ferguson’s clarity and gentleness.  He is a wonderful teacher.  He is careful to be true to his subject and he woos the reader.  At least he does that to me.  J.I. Packer’s comment on the book is telling:

Knowing is for living, especially Christian knowing and Christian living.  This principle permeates Sinclair Ferguson’s theological introduction to the Christian life.  Knowledge about God is not mere information to be stored in our brains.  It is truth to be acted on.

 With clarity and contagious enthusiasm, Ferguson expounds key biblical themes: grace, sin, faith, repentance and many more.  “Christian doctrines are life-shaping,” he explains.  “They show us the God we worship.”

…Here is theology ; but don’t be frightened.  Dr. Ferguson is an accomplished divine in the best tradition anywhere….What he presents to us is biblical theology and in its conclusions reformed theology, of the older, riper, wiser, deeper sort.”

From the chapter “Faith in Christ”:

What is Faith?

    Faith is a great biblical word, but its currency has been taken over, unfortunately, by religious language in general.  As we have seen, in Scripture faith is generally the living personal trust in Christ.  But it is common to hear other religions today described as ‘other faiths’ even although faith in the biblical sense may have no part to play in them.  Biblical faith is a much richer and fuller notion altogether, and consists of several elements.

(i) Knowledge

           Faith is dependent on what can be known about God.  Even more significantly, in the New Testament faith involves us in coming to knowledge of God himself.  This is the great joy which Christ shared with his Father in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (Jn. 17:3)….

    All trust is ultimately dependent on knowledge.  The problem we have in allowing complete strangers to take possession of our belongings is just that we do not know them well enough to trust them!  But the knowledge involved in faith is not merely intellectual baggage, because true knowledge in the Bible invariably involves personal fellowship….This kind of knowledge does not mean that we analyse its object from a distance, scrutinizing it objectively and dispassionately.  It is the kind of knowledge that brings us into immediate contact with God himself.  There is no greater privilege open to man than knowing God and this is what is held out to us through faith.

(ii). Assent

    ….Believing in Christ means assenting to the truth about Christ as well as coming to know him.  In fact there is a sense in which we may come to believe against our wishes!  It was so with Saul of Tarsus and has been with multitudes since that they have come to faith despite their unwillingness, because the evidence which has persuaded them has proved to be so overpoweringly strong. We speak in ordinary life about a man being so trustworthy that we would be compelled to trust him against our will.  So B. B. Warfield wrote: ‘The conception embodied in the terms “belief”, “faith”, in other words, is not that of an arbitrary act of the subject’s; it is that of a mental state or act which is determined by sufficient reasons.’ ….and John Murray adds to Warfield’s suggestion:

Faith is forced consent.  That is to say, when evidence is judged by the mind to be sufficient, the state of mind we call ‘faith’ is the inevitable precipitate.  It is not something we can resist or in respect of which we suspend judgment.  In such a case faith is compelled, it is demanded, it is commanded….

I love that last paragraph.   The chapter closes with:

(iii)  Trust in Christ

This is the heart of faith….Faith means abiding in Christ (Jn.15:1-11); it means receiving Christ (Jn. 1:12) and therefore embracing him in total trust.

           Such trust is always a costly thing because it involves us in surrendering our lives to Christ.  That is why in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus does not speak simply of ‘faith’.  He speaks about following and about carrying the cross.  He does this to emphasize what faith involves.  It means the practical recognition that Jesus is the Lord of our lives.  It means forsaking everything for his sake.  It means sacrifice and service.

I think you can buy the book here.