Posts Tagged ‘Lord Jesus Christ’
Ratisbon 7 7. 7 7. 7 7
Save me, Lord, by your great name,
Vindicate me by your strength;
Help from you I humbly claim,
Hear me when I cry at length;
Listen to my pleading voice,
Bid my troubled heart rejoice.
Men oppose me all around;
God is not before their eyes;
Christ himself will stand my ground,
When my enemies arise:
He will punish every foe,
And in truth will bring them low.
God, my helper, I will sing:
He has made my troubles cease.
Sacrifice I freely bring,
Praise the gracious Prince of Peace:
He has cast the wicked down,
My Deliverer wears the crown.
©JRW following Henry Francis Lyte
See all hymns and psalms.
I have a fair bit of preaching and teaching ahead of me in the coming weeks. I was thinking of some of the challenges that lie before me, and I was reminded of the counsels that follow, things that I should do well to bear in mind. Most of them should never be forgotten.
Alexander Somerville (1813-1889) was a man of God. A friend of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, he studied with him formally and informally, and they spurred one another on and stirred one another up to love and good works. After spending much of his pastoral life in Scotland, in his latter years he took up a sort of roving ministry in India, Australasia, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, South Africa, Greece and Western Asia. One of his concerns was always to train and encourage men to preach. The following is the guidance he provided for such men.
Rules for sermon writing
- Pray without ceasing for clear views of your subject, for help in composition, in committing to memory, and in delivery.
- Pray without ceasing for the people you are to address.
- Remember you are to speak to souls who must either be impressed or hardened by the sermon you deliver.
- Write for Christ and of Christ.
- Remember that the Holy Spirit not merely can alone show to the heart the things that are Christ’s, but that He must be recognised as doing so by us. Keep the Spirit’s peculiar office and work continually in view.
- Remember that what you write must have eternal consequences.
- Write as one who must give an account to Christ for so doing.
- Write for a people who must give an account to Christ for the manner in which they hear.
- Never write for the sake of magnifying yourself.
- Remember the flock of Christ must not be fed with ingenuities, but with the bread of life.
- Write from the heart with simplicity, plainness (so that a little child may comprehend), and godly sincerity.
- Pray for other congregations … for your own companions in the work of preaching.
- Never write without this before you – and read at least three times in the composition of each discourse.
I preached a few weeks ago on the bond of the church, and appreciated Stephen Um’s perspectives on the challenges of the same principle (though wouldn’t it be wonderful if he had a cousin called Barry Er, or something?). Here he applies the principle of renunciation of all things for Christ, the relative priority of our attachment to Christ:
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that Christ is calling Easterners to leave their families, and Westerners to leave their careers. Rather, I am saying that the call to discipleship is a fundamental redirection of our human existence, a reorientation, an all-embracing turning about of our lives in order that our affections might be placed primarily upon Christ. And, this being the case, the call to discipleship will cut through and across every culture. So, for the progressive, part of the call will be to make sure that Christ is more important than one’s work. We must find our identity in being a disciple of Christ, rather than as disciples of our career development. As for the traditionalist, the challenge may be in making certain that Christ takes precedence in one’s life over and above family, community, and society. We must make sure that Christ is the supreme treasure in our lives.
Whatever the case may be, as disciples of Christ we are challenged to give him our ultimate allegiance, no matter our cultural background or social location. This being the case, our comfort and our energies must be derived from the fact that Christ not only transcends human culture, but he also entered into it. And, having entered into culture, he not only challenges the reigning paradigms, but also promises to redeem all that is broken about them.
It is not, perhaps, a locus classicus for the pastoral office, but Genesis 31.36-42 certainly gives us some impression of the liabilities and responsibilities of the shepherd as understood by the men who used that phrase of their protectors and rulers. Perhaps a similar picture begins to emerge in 1 Samuel 17.34-36, where David tells Saul that “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” So, are there any incidental lessons to learn from Jacob’s defence?
Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me?
Shepherding is a thing in which there is much scope for wickedness and all manner of abuses with regard to the flock and the One whom we serve. There are many trespasses and sins to which a shepherd may be prone.
Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both!
It is possible nevertheless to live with that necessary degree of blamelessness (1Tim 3.2) which commends one’s God and one’s service to him and to his flock, and a shepherd is entitled to prove his faithfulness should occasion require it.
These twenty years I have been with you;
Shepherding is often a long-term investment. It is not a matter to be quickly taken up nor a duty to be swiftly and lightly relinquished.
your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young,
There is a tenderness required of the shepherd, a care for the weakest and neediest of the flocks.
and I have not eaten the rams of your flock.
The shepherd does not take advantage of his position, either defrauding the owner or abusing his privileges.
That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you;
There are beasts, and they rip into the flock. There are wolves, lions, and bears with which the shepherd must contend. Sometimes they get through.
I bore the loss of it.
The shepherd takes responsibility for his charges. Their blood is on his hands if he is neglectful or careless in his duties.
You required it from my hand,
The shepherd is accountable to the one who commits the flock into his hand. The shepherd must give an account for the manner in which he has discharged his duty.
whether stolen by day or stolen by night.
There are predators and thieves who lurk in every place, waiting to strike out of light or out of darkness. The shepherd must be constantly on guard.
There I was!
Talk about “incarnational ministry”! This faithful shepherd is among his flock, not sitting comfortably at a safe distance but sharing their experience and feeding, protecting and nurturing them wherever they may be. He is with them in the truest sense.
In the day the drought consumed me,
The days are long and hot, and the shepherd is worn down by the labour of them.
and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes.
The nights are long and cold, and the shepherd is wearied by his constant endeavours as he keeps watch over the flock. He gives up a degree of necessary rest in order to discharge his responsibilities.
Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.
What a mercy that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Great Shepherd in whose footsteps we follow and whose flock we tend, is more faithful than Laban ever was: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1Pt 5.2-4).
Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”
Here is the hope and consolation of every true shepherd. There may be no rewards on earth. There may be little to show for his years of affliction and labour, but – if God be with him – there is a reward to come: he does not walk away empty-handed if, in dependence upon God’s grace, he has faithfully discharged his responsibility. He may have nothing in the present age, but he is rich in the age to come.
Seeing all this, should we not be the more thankful for that Great Shepherd of the sheep who in his life and by his death has secured the everlasting good of the flock of God’s pasture, and who will see the labour of his soul and be satisfied?
How glorious is the thought that there is a family even upon earth of which the Son of God holds Himself a part; a family, the loving bond and reigning principle of which is subjection to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so embracing high and low, rude and refined, bond and free, of every kindred and every age that have tasted that the Lord is gracious; a family whose members can at once understand each other and take sweetest counsel together, though meeting for the first time from the ends of the earth – while with their nearest relatives, who are but the children of this world, they have no sympathy in such things; a family which death cannot break up, but only transfer to their Father’s house! Did Christians but habitually realize and act upon this, as did their blessed Master, what would be the effect upon the Church and upon the world?
David Brown, The Four Gospels (Banner of Truth), 76.
The fact that the world is not ending today does not mean that the world will not end. As the apostle Peter writes in his second letter:
Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Saviour, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they wilfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (2Pt 3.1-10)
Quite rightly, genuine Christians repudiate the nonsensical numerology of Harold Camping, knowing from the Scriptures that the day has not been revealed and will not be revealed to men. Peter makes that very point above: the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. A thief does not inform you in advance of the precise date on which he intends to pay a visit.
The Lord Christ himself assured us both of the coming end and of the impossibility of knowing when it will come, even as he warned us that it will come:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Mt 24.35-39)
So, to quote the over-used and much-abused billboard, the end is nigh, and, if we are Christians, we have a difficult task. We must at once prove from the Scriptures that there is a day of judgment at hand, and also that there is no way of knowing when that day will be. We must expose the foolishness of false predictions, and at the same time expose the folly of those who imagine that there is no such day. Furthermore, we must ourselves remember that such a day is coming, and that it should have a profound, pressing and perpetual impact upon the way in which we live. We must not allow the scorn of the world nor the errors of those who take the name but not the truth and the life of Christ’s disciples to dull our awareness. We must take pains that our distaste for such false teachers does not become a carnal scorn that actually undermines our own faith and the platform from which we must warn all men. Peter goes on:
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation– as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2Pt 3.11-18)
So our preaching and our living must reflect the uncertain certainty of the last day, and we must think and speak and act with that edge that comes from the fact that we know that such a day is coming, and that we cannot know when it will come.
There may well be rapture parties held before the day is out, where men will be “eating and drinking” as if there was nothing to fear, and some will pillow their heads tonight full of scorn and perhaps, even, in their heart of hearts, relief. People will go on living as before. That would be foolish. It is not today. It may well be tomorrow. Faith in Christ, lived out every day, is the only way to be ready.
What I think what vast numbers are hasting the downward road; how few walk the narrow way; and, comparatively speaking, what little success attends our preaching, and what little ground Christ gets in the world, my heart fails and is discouraged. But it did my heart good last night to read Isaiah xlii, 4, “He shall not fail or be discouraged till he have set judgement in the earth!” I could not but reflect that Christ had infinitely more to discourage him that I can have to discourage me; and yet he persevered! But, methought, judgement is not yet set in the earth, except in a small degree. And what then? May I not take courage for that the promise has not yet spent its force? Christ has much more yet to do in the world; and, numerous as his enemies yet are, and few his friends, his heart does not fail him; nor shall it, till he has spread salvation throughout the earth, and leavened the whole lump.
Andrew Fuller to Benjamin Francis [?], Horsley, 3 July 1788; Regent’s Part College, Oxford: Angus Library, Fuller 4/5/1.
But we’ve heard the music, and for all the seeming intelligence of their explanations, we know what the music does to us. Those notes may be nothing in isolation, but in aggregate they form a song more lovely than the lectures of learned scoffers. We know this melody is meant to evoke earlier ones, and as soon as we hear the music again, the denials of the little men behind the microphones lose all power to compel. The strains of hope and longing that we have heard awaken faith and conviction and boldness, even as the academics drone on in their boring refusal to enjoy the music.
The one who wrote the music and conducted the orchestra came, and still people refused to hear his song. They did not recognize the one who was foretold, whose pattern was prefigured, whose destiny it was to unlock the door to life, lay the foundation for faith, design the theater for God’s glory, and build the temple of the Holy Spirit, but the hoped for hero really has come. And he’s coming back. He came the first time as a man of sorrows to be acquainted with grief. When he comes again his robe will be sprinkled with the blood of his enemies who lie trampled beneath his feet. He will accomplish God’s purpose and fill the lands with God’s glory like water fills the seas.
Some of the language is a touch flowery, but you should read all of this. You can excuse a little ripeness in the language when the theme is so rich!
I frequently hear persons exhorted to give their hearts to Christ, which is a very proper exhortation; but that is not the gospel. Salvation comes from something that Christ gives you, not something that you give to Christ. The giving of your heart to Christ follows after the receiving from Christ of eternal life by faith. It is easy to work our friends up so that they say, “We will give our hearts to Christ,” but they may never do so, after all. If, with broken heart and contrite sigh, they had confessed their guilt, and had penitently cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” they might not have looked quite so well, but there would have been more hope of them. We cannot come to Christ unless Christ comes to us, and gives us a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
C. H. Spurgeon
My friend Alan Dunn has penned a brief piece trying to make Biblical sense of the tsunami. Does the Bible have anything to say about such disasters? Is there any hope in a world wracked by such tragedies? Alan’s answer, drawn from the Bible, is a resounding “Yes.” For a longer and more developed argument, you can download Catastrophes. I am grateful to Alan for his permission to make these available.
Existentialists have a word for the feeling of disconnection, the free-fall into the void of subjective meaninglessness, the disorienting bewilderment of detachment from everyone, everything and even from self. The word is “anomie:” without law, without order; chaos and confusion caused by a disconnection from everything secure, and familiar. All points of reference are gone and existence is intrinsically strange. The pictures coming from Japan depict anomie as people meander through once familiar neighborhoods now strange and severed from any point of connection. Anomie is the feeling of death, the severance of the unities that God created to constitute the fabric of life.
Does Scripture have anything to say to men when an earthquake and a tsunami so alter the landscape of life that one no longer has points of connection to the very earth upon which we walk? What do we say to people whose very relationship to the ground itself is severed?
First, we need to understand that God established a relationship between our bodies and the earth. God created man from the dust of the ground and named him “Adam,” meaning “red earth” (Gen 2:7-9,20). This “very good” creation is one in which Adam is essentially united to the earth. He is made of the same material. He lives in a symbiotic reciprocal relationship of mutual interdependence with the earth. By his labor, Man would cultivate and keep the earth (Gen 2:15) and the earth would respond, yielding sustenance for man’s life. Man is not man apart from his union with the earth. For man to be man there must be a cosmos, a physical world over which he has dominion. God relates to the earth through the headship of the Man and as goes Adam‟s relationship with God, so goes earth’s relationship to God. But realize is that man is not man apart from the earth. He is red earth, animated dirt, made of the dust of the ground: he is Adam.
Second, we must understand the impact of the Fall on man’s relationship to the earth. When Adam sinned, he brought the earth under the sentence of the curse (Gen 3:17-19). In grace, God salvaged the original created order, but the dynamic of death now conditions man’s relationship to the earth. Man still exercises dominion, but the life-union between him and the ground is broken. The earth was subjected to futility (Rom 8:20,21) and although by his labor Man still obtains his food, he also harvests thorns and thistles, and experiences physical dissolution as his relationship to the earth disintegrates and he returns back to dust. The earth likewise is in slavery to corruption – not to moral corruption, but to decomposition, entropy, decay, rot. It will wear out like a garment (Isa 51:6). The ground has been judged through Adam with the sentence of death. Therefore from one perspective, earthquakes and tsunamis are evidence of the Fall: a world broken, convulsing in the throes of death; a world bound to the destiny of its Adam – for as it goes with Adam, so it goes with earth. Adam and his planet live or die together.
Thirdly, we hasten to bring to bear the grace of God, for this fallen earth is yet the stage upon which God’s redemptive love and saving purposes are being worked out. Immediately after the Fall, the planet was salvaged from total death. God intervened and sustained the original order of creation and announced that He would send the promised Seed who would crush the head of the Serpent and deliver the fallen cosmos from the curse (Gen 3:15). That Seed has come. He is Jesus Christ: the incarnate God/Man. His incarnation is crucial to the salvation that He has wrought for this tsunami world. Jesus taught us to see earthquakes and tsunamis not only as visitations of judgment, or as precursors to the great earthquake which characterizes Final Judgment (cf. Rev 6:12; 8:5; 11:13,19: 16:18). Jesus also spoke of earthquakes using a hopeful metaphor, albeit a painful one: the metaphor of a woman writhing in birth pangs. Earthquakes are part of those things which are the beginning of birth pangs (Mat 24:8; Mk 13:8; cf. Jn 16:20-21; 1 Thes 5:3). With the coming of Jesus, this present order of creation has been impregnated with the life of the age to come and is in the agonizing process of giving birth to what Jesus calls the regeneration (Mat 19:28; cf. Acts 3:21): the renovation of this fallen creation into the new physics of the age to come. Throughout this age earthquakes, like labor contractions, will erupt and relax in limited ways and progressively intensify until the climatic contraction which will grip the whole world in a final hour of testing (Lk 21:34-36; Rv 3:10). That hour will entail the purging fire of judgment (2 Pt 3:3-7) during which the present order of things will be destroyed (2 Pt 3:10): loosed, untied, unhinged – when the unities of creation are finally severed in a cosmic death brought on by death-cursed Adam.
But there is hope for this tsunami world: resurrection hope, glorious hope!
In 1 Cor 15:44,45 Paul calls the resurrected Jesus, the last Adam. In resurrection victory, He has obtained a new order of human existence: life-giving Spirit – resurrected human life, a body alive with the vitality of God‟s Spirit as its animating principle. This is in contrast with Adam, the first man’s natural body. Paul not only contrasts our resurrection body with our post-Fall, sin-riddled, perishable, dishonored, weak body. He also contrasts Jesus’ resurrection body with Adam’s natural body which became a living soul (citing Gen 2:7 concerning Adam’s pre-Fall body). Jesus‟ resurrection body is more glorious than Adam’s original created body! The point is this: by His resurrection, Jesus has become the last Adam. Now remember, Adam is not “Adam” without the earth, the dirt, the planet which must be bound to him. Without the ground, Adam is not man. For man to be man, he must have earth. Therefore Jesus, the resurrected last Adam, must have a resurrected earth! This tsunami world has hope because Jesus was resurrected and His resurrected body is the guarantee of the resurrected earth. Originally the earth was created then Adam was taken from it and placed upon it. In the new creation, the last Adam is resurrected and the recreated cosmos of necessity follows in His train. Jesus’ physicality is this planet’s only hope. Jesus is the incarnate enfleshed Son of God. He was physically conceived in the womb of a virgin by the power of the Spirit. He physically lived in sinless obedience to God and succeeded where Adam failed. He physically died on the cross bearing the punishment of death that Adam incurred. He was physically buried in the tomb. He physically rose from the grave. He physically ascended to the throne of God. He will physically return at the end of this age to transform our bodies and all things into conformity with His resurrection glory (Phil 3:20-21). Ours is a flesh and blood salvation, a water and mud salvation, a space and time salvation. All who are in Christ inherit His Kingdom of unimaginable glory: a recreated cosmos depicted in the final chapters of Revelation as a pristine Edenic garden in which a resurrected humanity begins again, only now remade in union with the last Adam, gloriously conformed to the first born among many brethren (Rom 8:29).
God made the earth and then He made Adam from the earth and then Adam went through death back into the dust. Jesus, incarnate sinless Man, went through death into the dust and conquered death as He bodily rose again, and as the last Adam, He pulls the dirt which is this planet with Him out of its grave into resurrection glory. Death into resurrection. It is the paradigm of redemption, a redemption for which this planet eagerly longs: the redemption of the bodies of the sons of God (Rom 8:18-23) and the cosmic regeneration. The way to that glorious regeneration is the way of the cross. It is the way Jesus went. It is the way we who will populate the new heavens and new earth must go, and with us, at Christ’s return, so too it is the way our planet will go. But as the earth undergoes its own sentence of death, it will convulse and give us anomie. At times it won’t look familiar to us, and we’ll feel separated from it, as though it has turned against us. Yes, we’re being judged. But we who are in Christ have no condemnation and we’re being saved! We see the earth’s convulsions as eschatological contractions which will result in the birth of a new and glorious cosmos of resurrection life. This world has been impregnated with the life of the age to come. The Spirit of the risen Christ has been given to His spiritually resurrected people, and the world writhes in labor pains, awaiting the birthing of our resurrected bodies so that with us, it too will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom 8:21).
If we would experience that glory, we must get into Jesus. Jesus, the resurrected Lord, the last Adam, is our only physical connection to the world to come. This world and its works will be burned up, but all who are in Jesus, as those who were in Noah’s ark, will be saved to populate this same but revitalized cosmos where we will live and labor for eternity, making the entire universe the temple of our covenant keeping God.
So next time you sense anomie, that bewildering sense of disconnection from this world and this life, exercise faith in your risen Lord. The Spirit in you will give you a sense of being securely connected to the resurrected Jesus and assure you that your connection to Him is more solid than the ground beneath your feet. Lift up your head and know that your redemption is drawing nigh. And begin singing: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
Banner of Truth, 2010, 208pp., paperback, £7.50
Despite a title that begs a sarcastic response about the appropriateness of a whole book devoted to Mr Olyott’s shortcomings as a theologue, this volume makes the stirring claim that without a proper appreciation of Hebrews, Christians will misunderstand the Old Testament and fail to grasp the past, present and future work of the Lord Jesus. One could not ask for many better guides than Mr Olyott to address such failings: this volume is the condensed product of forty years gathering the fruit of the Letter to the Hebrews. Direct, simple, pastoral, and pungent, there is little waste or unnecessary complexity here: more difficult passages are made to yield up straightforward principles (“Olyott’s Razor”?) without pretending that there are not deep truths to ponder. The whole is profoundly Christ-centred, as it must be if faithfully expounding this book. The author himself attests that he intends this not as a “last word” but as a “first word” on Hebrews, a brief but not shallow guide through the letter that should satisfy our early cravings, but hopefully stir up a deeper and stronger appetite.
I have been listening to the latest Connected Kingdom podcast from “the odd couple,” David Murray and Tim Challies. I was intrigued to hear them discussing the fall-out from Rob Bell’s new book, and asking whether or not the wider church really believes in hell anyway. Surely, they reason, if we really believed in hell we would be doing more to take the gospel to the lost?
Over the last few days I have been putting the finishing touches to the manuscript of what I hope will be my next book, with the working title The Broken-Hearted Evangelist. I finally submitted that manuscript to the publisher yesterday, and – though I have no idea how long it will be before it is available – it is intended, at least in part, to address the issue of a right response to the realities of judgement and salvation.
As a taster, here is the draft preface of the current manuscript. Not sure how much of it will survive the editing process, but hopefully it will give a sense of the nature and scope and direction of the book. I will keep you posted on progress, God willing.
There is nothing that more glorifies God than the accomplishment of His saving purposes in His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you know and believe that? There is nothing more important to a man than the destiny of his immortal soul. Do you know and believe that? There is a heaven to be gained and there is a hell from which to flee, and our relationship to the Lord Jesus is the difference between the two. Do you know and believe that? Only those who repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Do you know and believe that? The saints of God are sent by God into the world in order to preach that gospel by which sinners are saved. Do you know and believe that?
It is easy to answer such questions with a gutless orthodoxy. Lively faith in Christ grasps spiritual realities in a way that galvanizes the believer. All truth – whether of God’s grace to us or of our duty to God – bears fruit in us only insofar as we are connected to Christ by faith. This being so, says John Owen,
he alone understands divine truth who doeth it: John vii.17. There is not, therefore, any one text of Scripture which presseth our duty unto God, that we can so understand as to perform that duty in an acceptable manner, without an actual regard unto Christ, from whom alone we receive ability for the performance of it, and in or through whom alone it is accepted with God.
John Owen, Christologia in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 1:82.
We cannot pretend that we have understood divine truth unless we are living it. We cannot pretend that we know and believe the truth about men and souls and heaven and hell and salvation unless it is making a difference to the way in which we think and feel and pray and speak and act.
A vigorous and practical concern for the lost, growing out of a desire for God’s glory in man’s salvation, is an eminently Christlike thing and a hallmark of healthy Christianity. By such a standard, there are many unhealthy churches and unhealthy Christians; by such a standard, and to my great grief, I am not well myself.
While I accept that there can be an unbalanced and crippling expectation and even unbiblical obsession with some aspects of evangelism and “mission” (as the portentous modern singular would have it!), there is an opposite and perhaps, in our day, greater danger that believers and churches enjoying possession of a great deposit of truth nevertheless do not know it. If they did, they would be doing something.
It is very easy to be up in arms, for example, about current assaults on what can so calmly be described as the doctrine of hell. “Of course there is a hell!” we protest, offended and disturbed that someone could deny what is so plainly written in the Word of God. Is there a hell? What difference has it made? What have you done differently because there is a hell? Is its reality driving our thoughts, words and deeds? Many of us who have entered the kingdom have come perilously close to the flames of the pit. We have felt its fire, and yet we have, perhaps, forgotten that from which we have been delivered. The urgency with which we fled to Christ ourselves has perhaps been replaced with a casual awareness of spiritual reality that never energizes us to do anything for those who are themselves in danger of eternal punishment.
The same could be said of heaven, of Christ’s atonement for sinners, of God’s grace and mercy, of the freeness of the gospel, of the excellence of salvation. “Yes, yes, yes,” the monotonous ticking off of doctrines received continues. But what difference does it make to you and to me?
It is my heartfelt contention that the truths we believe ought to make the people of God broken-hearted evangelists. My prayer for this book is that the Lord Christ would make its author and its readers truly to understand the gospel duty which God has laid upon His church, and therefore to make us willing to perform the work we have been given to do, and by His strength to make us able to do it, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.
Review: “From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law”
Philip S. Ross
Christian Focus (Mentor), 2010, 448pp., paperback, £12.99
With wit, verve and insight, Mr Ross sets himself against the apparently-growing consensus that the threefold division of the law is without basis in Scripture and illegitimate in theology, taking in as he does so some of the typical corollaries of such a position. He begins with a demonstration of the historical validity of this perspective, before leading us on a sequential trawl through the Scriptures, beginning with Moses, heading swiftly and surely to the New Testament and the experience and teaching of Christ and his apostles, reaching satisfying and searching conclusions, not least in the central matters of the gospel. While the scholarly depth and breadth of research is readily evident, the book is straightforward to read (helped by that lively style). Those who themselves hold to the author’s perspective will find much to encourage, instruct and stimulate, not least in those areas where there may be different nuances of understanding. Those who disagree must face and reckon with the gracious but forthright challenge that Mr Ross holds out. An excellent book, and warmly recommended.
It is hard not to notice the Bell-shaped brouhaha brewing on the other side of the Atlantic (see Taylor, DeYoung and Johnson) and probably intending to blow east at some point. In terms of accessible Biblical resources for thinking through the issues of heaven and hell and the false teachings of universalism and annihilationism, I could not recommend a better beginning than Ted Donnelly’s Heaven and Hell (Banner of Truth, buy at Westminster Bookstore/Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com): it really is outstanding as a clear and straightforward introduction to the realities, issues and applications.
But this is not about Bell or the brouhaha, though prompted by it. While I was unwell over the last few days, one of the things I read was From Death Into Life by William Haslam, an autobiographical volume of a 19th century High Churchman who came under powerful conviction of sin and was converted in the act of preaching a sermon in which his nascent grasp of evangelical truth was beginning to show.
There is no doubt that Haslam was quirky, and had some interesting notions and practices. Nevertheless, he was a man who came to know and feel the awful weight of a condemnation that could be escaped only through fleeing in faith to Jesus. It is was in the context of the building storm about the eternal destiny of souls that I read this powerful passage in which Haslam has an interview with a man who believes the truth about the absolute necessity of true conversion but is not prepared to state it plainly:
“Well,” he said, “but think of all the good men you condemn if you take that position so absolutely.”
Seeing that I hesitated, he went on to say that he “knew many very good men, in and out of the Church of England, who did not think much of conversion, or believe in the necessity of it.”
“I am very sorry for them,” I replied; “but I cannot go back from the position into which, I thank God, He has brought me. It is burned into me that, except a man is converted, he will and must be lost for ever.”
“Come, come, my young friend,” he said, shifting his chair, and then sitting down to another onslaught, “do you mean to say that a man will go to hell if he is not converted, as you call it?”
“Yes, I do; and I am quite sure that if I had died in an unconverted state I should have gone there; and this compels me to believe, also, that what the Scripture says about it is true for every one.”
“But what does the Scripture say?” he interposed. “It says that ‘he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed’ (John 3:18); and in another place, he that believeth not shall be damned’ (Mark 16:16). As surely as the believer is saved and goes to heaven, as surely the unbeliever is lost and must go to hell.”
“Do you mean Gehenna, the place of torment?”
“Yes, I do.”
“This is very dreadful.”
“More dreadful still.” I said, “must be the solemn reality; and therefore, instead of shrinking from the thought and putting it off, I rather let it stir and rouse me to warn unbelievers, so that I may, by any means, stop them on their dangerous path. I think this is the only true and faithful way of showing kindness; and that, on the other hand, it is the most selfish, heartless, and cruel unkindness to let sinners, whether they are religious, moral, reformed, or otherwise, to go on in an unconverted state, and perish.”
“I do not know; I do not wish to know anything about it. I suppose material fire, like every other material thing, is but a shadow of something real. Is it not a fire which shall burn the soul – a fire that never will be quenched – where the worm will never die?”
“Do you really believe all this?”
“Yes,” I said, “and I have reason to do so.” I remembered the anguish of soul I passed through when I was under conviction, and the terrible distress I felt for others whom I had misled.
“When our blessed Lord was speaking to the Jews, and warning them against their unbelief and its fearful consequences, He did not allow any ‘charitable hopes’ to hinder Him from speaking the whole truth. He told them of Lazarus, who died, and went to Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom; and of Dives, who died, and went to Hell, the place of torment” (Luke 16).
“But,” he said, interrupting me, “that is only a parable, or figure of speech.”
“Figure of speech!” I repeated. “Is it a figure of speech that the rich man fared sumptuously, that he died, that he was buried? Is not that literal? Why, then, is it a figure of speech that he lifted up his eyes in torment, and said, ‘I am tormented in this flame’(Luke 16:24). My dear friend, be sure that there is an awful reality in that story – a most solemn reality in the fact of the impassable gulf. If here we do not believe in this gulf, we shall have to know of it hereafter. I never saw and felt,” I continued, “as I do now, that every man is lost, even while on earth, until he is saved, and that if he dies in that unsaved state he will be lost for ever.”
My unknown visitor remained silent for a little time, and I could see that he was in tears. At last he burst out and said, “I am sure you are right. I came to try you upon the three great “R’s” – ‘Ruin,’ ‘Redemption,’ and ‘Regeneration,’ and to see if you really meant what you preached. Now I feel more confirmed in the truth and reality of the Scriptures.”
I thought I had been contending with an unbeliever all along, but instead of this I found that he was a man who scarcely ventured to think out what he believed to its ultimate result – he believed God’s Word, but, like too many, alas! held it loosely.
William Haslam, From Death Into Life (London: Morgan and Scott, n.d.), 74-77.
Holding loosely the Word of God with regard to ruin, redemption and regeneration will cut the nerve of true gospel endeavour. It will remove our urgency, enervate our efforts, and dilute our message. If there is no hell, then there is no need for men to be saved, and the death of Jesus was a monstrous waste. Whoever believes otherwise, and however many ‘good men’ may seem to be condemned, we must cling to and proclaim – with tears – God’s glorious and terrible truths concerning eternity, and concerning the Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1Thes 1.10), if we are to be faithful both to the Lord whose people we are and to the lost whose souls we seek.
Let us believe God’s Word and hold it fast. No one can afford to play with this fire.
William G. Blaikie & Robert Law
Tentmaker Publications, 1995, 114pp & 76pp., cloth
ISBN 1 899003 12 6
There are not many works that deal sensitively and Scripturally with the emotional life of Christ, but these stand high in the ranks. Blaikie is perhaps a little less speculative than Law, but both works are grounded in Biblical revelation, and avoid flights of fancy. The style is of its time, but not overly florid, rather well-developed and rich. Time and again the reader must simply sit back and bow the head, adoring again the God-man so faithfully and fully presented in these pages, and pleading with God to be conformed to his image. Profoundly devotional while spiritually purifying and demanding, any sincere believer would find these works of great profit, and elders will find themselves thoroughly stimulated for pastoral and pulpit ministry. Both these volumes, published together by Tentmaker, are now available independently of each other in paperback. Either, but perhaps especially Blaikie, would be worth having.
Steven W. Smith
Kregel, 2010, 176pp., paperback, $14.99
This author issues a passionate and persuasive plea to preachers that they must embrace the cross in their pastoral ministry, dying to self so that others might live in imitation of Christ and, following the Lord, Paul. Relying heavily on Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, Smith calls for what he calls “surrendered communication,” demanding with homiletical neatness that the preacher ignite, invite, identify and imitate in his worked-out union with a crucified Saviour. Then, relying heavily on Francois Fénelon’s rhetorical theory, he speaks of surrendering to the text, to the audience, and to the task of preaching. At its heart, this brief volume pleads with preachers to leave questions of preaching style where they belong, and focus on one’s philosophy (we might prefer ‘theology’ here) of preaching. In the lively language of an earnest man, Smith elaborates on this theme, drawing in his helps from a wide range of sources. Although there are Spiritual dynamics to the act of preaching that might be more clearly addressed, and some possible overstatements that might be born of his conviction, this is an excellent, truly challenging volume. Younger preachers who have been ministering for a few years might especially profit from subjecting themselves to the vigorous spiritual probing that Smith provides, asking whether or not we are faithful to the pattern of Christ, and the pattern of Paul, in our embrace of plain truth, plainly spoken, speaking of a crucified Ransomer in a crucified style because we follow our crucified Lord.
David Murray has been posting some stimulating “Christ-rich” material recently:
- Less gospel, more Christ, please
- What’s the Old Testament all about?
- What’s the Old Testament all about? Peter responds.
His material on covenant theology is also very helpful for those who hold to the principle, even if you might not agree with all the nuances. You will find more at the HeadHeartHand Media site.
Very much worth your time.
How do you read the Gospels? What do you expect? What do you look for? Perhaps more accurately, in what spirit do you read the Gospels? Does it bear any resemblance to the spirit manifest in some of the opening and in the closing words of John Brown’s commentary on The Four Gospels?
The Fourfold Gospel is the central portion of Divine Revelation. Into it, as a Reservoir, all the foregoing revelations pour their full tide, and out of it, as a Fountain, flow all subsequent revelations. In other parts of Scripture we hear Christ by the hearing of the ear; but here our eye seeth Him. Elsewhere we see Him through a glass darkly; but here, face to face. The orthodox Fathers of the Church well understood this peculiar feature of the Gospels, and expressed it emphatically by their usages – some of them questionable, others almost childish. Nor did the heretical sects differ from them in this; the best proof of which is, that nearly all the heresies of the first four or five centuries turned upon the Person of Christ as represented in the Gospels. As to the heathen enemies of Christianity, their determined opposition was directed against the facts regarding Christ recorded in the Gospels. And it is the same still. The battle of Christianity, and with it of all Revealed Religion, must be fought on the field of the Fourfold Gospel. If its Credibility and Divine Authority cannot be made good – if we must give way to some who would despoil us of its miracles, or to others who, under the insidious name of ‘the higher criticism,’ would weaken its historical claims – all Christianity is undermined, and will sooner or later dissolve in our hands. But so long as the Gospels maintain their place in the enlightened convictions of the Church, as the Divine record of God manifest in the flesh, believers, reassured, will put to flight the armies of the aliens.
David Brown, The Four Gospels (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969, repr. 1993), iii-iv.
Thus end these peerless Histories – this Fourfold Gospel. And who that has walked with us through this Garden of the Lord, these ‘beds of spices,’ has not often said, with Peter on the mount of transfiguration, It is good to be here here! Who that has reverentially and lovingly bent over the sacred text has not found himself in the presence of the Word made flesh – has not beheld the glory of the Only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth – has not felt His warm, tender hand upon him, and heard that voice saying to himself, as so often to the disciples of old, “Fear not!” Well, dear reader, “Abide in Him,” and let “His words” – as here recorded – “abide in thee.” This Fourfold Gospel is the Sun of the Scripture, from which all the rest derives its light. It is, as observed in the Introduction, the serenest spot in the paradise of God; it is the four rivers of the water of life, the streams whereof make glad the City of God. Into it, as a Reservoir, all the foregoing revelations pour their full tide, and out of it, as a Fountain, flow all subsequent revelations. Till the day dawn, then, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to this mountain of myrrh, this hill of frankincense! (Song iv. 6.)
David Brown, The Four Gospels (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969, repr. 1993), 486.
I have little idea what the finished product will look and sound like, and – most importantly – consist of, but I like this topic, enjoy a lot of David Murray’s stuff, appreciate his attitude, and am impressed by his evident abilities (not merely as a theologian). He asks:
Want to find and worship Christ in the Old Testament? Need a weekly Bible Study that’s doctrinal, devotional, and doable? Trying to help your children study the Bible on a Sunday afternoon, but they aren’t great readers? Looking for a Sunday school series that marries “old” theology with new technology. The CrossReference series of films from Head Heart Hand Media may be for you.
Find out more here.
On a related topic, David informs us about an app store missionary putting his newfound skills to good use.
Cast your mind back into the depths of the allegedly-festive season. For many, it would be a time for the giving of gifts. Typically, with the person in mind for whom you desire a gift, you set out to find something that fits the template. Indeed, sitting in the Christmas carnage and tracing back from the gift to the perceived needs, desires or expectations of the intended recipient can be a little disconcerting. The socks and chutney imply a frozen-toed cheese eater; the DIY [home improvement] manual and the alarm clock hint at someone both incompetent and lazy; the sweater and make up suggest someone cold and ugly to boot. There is a lot to get wrong in such mind games: our foolishness, sensitivity (or utter lack of it) and ignorance might leave us muddled and misguided. Furthermore, if there is no appropriate and appreciated match between what is given and the one to whom it is given, those gifts lie quickly forgotten and largely neglected, unworn, uneaten, unused.
But what if a gifted, wise and insightful physician who knew us accurately and intimately sent to us a box of pills with instructions to begin a life-saving course of medication immediately? Might you not be entitled to presume that he had correctly diagnosed a deadly condition and has kindly provided the cure? In such an instance, you might accurately match the recipient and the gift, connecting the condition and circumstances of the former with the nature of the latter. And would you not be relying on it still? Would not that gift remain unspeakably precious to you?
So it is with God’s gospel gift: an unbreakable, inexhaustible, unforgettable, incalculably precious saving gift. The eternal God was neither ignorant nor whimsical, was not foolish or misguided, in sending his Son to save men. Here we have a gift precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, circumstances and condition of fallen mankind, calling forth perpetual reliance and overwhelming thankfulness. In Romans 5.6-11 the apostle Paul makes some of the connections between the recipients and the gift, describing sinful men in the light of the saving Christ:
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Firstly, Paul says that we are powerless. We are utterly without strength (Rom 5.6). The word Paul employs here is used in Matthew 25.31-46, Luke 10.9 and Acts 5.15-16 of those helplessly sick; in Acts 4.9 it describes the impotence of a man who was lame; in 1 Corinthians 12.22 it speaks of weakness and feebleness. It is a word describing comprehensive helplessness, and in Romans 5.6 it is used of our natural state, having no power in ourselves to do good, able neither to resist sin nor to pursue righteousness. We had no strength to restore our relationship with God nor to maintain one if it could be restored. Paul pictures a man utterly lacking in spiritual vitality, without any of the functions of life: it is a sketch of entire, ongoing, sinful incapacity, of a man beyond human help.
It was to men in such a state as this that Christ was given. We need someone who is truly strong, able not only to act on his own behalf but on behalf of others also, not only to secure good for himself but for others too. According to Isaiah, Jesus is just such a mighty Deliverer: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength” (Is 40.29).
Secondly, we are by nature ungodly. Paul uses the same word in Romans 4.5. He means one who is thoroughly lost, wicked, having nothing to offer God. To be such a person means that we can never take God’s favour for granted because we positively fail to deserve any good; we have no entitlement to blessing. Romans 5.6 tells us that ungodly people needed someone to die for them: we required a ransom to be paid, someone to come at the proper time, the appointed hour, to take our place. The seventh verse makes plain that this is, by any account, the rarest of gifts. How much more when it is to men considered not as good and righteous but as ungodly that God sent the Son of his love? It was to men lost entirely and wicked throughout that Jesus came to do nothing less than die: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).
Again, we are sinners. We are those who miss the mark at which we aim, who fall short of our target. It is the tragedy of fallen men that we not only fall short of the target which we truly desire and earnestly pursue – our own happiness – but that we also fall short of that at which we should aim: the glory and honour of God, which we rarely consider and usually despise. In short, we are both personally wretched and morally polluted. As such, there is nothing in us to evoke blessing but much to demand cursing. It is a condition that leaves us entirely exposed to the divine displeasure and righteous judgment.
Paul would have us understand that to secure the life of sinners by any gift would be unspeakable love, the very pinnacle of grace, and such love and grace are displayed in a God who gives nothing less than his beloved Son for us, and in a Christ who willingly lays down his life to secure blessing for such men.
Fourthly, we are guilty. This is the clear implication of the language of sin and of justification (Rom 5.8-9). We need to be justified, to be declared righteous in the sight of a holy God. As sinners, we have deserved nothing but condemnation, and we abide under wrath. We have no righteousness of our own to plead, no goodness to parade. Justice demands vengeance, and what can provide satisfaction apart from fearful and just judgments falling upon the head of the guilty sinner? Where can such a sinner find a putting away of sin and a grant of righteousness, so propitiating the wrath of an offended God? How can we come to have that happy testimony, “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people; you have covered all their sin. You have taken away all your wrath; you have turned from the fierceness of your anger” (Ps 85.2-3)?
It requires blood. We are justified by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, who gave his life, so paying the debt, removing the guilt, providing a credit that was acceptable in saving transaction with a holy God.
Furthermore, we are enemies. Sin becomes habitual, habitual rebellion produces a deepening aversion to the Righteous One, that aversion develops into a settled enmity, and enmity breaks out into open hostility. Every sinner is on that way of rooted adversity to God in some form and degree, and is therefore subject to his wrath. We were rebelliously opposed to God and God was fearfully opposed to us. We were both antagonistic toward him and alienated from him, being without God and without hope in the world. Our relationship to God by nature is not one of neutrality, but of war. Men rage impotently against God and God sets himself implacably against all iniquity. Where, then, can a man find peace with God? Where is God reconciled, enmity removed, harmony established, justice vindicated, and holiness honoured?
God himself supplies the means. The offended God is himself the one who addresses the grounds of separation and provides for reconciliation. It is and must be a fruit of astonishing love, profound pity, and incalculable grace to design and execute such a plan, but what again almost beggars belief is that this reconciliation required nothing less than the giving of God’s own beloved Son. It was not accomplished at any lesser price.
But there is more still. For supposing that all this is carried out on our behalf – the powerless find a champion, the ungodly find a sacrifice, sinners find a saving life, the guilty find a righteousness, enemies find a reconciliation. It leaves us still and always utterly dependent. Saved men need saving. This does not for one instant mean that there is something lacking in the life and death of Jesus that yet remains to be made up, but rather speaks of our continual need for his grace and strength, our perpetual reliance upon him, finding all our security for the present and future in him alone. Paul speaks of our being saved from wrath through him, by his life (Rom 5.9-10). Our abiding union with our crucified but risen Redeemer ensures that we remain protected to the end and into eternity. We are reconciled by his death and saved by his life, having nothing to fear in the day of wrath, for he both secures our standing by his acceptance with God and is living to intercede for us. He is our Good Shepherd, guiding his sheep safely to the eternal fold; our Great Priest who stands before God on our behalf; he is securing and will secure our final happiness.
Thus we have in these verses two portraits, intimately connected to each other, reflective of each other in the way that a negative reflects the original. Here is the light of Christ and the corresponding distorted shadow cast by sinful man. The portrait of ourselves is unflatteringly honest, depicting us ruined and lost. The portrait of the Lord Jesus shows him as the gift of God, piercingly beautiful, precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, condition and circumstances of those he came to save. He is displayed as One mighty to deliver, by his life, death and resurrection supplying the reconciling righteousness and the cleansing blood that we could never obtain for ourselves, and this he provided by taking our place and dying on our behalf.
Do we accept the testimony of the gospel gift of Jesus Christ about our character, condition and circumstances? It may not be flattering, but it is painfully accurate. Look at the portrait: do you not see your own face staring back at you? Do you find your own wretchedness and neediness written in these things? God was not ignorant or whimsical, not foolish or mistaken when he sent his Son for sinners. The gift was given because the state of the intended recipients demanded nothing less.
Do you accept the gift? It is one thing to acknowledge the need, but another to accept the gift? Salvation is entirely from without. Martin Luther used to speak of the natural man as turned in upon himself. Grace shows the emptiness within, and makes us lift our eyes outward and upward to where we find our only help. Let us be honest: if the portrait of sinful man is a portrait of my own soul, where will I find salvation in myself? If I am powerless, ungodly, sinning, guilty and opposed to God, what will I offer to secure my salvation? There is nothing else left but to look elsewhere. Helpless sinners need a mighty Helper if they are to be delivered from sin and death and hell. God offers the priceless gift of his incarnate Son, and nothing more is required than to cast one’s soul for time and for eternity upon him, to accept the gospel gift as the one and sole answer to the damnable misery of separation from God.
Let us note here – especially those of us who preach – that any message that offers hope but fails to take account of these particular needs and the gift given to address them is a false gospel. To paint the soul of sinners in brighter colours than these does not shut people up to the only remedy, but gives man a falsely elevated view of his own capacity and a correspondingly low view of the saving excellence of the Lord Christ. To offer any alternative remedy is to offer a placebo that, at best, will float men gently and peacefully into the Pit. However, God’s gospel gift of his gracious and glorious Son delivers men from sin and death and hell when it is received with repentant faith.
Should we not, then, humbly receive, gratefully remember and ardently rejoice in such a gift? Only love and mercy would offer such an unparallelable kindness to people such as us; only a fool would reject him; only a gross ingrate could possibly forget the greatest of all possible gifts; only a hard heart would fail to rejoice in the Giver and his glorious Gift. This is where Paul brings us and leaves us: “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). The focus is not on ourselves, not even so much on what we receive in Christ, but on the Christ whom we receive by faith, and the God who sent him to be received. Paul leaves us exulting in God in Christ. We boast not in ourselves, but in the saving God through whom the utterly unworthy receive reconciliation, made secure for life and in death and through eternity by his Son – Jesus the Ransomer, God’s gospel gift.
This article first appeared at Reformation21.
Jesus did not come to change the law, but he came to explain it, and that very fact shows that it remains, for there is no need to explain that which is abrogated. Upon one particular point in which there happened to be a little ceremonialism involved, namely, the keeping of the Sabbath, our Lord enlarged, and showed that the Jewish idea was not the true one. The Pharisees forbade even the doing of works of necessity and mercy, such as rubbing ears of corn to satisfy hunger, and healing the sick. Our Lord Jesus showed that it was not at all according to the mind of God to forbid these things. In straining over the letter, and carrying an outward observance to excess, they had missed the spirit of the Sabbath law, which suggested works of piety such as truly hallow the day. He showed that Sabbatic rest was not mere inaction, and he said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” He pointed to the priests who laboured hard at offering sacrifices, and said of them, “the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless.” They were doing divine service, and were within the law. To meet the popular error he took care to do some of his grandest miracles upon the Sabbath-day; and though this excited great wrath against him, as though he were a law-breaker, yet he did it on purpose that they might see that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, and that it is meant to be a day for doing that which honours God and blesses men. O that men knew how to keep the spiritual Sabbath by a easing from all servile work, and from all work done for self! The rest of faith is the true Sabbath, and the service of God is the most acceptable hallowing of the day. Oh that the day were wholly spent in serving God and doing good! The sum of our Lord’s teaching was that works of necessity, works of mercy, and works of piety are lawful on the Sabbath. He did explain the law in that point and in others, yet that explanation did not alter the command, but only removed the rust of tradition which had settled upon it. By thus explaining the law he confirmed it; he could not have meant to abolish it or he would not have needed to expound it.
from The perpetuity of the law of God by Charles Spurgeon
May you enjoy tomorrow, on the first Lord’s day of the new year, a day free from the rust of unholy traditions and full of the joy of honouring God and blessing men.
Have you ever needed a champion? Perhaps you have faced an enemy against whom you have had no defences, or been oppressed and cruelly treated and have had no protection. You have been in danger but had no strength to fight; or trapped, with no way of escape. You have needed someone to stand on your behalf, someone to defend you and deliver you, strong to save you and protect you. You have needed a champion.
In truth, every one of us needs a champion in the truest and deepest sense. Mankind has an enemy, Satan. He is cruel, oppressing us in sin and misery, and we have no strength to defeat our pride, our anger, our lust, our loneliness, our shame, our grief, and our bitterness: we are enslaved, enchained. We are in danger, and he is dragging us down to the Pit. We are trapped in the dominion of darkness. We are fearfully exposed to punishment for our sins as those who have followed him.
This was true from the beginning, when Adam our father sold himself to Satan and cut himself off from God. But even then, God was full of mercy, and there at the dawn of time he stepped in and promised a champion to defeat our Adversary, a great victory at grave cost to himself:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen 3.15)
And then the world waited, looking for God’s champion. And, over time, more was revealed.
To Abraham, God promised a seed through whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed (Gen 12.3). Jacob identified Judah as the royal tribe from whom the sceptre should not depart, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes (Gen 49.10). Balaam, impelled by the Spirit of God, looked into the distant future:
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult. (Num 24.17)
The Lord promised David that – after his death – he would establish the throne of the kingdom of David’s son forever (2Sam 7.12-16). Isaiah spoke of a God-given sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7.14). He spoke of the response of the nations to this Servant of God:
Arise, shine; for your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes all around, and see:
They all gather together, they come to you;
Your sons shall come from afar,
And your daughters shall be nursed at your side.
Then you shall see and become radiant,
And your heart shall swell with joy;
Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you.
The multitude of camels shall cover your land,
The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah;
All those from Sheba shall come;
They shall bring gold and incense,
And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together to you,
The rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
They shall ascend with acceptance on my altar,
And I will glorify the house of my glory. (Is 60.1-7)
Jeremiah spoke of a coming day and a coming King and Priest from the house of David:
‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah: In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.’ (Jer 33.14-18)
Then there is Micah, who speaks of one who is himself eternal and yet comes forth out of Bethlehem to rule, shepherding the people of God (Mic 5.2).
Over time, the pens of prophecy sketch a portrait of increasing depth and detail, and a picture of the champion slowly emerges.
And still the earth was waiting.
And then, one night in Bethlehem, all the lines of promise converged in a child who was born of a virgin, the eternal Son of the Most High, and a true man; he was of Abraham’s seed, Judah’s line, and David’s house; he was the King of the Jews and the Gentiles bowed before him. In this Jesus, declared by angels to be Christ the Lord, all the threads of promise twisted into a single cord. Truly, Bethlehem, “the hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight.” God’s champion has arrived on the stage of the world. It is worth noting that before he has drawn breath for many days, the malevolence of his enemy is unleashed against him in the slaughter of the infants: battle is joined!
But this is only a beginning; it is not an ending. We have looked only at a few brief promises concerning only his birth. There are countless others that speak of his living, dying, rising, reigning and returning. He has come to stand for his people, to oppose their enemy and defeat him utterly, to set us free from his cruel reign and to restore us to God.
This is not mere coincidence; it is far too complex for that. It is not fantasy; it is far too well-attested for that. This is promise and fulfilment.
Come to Bethlehem. What do you see? An excuse for a temporary bout of niceness? A chance for a get-together, perhaps a family gathering or a party of some kind? A bit of token spirituality for the festive season? A reason to try a little harder this year?
Or do you see a weak infant who is the infinitely mighty God? The eternal Lord a few days born? A ruler, though despised? A king born into a carpenter’s home? A poor baby who is a crowned warrior?
Behold your champion, the Saviour sent from God to deliver and defend from sin, death and hell. Any other Jesus is both false and useless, a lie and a vanity. But this Jesus is a Saviour for you, and if you will take him and trust him as God makes him known, then you will be saved, delivered from Satan’s clutches and miseries as you bow, and worship, and adore, and believe with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and with all those who have been redeemed by his holy life and sacrificial death, keeping company with angels in the praises of the Redeemer.
Commit your eternal soul to the care of God’s champion: his Son, born in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.
Dr Sinclair Ferguson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, likes to say, ‘The children breathe in what the parents breathe out.’ In other words, the atmosphere of the home – what we value, how we treat each other, what priority we place on walking with the Lord – is impressed on the hearts and minds of our children.
So, what are you breathing out? What are your children breathing in? Love for Christ Jesus, and the dynamics of the gospel in every part of life? A kind, loving, gracious spirit?
Gene Veith points to a European study (discussed here) suggesting that fathers in particular will have a massive impact on the attitude of their children to the church of Christ. The article is not suggesting that mothers do not need to go to church, and it may be that there lies behind the article some lack of clarity (are they equating mere church attendance with genuine Christianity?) but the implication is clear: the best way to teach our children to love Christ and his church is to love Christ and his church ourselves.
So, fathers and mothers, will you be there tomorrow, as often as you are able, willingly, cheerfully, eagerly, readily making your way to whatever place the saints will gather to meet with God? Will your demeanour and preparations this evening show that you are looking forward eagerly to the Lord’s day and getting everything in place for an early, unhindered start to the day?
May God grant that we breathe out a love for the Head of the church, and his body, and that our children should imbibe it from the heart.
Kevin DeYoung marshalls the prescient G. K. Chesterton to help us fight manger fatigue:
It is almost impossible to make the facts vivid, because the facts are familiar; and for fallen men it is often true that familiarity is fatigue.
I am convinced that if we tell the supernatural story of Christ word for word as of a Chinese hero . . . there would be a unanimous testimony to the spiritual purity of the story. . . . If Christianity were only a new oriental fashion, it would never be reproached with being an old oriental faith.
If you were to choose one phrase to describe yourself, what would it be? One might argue that, for the apostle Paul, it would be this: “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.” He uses it repeatedly to describe his privileged status as a disciple of Jesus, bound to exclusive, absolute, willing obedience. But there was a time when he would have been the last person on earth to embrace and employ such a title. What made “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” adopt the posture of Christ’s bondservant?
The change occured just outside Damascus. Paul was travelling to the city intent upon doing violence to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Suddenly a light from heaven shone around him and he fell to the ground. Who knows what went through his mind at that moment? What did he expect? No doubt the persecutor believed that he was doing the will of God; perhaps he even anticipated some divine commendation. Instead a voice spoke to the man lying on the earth: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” What a shudder must have gone through the heart of that proud man. There is already a new humility in his confused question: “Who are you, Lord?” Then these words of staggering reality give the crushing answer: “I am Jesus.” We might wonder how Paul survived the shock: that imposter, the cursed Nazarene, is the Lord of glory. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” He had known and perhaps been bested by Stephen, heard his pointed and powerful sermon and seen his face at his death; he had listened to the believing confessions of tortured followers of the Way; he had studied endlessly the testimonies of the Hebrew Scriptures, his treasured scrolls. And now he is confronted and cast down by the very Messiah that he has been anticipating, the very Messiah that he has been persecuting.
No wonder he was “trembling and astonished.” Stripped of all self-righteousness, all self-confidence, his entire world up-ended by this striking moment of divine revelation, he bows his head and asks a question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
That question gives us an insight into a humbled heart; it shows us a disciple’s disposition. Certainly there is still much pondering and praying for Paul over the coming hours, but this phrase opens a door by which we can gaze into a bondservant’s soul. Here is the subordination of one’s own will to the will of another. Here is a posture of voluntary humility and ready obedience.
Paul’s response is personal. He is face to face with Christ, and there is no thought of anyone else. His relationship to this Jesus is all that now matters. He is concerned not about what he himself would like to do, what others would have him do, or what others should themselves do. “What do you, Christ Jesus, want me, Saul of Tarsus, to do?” Every other allegiance, legitimate or otherwise, assumes its relative and proper obscurity next to the claims of Christ.
His response is immediate. This may be the most complete and radical change of plan in the history of the world. What the Christ speaks will be the rule of his life from this moment. No other plans or purposes will come into the equation, and nothing will be put off to a more convenient occasion. The risen Lord has declared himself, and instantly this man asks only what is required of him. All Paul’s hopes, schemes and dreams – short, middle and long term – are instantly abandoned, and all he is and has are put at the immediate disposal of the Lord Christ.
His response is unconditional. Paul has no idea what Jesus of Nazareth will ask of him. Who can say what his command will demand? But that is not the issue. The possible answers do not prevent or inhibit the question. The sense of his question implies this: “Anything and everything that you might require I stand ready to give.” This is not some strutting boast, but an unavoidable declaration in the light of who it is that stands before Paul.
His response is voluntary. It is a conscious and willing response. This is a deliberate act of consecration, an offering up of himself with a ready heart. There is no coercion, only felt obligation. This is not an accidental attitude, but a purposeful seeking out of the will of Christ in order to do it.
And so his response is fundamentally active. There is an immediate awareness that this Messiah will require and be entitled to a life lived to the praise of his glory, a life in which everything is given not anaemically but vigorously, not dragged out under duress but poured out exultantly. The living follows the birthing, the doing follows the saving.
And what is the source of this outlook? From where does this disciple’s disposition arise?
It is a believing response to Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Lord and God’s Christ: “I am Jesus.” It is the unparalleled and unparellelable glory of his unalloyed divinity and glorious humanity that has captured Paul’s heart. It is Jesus as the promised Prophet, Priest and King; the Son of David; the one Mediator between God and man; the Redeemer of God’s elect; the Hope of Israel; the Light of nations; the Dayspring from on high; the Lord of lords and King of kings. Paul has opposed him with every fibre of his being, and he has responded with sovereign mercy. When Paul later writes that “he loved me and gave himself for me” he is speaking of this Jesus whom he had persecuted. When the Father sought a Ransomer, a voice like many waters answered, “I will go.” Where angels and men were helpless, the Lord of men and angels gave himself to save his people from their sins. He died for those who were still his enemies. He died for Saul of Tarsus. He died for us.
And the man who sees – even faintly – the person and the work of this Jesus, whom God has made both Lord and Christ, asks this: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
It is a believing sight of Jesus Christ that liberates us from anaemic, self-satisfied, shallow, take-it-or-leave-it religion. Do not say that if only you could see him as Paul saw him, you would have a different attitude. His glory shines on every page of your Bible, and you lack nothing to enable you to truly perceive him. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is no less glorious and no less gracious than he was on the day when he appeared to Paul. The Scriptures sing of his majesty and speak of his excellence, painting him in all the glorious colours that God has intended us to see in the portrait of his Son, lit up with the shining light of the Holy Spirit. If we have been given eyes to see and hearts to believe, all that is required is that we love greatly as those greatly forgiven by our great God and Saviour, and live accordingly.
What does it mean? It is not a call to some extravagant but ultimately empty gesture allegedly made for the sake of the kingdom, or some energetic but perhaps pointless demonstration of wrong-headed zeal. It may or may not demand a radical change of direction. It may or may not be a call to a sacrifice of which you have not before dreamed.
But – whatever else it requires – it will demand a change of attitude and call you to a different spirit. It means that you begin to ask not what you must do for Christ, but what you can do. It means a readiness to serve God wherever and whenever he may call us, whether that is where we are now or somewhere else where he would have us to be. It means that we bow the knee before Jesus, God’s Lord and Christ, and make a personal, immediate, unconditional, voluntary and active response, asking, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” It means being ready to follow him, whatever the answer, and ready to serve him, whatever the cost. That is a disciple’s disposition.
This article first appeared at Reformation21.