Category Archives: Theology

Take Away Our Bent to Sinning

Intentional memorizing has always been difficult for me. But sometimes when I lie awake during the night I remember the words to hymns, quite often all of the words. Last night it was this one that came to mind. It must have been a favorite of my father because we frequently sang it in church. Like many hymns it is best when sung in its entirety.

The phrase I first remembered last night was “Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be; End of faith as its beginning; set our hearts at liberty.” Newer hymn books have substituted “Take away our love of sinning” for “take away our bent to sinning”. I don’t like it. It does not mean the same thing. “Bent” reminds me that I am by nature twisted away from purity and truth, and I need help getting straight before I understand sin at all. Important also, when I remember I lean toward sin I can be proactive and preventative. Not all sin I commit is directly caused by my “love of sinning”.

Below is the tune and text I remember.

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

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.

Singing “The God of Abraham Praise”

The past 15 years or so I have been worshipping with a Presbyterian church.  During that time I’ve been introduced to some old hymns that I really like.  One of them we are singing this week, “The God of Abraham Praise.”  It sounds so Jewish to me, which makes sense because, according to the hymn book, the tune was adapted from a “Traditional Hebrew melody.”  And the subject is praising God, who was also the God of Abraham, and the Jewish people.

I love how hymns like this remind us of timeless truths about God and the Church.  Much of the phraseology comes straight from the Old or/and New Testaments.  They are based on scripture and truth and promises, not at all focused on ourselves, but rather on God.

Isn’t it a glorious song!

 

The Same Yesterday and Today

Before my father’s funeral I was looking for something he once sent me.  I never found it.  Most likely it is in my collection in Savannah.  Today I read something that sent me to a very large old family Bible.  Paging through it I found a typewritten copy of the same quote, I’m sure was also typed by my Dad (typewriters have their own fingerprint).   In my memory the quote was about introducing your child to a living faith in Christ, truly speaking about a life of significance,  but I see now it is also about what that means over a lifespan. IMG_3778.jpg

The other thing that struck me as typical of my father is his sense of beauty.  I love that he typed that border on the top and bottom.

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!

Bewitching Heresy

“It is not strange to see that the most dangerous heretics have many followers, every error being a friend to some lust. ”   Alexander Nisbet (1623-1669)
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. 2 Timothy 4:3

A Profession of Faith

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We used this as our profession of faith in church a couple of weeks ago.  It comes from The Scots Confession (chapter 1).

We confess and acknowledge one God alone, to whom alone we must cleave, whom alone we must serve, whom alone we must worship, and in whom alone we put our trust.  Who is eternal, infinite, immeasurable, incomprehensible, omnipotent, invisible; one in substance and yet distinct in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  By whom we confess and believe all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, to have been created, to be retained in their being, and to be ruled and guided by His inscrutable providence for such end as His eternal wisdom, goodness, and justice have appointed, and to the manifestation of His own glory.

Go here for a little history of the document.