Archive for August 2008
This website, PublicProfiler Worldnames, looks interesting, though at time of posting it is somewhat overwhelmed with queries, and not providing much of anything. It searches the incidence of your name worldwide, and also gives information by area and ethnicity.
“You must be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” – John Owen
31. There are often readily available fruits, plucked without danger, but once get a taste for them and you will pluck few more without getting badly scratched. The most enticing fruits are deepest within the brambles.
- The first pleasures of sin lie on the surface, and are easily plucked. However, once get a taste for a particular indulgence, and the pursuit of the pleasures of sin will lead you further and further in to the brambles, from which you cannot escape without pain and assistance, if at all.
- The most enticing sinful pleasures are usually deepest within the bush. They cannot be reached without being ensnared.
- You can more easily reach the fruit without pain than you can extract your hand without pain.
32. Brambles grow out of a bush or hedge, and it is often they – rather than the leafiness – that attract the eye and scratch the flesh.
- Our sins, and those of others, are often the most prominent things about us and them.
- In looking at ourselves, we would do well to note the sins and address them, without ignoring the leafy growth of godliness. In looking at others, we would do well to consider and approve the leaves of the godly life without becoming obsessed by the thorns of the sin.
33. You would be a fool to cultivate brambles.
- How much more are they fools who cultivate sin? Never set out to grow a crop of sins, or to nurture those which already exist.
34. The only way to kill a bramble is to remove it completely.
- The only way to kill a sin is to remove it completely. Dig down to the root, get it out, burn it.
35. We can make progress in removing brambles, even though we may not be able to remove every bramble.
- We should recognise that mortification involves progress in fighting sin, not perfection. The man who despairs of removing all sins and so never attacks one will never make much progress toward holiness.
- We should set out to remove every bramble, although we can only do so one at a time. Often we need to remove the sins closest to us in order to get to the ones that lie deepest in us.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my esteemed father, Austin Walker, has been away, and was one of the featured speakers at a conference on The English Baptists of the 17th Century at the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies on the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The audio recordings of the conference are now online at the Andrew Fuller Conference website and blog, and doutbless there will be much of interest to historians and general scholars, especially of a Baptist persuasion. In an act of shameless nepotism, may I draw your attention to my father’s paper on “Benjamin Keach and the Protestant Cause Under Persecution”? You will find it on the page above (where it can be downloaded), or can go to it directly here.
The papers for last year’s Westminster Conference have recently been published under the title The Truth Shall Make You Free. These and other past papers can be ordered (details on the website), and information on this year’s conference is there as well.
Rutherford 7 6. 7 6. 7 6. 7 5
When all about me falters
And life itself seems bleak,
When all things seem against me,
Beset about and weak,
I cast myself upon you,
My Saviour, faithful, true,
And cry, with heart o’erflowing:
“I will follow you.”
Should men rise up against me
And threaten me with death;
Should Satan’s storms wash o’er me
And chill my latest breath -
I gladly gaze beyond them,
And Christ is all I view.
I pledge, with love abounding,
“I will follow you.”
When sin’s defeated spirits
Seek still to drag me down,
When, tempted and dejected,
I see my Saviour frown,
Then cast myself before you,
Convicted all anew,
To beg, “Lord, give me grace that
I may follow you.”
I wandered in the desert,
A drought beset my heart;
Elijah’s cry rose in me -
“O Lord, I would depart.”
Then from the blessed Fountain,
As sweet as mountain dew,
I drank, revived, and whispered:
“I will follow you.”
I sighted distant glory,
I turned and set my face
To gaze on things of heaven
And on the God of grace.
The world dimmed fast about me,
Before me my heart flew.
I cried: “To dwell in glory,
I will follow you.”
When I think on my Saviour,
My Christ, the Crucified,
His thorn-crowned brow, his stripes, and
Wounded, bleeding side,
His life, so freely given,
My purpose does renew;
I pray: “Dear Lord, in all things
I will follow you.”
See all hymns and psalms.
Gary Brady draws attention to H. L. Mencken’s obituary of J. Gresham Machen. Originally published in The Baltimore Evening Sun (18 January 1937), 2nd Section, p 15, it can be found at Appendix A here, and I reproduce it below. “The Sage of Baltimore” tackles Machen fairly and squarely, making plain that though he despises his Calvinism, it has in it the virtues of cogency, consistency, coherence, cohesiveness and comprehensiveness.
H. L. MENCKEN’S OBITUARY OF MACHEN
The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D. D., who died out in North Dakota on New Year’s Day, got, on the whole, a bad press while he lived, and even his obituaries did much less than justice to him. To newspaper reporters, as to other antinomians, a combat between Christians over a matter of dogma is essentially a comic affair, and in consequence Dr. Machen’s heroic struggles to save Calvinism in the Republic were usually depicted in ribald, or, at all events, in somewhat skeptical terms. The generality of readers, I suppose, gathered thereby the notion that he was simply another Fundamentalist on the order of William Jennings Bryan and the simian faithful of Appalachia. But he was actually a man of great learning, and, what is more, of sharp intelligence.
What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.
Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works. Most of the other Protestant churches have gone the same way, but Dr. Machen’s attention, as a Presbyterian, was naturally concentrated upon his own connection. His one and only purpose was to hold it [the Church] resolutely to what he conceived to be the true faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia with all the honors of war.
My interest in Dr. Machen while he lived, though it was large, was not personal, for I never had the honor of meeting him. Moreover, the doctrine that he preached seemed to me, and still seems to me, to be excessively dubious. I stand much more chance of being converted to spiritualism, to Christian Science or even to the New Deal than to Calvinism, which occupies a place, in my cabinet of private horrors, but little removed from that of cannibalism. But Dr. Machen had the same clear right to believe in it that I have to disbelieve in it, and though I could not yield to his reasoning I could at least admire, and did greatly admire, his remarkable clarity and cogency as an apologist, allowing him his primary assumptions.
These assumptions were also made, at least in theory, by his opponents, and thereby he had them by the ear. Claiming to be Christians as he was, and of the Calvinish persuasion, they endeavored fatuously to get rid of all the inescapable implications of their position. On the one hand they sought to retain membership in the fellowship of the faithful, but on the other hand they presumed to repeal and reenact with amendments the body of doctrine on which that fellowship rested. In particular, they essayed to overhaul the scriptural authority which lay at the bottom of the whole matter, retaining what coincided with their private notions and rejecting whatever upset them.
Upon this contumacy Dr. Machen fell with loud shouts of alarm. He denied absolutely that anyone had a right to revise and sophisticate Holy Writ. Either it was the Word of God or it was not the Word of God, and if it was, then it was equally authoritative in all its details, and had to be accepted or rejected as a whole. Anyone was free to reject it, but no one was free to mutilate it or to read things into it that were not there. Thus the issue with the Modernists was clearly joined, and Dr. Machen argued them quite out of court, and sent them scurrying back to their literary and sociological Kaffeeklatsche. His operations, to be sure, did not prove that Holy Writ was infallible either as history or as theology, but they at least disposed of those who proposed to read it as they might read a newspaper, believing what they chose and rejecting what they chose.
In his own position there was never the least shadow of inconsistency. When the Prohibition imbecility fell upon the country, and a multitude of theological quacks, including not a few eminent Presbyterians, sought to read support for it into the New Testament, he attacked them with great vigor, and routed them easily. He not only proved that there was nothing in the teachings of Jesus to support so monstrous a folly; he proved abundantly that the known teachings of Jesus were unalterably against it. And having set forth that proof, he refused, as a convinced and honest Christian, to have anything to do with the dry jehad.
This rebellion against a craze that now seems so incredible and so far away was not the chief cause of his break with his ecclesiastical superiors, but it was probably responsible for a large part of their extraordinary dudgeon against him. The Presbyterian Church, like the other evangelical churches, was taken for a dizzy ride by Prohibition. Led into the heresy by fanatics of low mental visibility, it presently found itself cheek by jowl with all sorts of criminals, and fast losing the respect of sensible people. Its bigwigs thus became extremely jumpy on the subject, and resented bitterly every exposure of their lamentable folly.
The fantastic William Jennings Bryan, in his day the country’s most distinguished Presbyterian layman, was against Dr. Machen on the issue of Prohibition but with him on the issue of Modernism. But Bryan’s support, of course, was of little value or consolation to so intelligent a man. Bryan was a Fundamentalist of the Tennessee or barnyard school. His theological ideas were those of a somewhat backward child of 8, and his defense of Holy Writ at Dayton during the Scopes trial was so ignorant and stupid that it must have given Dr. Machen a great deal of pain. Dr. Machen himself was to Bryan as the Matterhorn is to a wart. His Biblical studies had been wide and deep, and he was familiar with the almost interminable literature of the subject. Moreover, he was an adept theologian, and had a wealth of professional knowledge to support his ideas. Bryan could only bawl.
It is my belief, as a friendly neutral in all such high and ghostly matters, that the body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general. Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony. It is, on the contrary, a corpus of powerful and profound convictions, many of them not open to logical analysis. Its inherent improbabilities are not sources of weakness to it, but of strength. It is potent in a man in proportion as he is willing to reject all overt evidences, and accept its fundamental postulates, however unprovable they may be by secular means, as massive and incontrovertible facts.
These postulates, at least in the Western world, have been challenged in recent years on many grounds, and in consequence there has been a considerable decline in religious belief. There was a time, two or three centuries ago, when the overwhelming majority of educated men were believers, but that is apparently true no longer. Indeed, it is my impression that at least two-thirds of them are now frank skeptics. But it is one thing to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science, comparable to graphology, “education,” or osteopathy.
That, it seems to me, is what the Modernists have done, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. They have tried to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty as [of] psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes. They may be good people and they may even be contented and happy, but they are no more religious than Dr. Einstein. Religion is something else again – in Henrik Ibsen’s phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mudupbringing, Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Mohammed. He failed – but he was undoubtedly right.
Alan Dunn reflects on the deaths of Pastor Arif and Mrs Kathy Khan, missionaries to Pakistan and dear friends with whom he served on several occasions. He points us to the death of the Lamb of God as the only way to make sense of the suffering of his flock, and the only security for the sheep of his pasture in life and in death.
“Those whom God brings into a wilderness he will not leave nor lose there, but will take care to lead them through it; we may well think it was a very great satisfaction to Moses and the pious Israelites to be sure that they were under divine guidance. Those needed not to fear missing their way who were thus led, nor being lost who were thus directed; those needed not to fear being benighted who were thus illuminated, nor being robbed who were thus protected. Those who make the glory of God their end, and the word of God their rule, the Spirit of God the guide of their affections, and the providence of God the guide of their affairs, may be confident that the Lord goes before them, as truly as he went before Israel in the wilderness, though not so sensibly; we must live by faith.”
 Matthew Henry on Exodus 13.
My father, Austin Walker, is in the United States at the moment. He will be lecturing later today, God willing, at a conference at the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies on The English Baptists of the 17th Century. His paper is entitled Benjamin Keach and the Protestant Cause Under Persecution and it’s good, stirring stuff.
In his absence I had the whole day here at Crawley last Lord’s day, but – because we are on a summer break from our Sunday School – only had two services.
In the first, I preached from John 12.36 under the title While there is light. I was disappointed that there were fewer unconverted people present than is often the case, but preached nonetheless from Christ’s earnest warning and invitation to those in danger of being utterly lost in spiritual darkness. This is issued as his death approaches, and in the face of continuing confusion and resistance to his person and work.
Our Lord identifies a precious privilege: “you have the light.” The light was shining upon the Jews in the person of Christ Jesus, and shines still upon us in the gospel read and preached and heard under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
This is a passing opportunity: “while you have the light.” The gospel is not an inalienable right but a gracious gift. Bibles, preachers, capacity of mind and body to hear the truth, days of life in which to respond – none are guaranteed to us. This demands an urgent and immediate response.
Christ also issues a gracious command: “believe in the light.” We are called to trust in the Lord Jesus in all the fullness of his glorious person and saving work. Not to believe is to disobey, but the reality of the gospel command is also a great blessing and encouragement to the fearful.
Christ explains the gracious result of believing: “that you may become sons of light.” In Christ by faith, we are characterised by light: we live in it, love it, walk in it and shine with it. This is the instant and final change of nature, from darkness to light, associated with faith in Christ.
Finally, though, and soberingly, there is a grievous warning. Many of those who heard Jesus’ words resisted the message and rejected his person. He is light, but some choose darkness. Which will you have?
In the evening I continued through Colossians, preaching on being Rooted and rejoicing in Christ. Paul uses verses 6 and 7 of Colossians 2 as a summary and a springboard for what is to come. He speaks of receiving Christ and then walking in him, and describes what it means so to walk. He mixes his metaphors as a means of communicating the richness of this notion.
There is stability and solidity: we are rooted in Christ, anchored in him, drawing life and nourishment from him. We are built up in Christ, held together by him as a community, and making progress in dependence upon him.
Walking in Christ, we enjoy increasingly strong and settled faith. It grows as we are established in the apostolic faith in which we are instructed. We need no bigger and better saviours, but rather a bigger heart to love Christ Jesus, and a better grasp on who he is and what he has done.
These issue in and involve a sincere thankfulness. Gratitude to God for all his kindnesses to us in Jesus keep the saint in a spiritually healthy and happy condition, humbly looking away from self to the God of salvation. These blessings are ours insofar as we receive and rest upon Christ Jesus the Lord.
I woke up to this.
While countless Brits snigger into their sleeves at the magnificent faux-pomposity of Boris’s oratory, the rest of the world looks on, with its mouth slightly ajar, and a look of awe and dull wonder in its eyes, and wonders what on earth we are talking about. Splendid.
Ping-pong is, indeed, coming home!
Joel Beeke provides us with some valuable insights into Calvin’s approach to the Psalms here. Said Calvin: “There is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this exercise of piety.”
Why should you believe the Bible?
What possible reason can there be for you to accept what is written in God’s Word, and to live and die by it?
Because God is your Creator, and you are his creature.
Because mankind lost its original purity and innocence, and now we live in sin and misery.
Because God has given us his Word to direct us how we should live.
Because you disobey God’s Word, and your heart is full of sin and wickedness.
Because, no matter how hard you try, you cannot make yourself worthy of heaven.
Because, despite all that you do, you cannot escape the just condemnation of God.
Because God in his mercy has made a way of salvation for His creatures.
Because God sent his Son, the perfect Lamb of God, into the world.
Because God’s sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, suffered and died upon a cross in the place of utterly undeserving sinners.
Because only Jesus Christ can save you from your sins, and make you right with God.
Because if you do repent and believe, you shall have everlasting life.
Because there is a heaven for those who have been redeemed, but a hell for the unrepentant.
Because it is the truth.
Because these things are true, it is not only entirely reasonable but absolutely essential that you act now
upon the truth that God has revealed in his Word.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He who believes in him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
“Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55.3).
A Foundation for Life: A Study of Key Christian Doctrines and their Application edited by Michael A. G. Haykin
Joshua Press, 140pp, pbk, $16.99 (Canadian).
This little volume is aimed at new believers with the desire of instructing them in basic truth, and then encouraging them to study Scripture for themselves. In order to accomplish this, sixteen authors present eighteen brief treatments of several foundational Christian truths.
The format of the book is helpful (key Scripture references are given in full in the side margins, for example) and the layout is clear. Each treatment is a positive assertion of truth, and all are admirably short and clear. Brevity has not betrayed the contributors into shallowness or triteness, although at a couple of points the attempt to present profound truth in brief compass runs this risk. The general standard of these treatments is high, although some in particular stand out as dealing comprehensively yet incisively with particular matters of Christian doctrine.
A Foundation for Life is not setting out to provide all the answers to every question, and neither is it afraid to leave the reader with work to do. These brief essays demand intelligent reading and active engagement, and prompt further inquiry and study.
Not every reader – especially, perhaps, if he or she is looking for something to give to others, or for use within the church – will agree with the balance, emphasis, or even the detail of every contribution. Some will wish that more had been said more fully and distinctively at certain points; others, perhaps, will wish that the contributors had left certain things unsaid. There is, of course, much that (of necessity) has to remain unsaid in a book with this scope and aim: many truths of historic, Biblical Christianity are not treated directly here, but rather assumed, and some might have desired that certain of these would have received more explicit coverage – the sovereignty of God, the nature of saving faith, or the fall of man and sin, for example. Different individuals will doubtless have different opinions at this point, but those seeking to use this book for pastoral or teaching purposes should be able to supplement this volume with other appropriate material, and flesh out, explain or clarify particular or specific issues along the way.
Importantly, this book not only engages the mind, but also penetrates to and warms the heart, and works upon the will. It is a stimulus to faith, and most of the essays give the reader something to do as a result of its reading. The contributors’ own faith is clearly in evidence, and they point consistently and repeatedly to Christ. Their evident and explicit dependence on Scripture is welcome, regardless of minor differences of opinion. That in itself will be a valuable lesson to the young Christian.
Wisely employed, this book could be a useful resource for churches, a handy tool for pastors, and a great help not only to new believers, but also to all who wish to advance in their understanding of some of the basic truths of Scripture.
Could this be a case of wanting for the sake of having? Shame it’s going as a job lot – it sounds like there are countless tasty nuggets in there, some to be gleaned, and others potentially to be sold off.
I can’t see many minister’s wives being happy with this many concubines . . . and who would have the space?
HT: Tim Challies.
“You must be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” – John Owen
26. You only learn to deal with brambles by experience. It is not until you start to deal with your own garden that you realise how hard it is to keep it clear, appreciate the cleanliness of the gardens of others, and start to learn the hard lessons about removing brambles and other weeds for yourself.
- You only learn to deal with sins, and realise how hard it is to deal with sins, when you set about the process of mortification. You can take advice, and learn from the counsel and experience of others, but you must often learn for yourself what sin looks like, and how far down you must dig in order to remove it. Only then do you realise the labour and toil that produces and maintains a life of holiness in a mature saint.
27. Someone who never bothers with gardening, or allows someone else to do all the work for them, has no idea how hard it is to deal with brambles.
- The pain, labour, and painstaking approach that the mortification of sin requires are alien concepts to those who never truly strive against wickedness in their own lives.
28. If the garden has been without sun for some time, and it eventually starts to shine, it seems that it prompts growth in the brambles most readily and quickly.
- God’s blessings often are the cause in men – even good men – of prompting their sins along with or over their sanctification. Take care that when the sun of blessing shines it does not prompt the appearance of sins.
29. Brambles will grow in just about any ground, no matter how apparently infertile.
- Sins need little nourishment. A man needs divine help to manifest grace, but sin grows naturally in the rockiest spiritual soil.
30. Brambles do bear fruit, often juicy and sweet, and good to the taste, but plucking it is often painful, the taste does not last long, and, when the fruit disappears, the thorns remain.
- A sin often has its genuine pleasures, but they are never enjoyed without danger, pain and injury.
- Once the pleasure of sin has passed, the pain, danger, and injuries will remain.
A penetrating and thought-provoking post from Tim Brister about preparation for the arrival of a tropical storm, and the parallels – positively and negatively considered – for the great and terrible day of the Lord. You may not have had Tim’s experience, but you can certainly learn from it.
Tim Challies points us to an obituary allegedly printed in a newspaper called The Times-Herald. To be honest, there is something that smacks of the spoof about this (including the fact that it is a picture and not a page with active links, as well as the fact that there is no record of this on the paper’s actual website).
However, even if it is a spoof, it still makes chilling reading as the kind of obituary that many families might actually wish they had the gall to write. How are you living? How will you be remembered?
A few days ago Carl Trueman drew attention to an article in the London Review of Books about Neil Entwistle, recently convicted of the murder of his American wife and their infant daughter. Trueman draws attention to the description and analysis of the strange psychological dislocation felt by the English when they emigrate to the US; to the concise but illuminating insights into the English class system, alleging that all you really need to know about an Englishman is what class he belongs to and where he went to school (acknowledging with a degree of tongue-in-cheekitude that as “a lower middle class midlander who went to a state grammar school,” all his insecurities and prejudices are thus explained); and, to the subversion of reality by the internet, giving scope for immaturity, lunacy and all points in between.
I have a number of interests here, particularly with regard to the first point. First of all, I am married to an American myself. Secondly, I have for several years been nipping back and forth across the Atlantic as part of my responsibilities both before and after I entered the pastorate, and like to think that these two things give me some insight into that dislocation (though not of the same degree as Mr Trueman), not least through the reverse experience of my wife. Thirdly, when I came to the end of my university degree I was considering pursuing research in the field of postmodern literature. I was fascinated by the sense of displacement in so much of postmodernity (a sense of distance and unreality only heightened by the ubiquitous and all-encompassing interweb). I wanted to ask the question, “Who has a home in a postmodern world: everyone or no-one?” I decided against the Ph.D. route, for which I am not ungrateful. I also know that I would have got into trouble (again) for a Christian perspective: I had been ticked off once or twice during my degree for writing sermons rather than essays (ah, the inglorious day I tried to explain to a kindly but godless Bunyan specialist that because she was not a Christian she could not properly understand The Pilgrim’s Progress!).
This morning, while out jogging, I was running over some of these thoughts in my mind. It was the issue of displacement and dislocation that most stirred me, as it often does. Where is the Christian at home?
I am not denying for one moment that there is a reasonable degree of familiarity with the place to which we are most accustomed, and that this is ordained by a God who divided a world by languages, and has established and governs nations and states. I am not denying or defying the attachment to one’s own country and people we naturally feel.
But where is the Christian at home?
The Biblical answer is that the child of God is a stranger in the earth – anywhere in the earth. One of the early and defining declarations of Psalm 119 is the cry, “I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide your commandments from me.” It is as a pilgrim that the Christian looks to his God, seeking to be instructed and guided in the manner of his life as he makes his way through an often hostile environment.
Abraham’s experience in Canaan, the Israelites in Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, and then their exile from their homeland – the land of God, and particularly the temple, where God was particularly pleased to make himself known and reveal his glory – are prominent Old Testament motifs which point forward to the reality of the people of God under the new covenant. When Daniel, in his upper room with his windows open toward Jerusalem, got down on his knees and prayed, he was an alien, geographically and spiritually, looking toward home, the place where God dwelt (the same God, note, who appeared to Ezekiel in demonstration that he was not tied to Jerusalem).
This sense of pilgrimage and its accompanying displacement and dislocation are emphasised in the New Testament. No-one was more a pilgrim than our Lord Jesus: come from heaven, even in this world he had nowhere to lay his head (Mt 8.20). He himself warned his disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6.19-21).
Writing to the Philippians, Paul speaks to Roman citizens – with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities attendant upon it – who were nevertheless at a distance from Rome, using that experience to emphasise a far higher one: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself” (Phil 3.20-21). The message: you may live here, but you belong there.
Consider the writer to the Hebrews, speaking of the faith of Abraham and his descendants: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11.13-16). Of Moses he writes: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb 11.24-27). The application: like them and countless others, run with endurance the race that is set before you. We are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, and should serve God accordingly. Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come .
Peter begs his readers “as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1Pt 2.11-12). Our lives are to be marked by heavenliness precisely because we are sojourners and pilgrims, and that heavenliness is its own potent apologetic.
Does not mean that we despise the good things that we have been given to enjoy (cf.1Tim 6.17)? By no means! But it does most assuredly mean that we must cultivate a sense of pilgrimage. We are strangers in the earth: we do not belong here, and that is not the anguished wail of confusion and loss that so often comes from the throats of bewildered men and women, but the triumphant declaration of a people who have a heavenly home to which they are travelling.
As a Christian, I am displaced; I am perpetually dislocated. I will be until I cross the river and join my family in the presence of God. I will be until the return of Christ, when – glorified with him – I shall find my eternal home in the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Do I have a sense of that? Do I cultivate a sense of that? I may be more or less comfortable in various places. I may be more attuned to certain cultures. I may have an abundance or a pittance of this world’s goods. But my heart and my treasure, my aspirations and expectations, belong where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Those are the things I am to seek, and those the things on which I am to set my mind (Col 3.1-2). When I look at what this world has to offer, I am to see the world as a thing created by God, in which I am to have dominion and to exercise a stewardship while I am here. But I am also to see it as ‘the world,’ ethically designated as opposed to God and all that he has revealed himself to be in Christ, a world which has been crucified to me, and to which I am crucified, through the cross of Jesus Christ (Gal 6.14). Holding this world lightly, I should be always ready to leave it.
Christ went to the cross to prepare many mansions for us in his Father’s house: let us not dishonour him by building and clinging to our mansions here. I am a pilgrim here, but I shall be forever at home there.
A gentleman by the name of John Dyer has recently gone live with a fascinating and potentially very helpful site reviewing and recommending commentaries for Bible study, the aim being to enable Bible students at all levels to make good, informed decisions about which commentaries they should purchase and use by providing a constantly updated bibliography of commentaries on each book of the Bible and collecting reviews, ratings, and prices of commentaries from a variety of sources. Worth keeping an eye on.
HT: Tim Challies.
Consider the man born into a family of terrorists. The man’s father had rebelled against the King of the kingdom in which he lived, and – having so rebelled – all his posterity were brought up to hate and fight the King who ruled in this kingdom. It is to this family that the man belongs. Having been falsely taught all his life that the sovereign is cruel, vindictive, proud and unjust, and hating him as a tyrant accordingly, he has racked up a long list of foul crimes and misdemeanours against the King, all of which bring him under sentence of death. This life of rebellion takes its toll on the terrorist, cut off as he is from all that makes life worth living in the kingdom. His misery and wretchedness increase day by day as he slowly loses his foolish fight. Finally, he receives an overture of peace from the King. The King knows of the rebel’s appalling condition, and has had compassion on the man. Together with his son, the Prince, and his Lord Chancellor, the King has devised a way by means of which, without any detriment to the King’s justice and glory, the rebel might be entirely forgiven, and – even more – brought into the King’s royal family. He publishes this offer by means of his ambassadors. At first, the terrorist cannot believe that such an offer can be true. After all has heard and believed of this king and his character, after all he has done to merit death, can the alleged tyrant really be ready to forgive all his sins and actually adopt him as his own? Then the Lord Chancellor himself comes to press upon him the reality of the king’s free and gracious offer: the Prince himself will take the entire punishment that the law demands and which the rebel deserves. The rebel, finally persuaded, gratefully accepts his merciful terms and embraces all that is bound up in leaving his life of crime. The Lord Chancellor conducts him back to the King’s palace, where he is inducted into the life of a true son of the King, dearly beloved of the sovereign, and heir to all that the Prince himself is entitled to receive. Overwhelmed, scarcely believing his mercies, he yet knows that to him now belongs all the freedom of the kingdom. However, it is worth noting that while his relationship to the King has altered radically in some respects, there are some underpinning realities which have not altered. The King has become his father, with all the blessings involved in his adoption. The weight of the law as an instrument of condemnation has ceased to hang over him. But has the father now ceased to be a King? By no means! And is the ex-rebel any less obliged to obedience to the law of the kingdom because he has been delivered from its condemnation? By no means! His obligations to obedience have been by no means reduced, but only heightened. He is all the more obliged – love and gratitude and position all oblige him – to embrace and obey the law of his King and his father. He has all the obligations that belong to him as one under the royal authority, as well as all the obligations that belong to him as an adopted son, overwhelmed by gratitude for the undeserved privileges bestowed upon him. It is the same law that was in place while he was a terrorist, the very same law as condemned him to death for treason. The law has not changed, and he now cheerfully obeys that law both as a subject under its royal authority and as a son in his father’s household. The royal law is still in effect, is as potent and extensive as it ever was, except that now it is profoundly, readily, willingly embraced by one who has come to have that law truly impressed upon him as the continuing standard of life in the kingdom of his father, which his father the King, his natural son, the Prince, and the Lord Chancellor have all seen fit to honour in bringing him from the condemnation of death to life and to liberty.
Allegories are imperfect, and this one no less than most, but I am that rebel. I have been condemned by God’s law. And yet, by grace, I have been redeemed from my sins through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, atoning for my ungodliness, being called by the Father and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. God having justified me through faith, I have been set apart to him, called to a life of holiness, and adopted into his family. I am no longer condemned by the law, but the law still exposes sin in me. I am no longer condemned by the law, but the law still expresses my Father’s will for what is right and holy and just. I am no longer condemned by the law, but that law no longer presses upon me from without, rather springs up from within, having been written on my heart. I am no longer condemned by the law, but have come to recognise it as good and just, and embrace it with a willingness and readiness to obey it in all its parts. It is that law that is now written not on tablets of stone, but on the fleshy tablet of my heart. It is as a son, as a redeemed man, that the law becomes my delight as well as my duty.
Alan Dunn provides part two of three in his critical review of The Shack.
Last Sunday I preached at Dudley Baptist Church, erstwhile home of Pastor Alun McNabb. I have been there once before, and we stopped over with family near Coventry on the way there.
In the morning I preached from Romans 8.34-35, on the four pillars of a Christian’s confidence: the death, resurrection, session, and intercession of Christ Jesus. Resting upon this foundation, we can challenge anyone and anything to condemn us, to separate us from the love of Christ, confident that no-one and nothing can do so. I felt some help.
We spent the day with Richard & Louise Wilmot and their family. Richard is a deacon and organises the Sunday School (which is on its summer break). The four children took my son, Caleb, to their hearts, and he had a whale of a time trying to keep up.
In the evening I preached from Galatians 6.14 on glorying only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We considered those things in which Paul does not glory, in contrast to the Judaisers of Galatia who gloried in the flesh. Paul could have gloried more abundantly than they, but casts it all aside. So, what is it in which Paul glories? He glories in the cross of Jesus Christ – the very thing which the religious and wise men of this world despise. But the man who glories in a crucified Saviour must embrace the double crucifixion that always follows: the crucifixion of the world to himself and of himself to the world. This is Biblical Christianity, and one which we are all too loath to embrace with our whole hearts. I was more diffuse than in the morning, and was struggling to ride a horse that was running hard.
There were some very encouraging comments at the door, and some more critical though positive feedback. There are some delightful saints in the church, as well as one good friend from my university years.
We drove home afterwards – I prefer waking up in my own bed on a Monday morning to having a long drive ahead of me. Today I am tired and dull.