Posts Tagged ‘redemption’
John Newton, writing in the delightful day when to waste an empty space on your paper would be a crying shame, and fortunately having plenty to write about to fill up the gap:
And now, how shall I fill up the rest of my paper? It is a shame for a Christian and a minister to say he has no subject at hand, when the inexhaustible theme of redeeming love is ever pressing upon our attention. I will tell you then, though you know it, that the Lord reigns.
He who once bore our sins, and carried our sorrows, is seated upon a throne of glory, and exercises all power in heaven and on earth. Thrones, principalities, and powers, bow before him. Every event in the kingdoms of providence and of grace is under his rule. His providence pervades and manages the whole, and is as minutely attentive to every part, as if there were only that single object in his view. From the tallest archangel to the meanest ant or fly, all depend on him for their being, their preservation, and their powers. He directs the sparrows where to build their nests, and to find their food. He overrules the rise and fall of nations, and bends, with an invincible energy and unerring wisdom, all events; so that, while many intend nothing less, in the issue, their designs all concur and coincide in the accomplishment of his holy will. He restrains with a mighty hand the still more formidable efforts of the powers of darkness; and Satan, with all his hosts, cannot exert their malice a hair’s breadth beyond the limits of his permission.
This is He who is the head and husband of his believing people. How happy are they who it is his good pleasure to bless! How safe are they whom He has engaged to protect! How honoured and privileged are they to whom He is pleased to manifest himself, and whom He enables and warrants to claim him as their friend and their portion! Having redeemed them by his own blood, He sets a high value upon them; He esteems them his treasure, his jewels, and keeps them as the pupil of his eye. They shall not want; they need not fear; his eye is upon them in every situation, his ear is open to their prayers, and his everlasting arms are under them for their sure support. On earth He guides their steps, controls their enemies, and directs all his dispensations for their good; while, in heaven, He is pleading their cause, preparing them a place, and communicating down to them reviving foretastes of the glory that shall be shortly revealed.
Oh how is this mystery hidden from an unbelieving world! Who can believe it, till it is made known by experience, what an intercouse is maintained in this land of shadows between the Lord of glory and sinful worms? How should we praise him that He has visited us! for we were once blind to his beauty, and insensible to his love, and should have remained so to the last, had He not prevented us with his goodness, and been found of us when we sought him not.
The Letters of John Newton, “To Mrs. Place,” (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007), 237-239.
via The Old Guys.
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.”
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.
Under the pseudonym John Ploughman, Charles Spurgeon published earthy articles in his magazine, The Sword & Trowel, which were later collected into two volumes, John Ploughman’s Talk and John Ploughman’s Pictures. These two volumes are themselves now collected to form Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom: Or, Plain Advice for Plain People (Banner of Truth, 2009). They were intended to be humorous (but not light), simple, colourful and blunt. Read today, the stance may seem a little condescending and the humour lacking subtlety, but the points are still made very effectively. Spurgeon takes broad swipes at all manner of vice, and stands up without apology for virtue. It is practical religion, with the emphasis on practical, although the Christian underpinnings of the proposed morality float readily and naturally to the surface. There seems to be something distinctively Victorian about the relentless nature of his genius, and it can be a little overwhelming at times (paragraph after paragraph of the same point made using waves of different illustrations and analogies) but it is also the reason for its effectiveness. As a study in how to communicate truth to a chosen audience, it is brilliant. Spurgeon seeks to enter the world of those to whom he is writing – adopting the appropriate frame of reference, vocabulary, tone, humour – and use it as a means to do good men’s souls and bodies. It should be read, then, in two minds: with one, we ought to take the plain advice; with the other, we should learn how to give it. In both regards, Spurgeon serves us well.
Not a new book, this, but a reset volume: John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth, 2009). This work has been available for a long time, but the previous edition had somewhat poor paper quality and binding which was quite quickly chewed up (I replaced mine at least once). For those who do not know it, it is divided into two parts. For some, the second part is the easier introduction, being a little more popular in style, and consisting of ten short chapters taking readers through the ordo salutis (order of salvation, the sequence of events in God’s saving sinners). The first part – on the necessity, nature, perfection and extent of the atonement – is not more or less profound but is denser and perhaps a little less accessible to those not accustomed to Murray’s style. The author never wastes a word: there is no flab in his writing, which makes it brief and clear and crisp (a tonic for the mind) but also means that concentration and acuity are required for reading. Some will appreciate this, others will find it more difficult. For all willing and able to penetrate to the substance, this volume will prove a rich treat, a draught of pure, cold water when there is so much brackish fluid swilling around. Murray reaches the heart by way of the mind: here we see that the truth makes us free indeed, free not least to honour and adore the God of our so great salvation. This ought to be required reading for all who desire to know the how and why of God’s gracious dealings with sinners, and this newly reset edition will make it all the more accessible and attractive. If you already have it, consider investing afresh in this clear and readable edition. If you do not have it, you have no choice: go and get one.
Fire from Heaven: Times of Extraordinary Revival (Evangelical Press, 2009) by Paul E. G. Cook is a curious combination of topical and historical material, in which instruction and application is interwoven with and arises from historical detail. Mr Cook focuses on the period 1791-1840 and the unusual works of God that occurred in England during this time. Assuming much of the vocabulary of revival, he contends that revival does not differ from the essence of normal religious experience, but in its degree, both intensively and extensively (he insists that revival is a Christian experience, but does tend to focus on its impact outside the church). Mr Cook rightly emphasises a ‘supernaturalistic’ view of salvation, bemoaning the impact of Finneyism, and calling saints not to seek revivals, but to seek God himself. The historical material is enlightening and moving, carefully researched and clearly laid out. The didactic material is earnest, even passionate, but some readers would doubtless wish to nuance or disagree with Mr Cook. What none will deny is the vibrant and vigorous godliness, tinged with a sense of eternity, which clearly characterises the subjects of this stimulating book, and which ought to stir up a sense of holy desire for more of the same in every true saint.
Kevin DeYoung gives us a title that I suspect no one else ever will: Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Or, How to Make A Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. (Moody Publishers, 2009). This is a straightforward, popular treatment concerning the knowledge of God’s will for our lives. DeYoung attempts to make plain what we can know and how we can know it, and what we can’t know and how to get on with life anyway. He exposes some of the nonsense (however well-meaning) identified in his elaborate sub-sub-title, and urges God’s children to get on with doing the known will of their heavenly Father, not looking for guidance where God has never given it, but using sanctified common-sense to work hard and plan well and trust fully. Some will feel that he is not quite ‘spiritual’ or mystical enough, while others will fear that he has left open a door for continuing revelation (he has, incidentally, after a fashion). Probably a book to read yourself before you put it into the hands of others, to ensure that it meets the particular needs in question, but a helpful, short, straightforward, straight-talking volume.
James Fraser of Brea was born in the north of Scotland in 1639 and converted shortly before his twentieth birthday, though not without much agony of soul. From his longer autobiographical memoir is extracted this Pocket Puritan volume, Am I A Christian? (Banner of Truth, 2009). Here he identifies twenty “objective grounds” for doubting whether he is genuinely converted, with his Scripture-soaked answers to each. Those who suffer similar trials and wrestle with similar doubts and fears may find here either specific answers to their own particular questions, or at least a sound method to follow in examining their own standing. There is some sweet balm here for wounded souls, for Fraser pulls no punches in dealing with the stark realities both of sin and of grace. (Fraser’s use of the word ‘conversion’ is interesting, and also treated here, and there is a brief biographical note.)
I recommend unstintingly Psalm 119 For Life: Living Today in the Light of the Word by Hywel R. Jones (Evangelical Press, 2010). Having its genesis in a series of expository studies in the Chapel of Westminster Seminary (California), our author walks us through each stanza of Psalm 119. Each chapter is brief, with a veiled but evident deep understanding of the text supporting the clear and pointed explanation and application. Dr Jones brings out the full-orbed relationship of a saved man and his saving Lord, not least in the matter of faith and obedience. Excellent as a daily devotional, a pattern for Bible study, or just as a refresher for the soul, this is a volume of rich poetry and rich piety. Take it up and read it.
The One True God (3rd edition, revised and expanded, Granted Ministries Press, 2009) is a spiral-bound but solid workbook by Paul David Washer intended to bring readers face-to-face with the God of the Bible: the student effectively undertakes his own exegesis. The questions demand Scriptural answers, the concern being to hear what God says about himself. At the same time – and it is plain from the very structure of this work – there is an evident appreciation of the stream of historic Biblical Christianity, within which this volume stands. Fourteen lessons deal with specific attributes of the Godhead, asking questions, giving space for answers, and providing a brief summary. More technical vocabulary is explained where necessary. The section on the names of God is a little gem. Perhaps best for group study under a competent guide, this also function well as an individual workbook, and well serves the intended aim of promoting an encounter with God through his Word.
One of many Calvin biographies that was produced in the quincentennial year, Bruce Gordon’s Calvin (Yale University Press, 2009) is an outstanding contribution to the field. Thoroughly-researched and broad of scope, situating Calvin in the theological, cultural and political currents of his time, this stands very well alongside older and other more current biographies. It is a modern treatment in the sense that hero-worship is very far from the agenda. Indeed, one sometimes gets the sense that – so keen is our author to avoid hagiography – there is something that borders on relish when the feet of clay are uncovered. Determined to be fair and frank, Dr Gordon provides a corrective to more defensive biographies but sometimes falls short in the empathy/sympathy department. There is more evident interest in the man than in his God. Again, this may be because, to write what certainly deserves to be one of the academic standards, one is obliged to bow to the standards of the academy. Still, Calvin the man and the minister are here before us, warts and all. We see Calvin as he saw himself and as others saw him, and should be left delighted in and grateful for the enduring kingdom which Christ himself rules.
Rhosymedre 6 6. 6 6. 8 8
He stepped from his high throne,
And laid aside his crown,
And to this sinful world
The Son of God stooped down:
He came as our Immanuel
That God as man with men should dwell.
The virgin brought him forth
As promised from of old;
The Word in flesh appeared,
The Saviour long foretold:
He came as our Immanuel
That God as man with men should dwell.
The angels praised the Lord,
And shepherds came to see;
In royal Bethlehem,
The wise men bowed their knee:
They worshipped our Immanuel,
For God as man with men did dwell.
He came in servant form,
A King of David’s line;
And those who looked for hope
Beheld redemption shine:
They looked on our Immanuel,
For God as man with men did dwell.
The breach with God to mend;
He served because he loved;
He loved us to the end:
He came as our Immanuel
That ransomed men with God might dwell.
And Jesus was his name –
He died and rose to save,
And we shall know in full
His triumph o’er the grave:
For he is our Immanuel
And man at last with God shall dwell.
See all hymns and psalms.
I had a full day yesterday, and discovered myself a little under the weather in the course of it. A dull brain that refused to accept the notion that I had made any preparation, a weary and slightly fevered body, and one or two other niggles made for a long day (and that’s just how I felt it to be).
We began with Sunday School, continuing our look at the roots of godly discipline of our children by putting the nature of liberty alongside the nature of a child. Reasonably straightforward stuff, you might have thought.
The morning service kicked off badly when I discovered that my watch had finally packed up. I discovered this when I realised that the minute hand was not moving, and that I was a couple of minutes late in starting.
These, I think, are the days when we are reminded of our own dispensability, and rejoice that the kingdom is not in our hands. It never does depend on us, but how often those days come along when we are forcibly reminded of what a blessing that is.
I preached in the morning – with a fair lack of fluency – on Biblical manhood and womanhood, concentrating now on distinctive identity. I reminded the congregation of the foundation of essential equality: created dignity, native depravity, and redemptive reality. Upon this foundation we must understand that the man and women – created in God’s image – were nevertheless created male and female, with definite, defined and distinctive roles. This identity is fundamental; our relationships are determinative; our behaviour flows appropriately from our distinctive identity in terms of a given relationship (e.g. family, church, society). I highlighted some principles for men and women, deliberately giving the men the hardest time as those who are to be courageous leaders rather than irresponsible victims. I confess that the absence of manly vigour among many Christian men and churches cuts me deep. I had to set out these things more broadly than deeply, but sought also to root the recovery of our masculinity and femininity in the grace of Christ. Only at the cross are those distinctive identities restored, for while sin dehumanises, grace rehumanises.
In the evening, I preached from Hebrews 13.5 on God himself our present help. We began with the context of the promise, looking both at what lies on and beneath the surface of the exhortation to avoid covetousness and be content. The assurance of the promise lies in the fact that God himself – the faithful, merciful, powerful, insightful, eternal God – speaks with all the reliability of divinity and the force of five negatives. The history of the promise – the times and places in which God spoke these words before – reveals a fine pedigree, broad scope, and long proving of God’s faithfulness. The substance of the promise is simply God’s presence and assistance: it is a covenant affirmation that we will ever be with us to help us. The sweetness and sufficiency of the promise lie in its being anchored at the cross and meeting every possible circumstance that any child of God individually or all the people of God together might ever meet. God has it covered! Finally, there are the effects of the promise: faith, contentment, confidence, courage, and cheerfulness.
This morning I had some errands to run, and was running them at a speed commensurate with my still slightly-ropey condition: I needed replacement tyres (semi-slicks rather than off-road monsters) on my bike, and discovered simultaneously that my brakes had been set up badly, which explained something of my laborious efforts since I bought the thing! I had been blaming the tyres and the baby-seat (or, more specifically, the growing child in it). I also discovered that my watch is probably beyond repair, picked up a book from the Post Office that for some reason could not be delivered, and came home to a monster boxful of review copies that I need to start ploughing through. Where do the days go?
Ah, well. Onward and upward . . .
St. Alphege 7 6. 7 6
In Eden’s sinless garden
A man and woman stood,
Each crafted in God’s image,
And both entirely good.
The serpent entered Eden,
And entered both their hearts;
And neither did resist him,
Fell to his fiery darts.
So Adam’s abdication
Was punished by the Lord;
Jehovah much abhorred.
Then came the Second Adam
Into the wilderness.
Where Adam fell, he conquered,
Both to restore and bless.
He raises from the ruins
Of Eden’s shattered bliss,
And by his saving power
Does Satan’s blight dismiss.
True men, pursue with courage
True women, with true beauty,
You sons of Adam, glory
That Jesus sets you free.
Eve’s daughters, bow before him,
Embrace your liberty.
See all hymns and psalms.
At least, that’s what I feel like after this week. Last Monday I was in London participating in an excellent discussion of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God (reviewed here) at the John Owen Centre attached to the London Theological Seminary. It was a good day, with one new face and many old ones (in the best senses of the word). I dashed home for a church officers’ meeting here in Crawley.
On Tuesday my family and I headed up to a village just outside Coventry to visit my sister and her husband and daughter. Caleb and William enjoyed spending time with cousin Martha, and I got some reading done during the day. My wife isn’t sure that that counts as a day off, but I enjoyed the reading!
On Wednesday I was working flat out the whole day – my only fully free day of the week in terms of other commitments – and I was able to get a fair amount done. It was a day of catch-up on the previous two, of preparation for those ahead, and of trying to pack in as much else besides as could be done. I was also responsible to lead the prayer meeting in the evening.
Thursday morning my friend Pastor Alan Dunn arrived in London with son Jeremy (Alan is an occasional blogger at the Reformed Baptist Fellowship). I drove up to my brother’s home near Twickenham in West London first thing in the morning to avoid the rush hour, and – bringing some of my wife’s home-made Chelsea buns with me – we feasted in what was left of his kitchen (it is currently under significant reconstruction) while swapping tales of friends who had become trapped in gym equipment, to their great pain and our great hilarity. I then headed to Heathrow and had only a few minutes wait with a book before our guests arrived. We hurtled home, and I pretty much dropped them off and dashed out to our Listen & Dine meeting for senior citizens. My father and fellow-pastor had come down with the lurgi, and so I was drafted in at short notice to address a good number on the new birth. I had a particularly good conversation over the dinner table with three older ladies, one of whom insists time after time that trying hard will be enough, while the other two really seemed to be grasping the truth. One in particular did a double-take when I explained the concrete nature of Christian hope, and spoke earnestly and seriously of her desire for such a hope, and I have trust that the Spirit may be at work in her heart. I need to follow her up.
I arrived home a little later to find the Dunns rested and fed, and so we wandered out for some air. Another friend came over for dinner, and we were relaxing into the evening when I suddenly received a phone call from someone in profound distress which required me to drop everything and head out at very short notice. I returned home a little before midnight to find the house very sensibly in darkness, and most of its inhabitants asleep. Neither of my sons had the best night, and I did not feel as if I had much rest when I awoke from the slumbers at about 5.30am to take the Dunns to Gatwick airport. They were flying out via Milan to Catania in Sicily, where they would spend the weekend in a sister church in Caltanissetta. I got home, grabbed a bit to eat, and headed out to the church building. Today was the day when we hoped to have our audio-video upgrade installed.
I had a bundle of books with me to do some preparation for a Bible study next week, and spent most of the morning on that while the techno-wiz from DM Music did the business in the main hall. The process took about six hours longer than I had anticipated. I finished the studying that I could do, and read the manuals of the equipment, and helped to test the set-up, and asked various questions. I had, however, hoped to do some visiting during the afternoon, not least of one or two friends who are sick and/or shut in at home or in a hospital. I confess to significant frustration when I finally arrived home at about 5.30pm, complaining to my wife that I am a pastor and not a technician, and how can I give myself to prayer and the ministry of the Word and the care of souls when I spend eight or nine hours of the day poncing around with video transfer units, compressors, digital cameras, and audio recorders. My frustrations were compounded when I discovered that the video capture device records in an MP4 format (I need a WMV file for upload) and that my computer doesn’t have the right software and the codecs needed for reading, editing and converting MP4s to WMVs. Aaargh!
I said to my wife that I could not, in good conscience, see the day pass in that fashion, so after dinner I headed up to the hospital to see one of the ladies who usually comes to Listen & Dine. She was looking frail but was delighted to have a visitor, and I had an opportunity to read and pray with her. She is a very warm-hearted lady, and one of those who may be in the kingdom. I returned home with a degree of weariness, only to find Wales in the process of being beaten by France, so the day was not ending in the best fashion. I spent a couple of fruitless hours after the game trying to get the audio-video issues resolved, but without any joy.
I woke up tired on Saturday morning. My parents had gone on holiday on Friday, so I had all three ministries to prepare for on the Lord’s day. I received news that one of our members, recovering from major surgery, had now been re-admitted to hospital with potentially significant complications. This was an additional concern. I hammered away through the day, and reached the evening with my preparation substantially complete. I had had an email during the day by a good friend, one of those natural computer geeks whose first language is, I think, some sort of code, offering help with my technical problems, and so I spent about two or three hours with him on the net, trying to download various tools and programmes that would enable me both to convert the MP4 to WMV format, and to edit one or the other.
Then, finally, and with a sense of relief and anticipation, the Lord’s day. That was a little crushed fairly early on when we were the only people in the building until about five minutes before beginning, and we had a grand total of ten (including self) in the adult Sunday School. Deeming there to be little point in dealing with the education of our children with only one other couple in the building who have young children, I switched to an ad hoc introduction to the Gospel of Mark. We spent our time discussing the authorship, structure, style, and features of the gospel with illustrations from the text. I think it was profitable – the kind of session which helps everyone, next time they read Mark’s Gospel, to understand a little more about what they are reading and why. I was building-setter-upper, teacher, door steward, AV technician, and preacher for the morning. I would rather be doing that than anything else, but it’s pretty knackering and often disheartening.
There were, mercifully, a few more people out for the morning service, although there were a number missing, many legitimately so. I preached from 1 Peter 2.9-10 on The character and calling of Christ’s church. What words, concepts and notions would the church use to describe itself? How does the world perceive us? Peter reaches into timeless reality to tell us what the church truly is, using Old Testament imagery to paint an accurate portrait of the new covenant church.
Our fourfold character is as follows:
- A chosen people: called out and together by God, granted a high status in accordance with grace. The new birth is our common experience.
- A royal priesthood: called, cleansed and clothed for service and obedience, rendering ourselves as living sacrifices to the God of our salvation.
- A holy nation: consecrated to God in principle and, increasingly, in practice; holiness is the distinctive character of the church that overrides all other distinctions.
- God’s own special people: his purchased and treasured possession, which he will never allow to be destroyed, stolen, or neglected.
The church may not always feel it; the world will rarely acknowledge it; but, the Lord declares it to be irreversibly and unshakeably true.
From there we moved to our single calling: to proclaim our saving Lord’s praises. We are to number out and publish abroad all the excellent graces and glories of God, his eminent qualities and noble acts. This is not so much a method, nor even a duty, but the spontaneous overflow of a grateful heart.
We had a family from the church over, and had a good chat during the afternoon, speaking of various things. I was not at my bounciest, but it was a time of encouragement.
In the evening, we celebrated the Lord’s supper. I preached on The Father, the Son, the redeemed from 2 Corinthians 5.21. I had to confess at the beginning of the service that I had been working from old notes, and – as I began to work up this material – I became persuaded that it wasn’t my structure that I was using. I did some hunting around, and found out that I was sadly right: it was John Owen. I thought ruefully to myself, “No wonder it felt at once unfamiliar and excellent!” I decided to do some more study on the passage, and then to put my meat on Owen’s bones. The clarity was therefore his, the confusion was . . . er, not!
Paul’s keynote at this point is reconciliation. Verse 21 lays the foundation for the gospel declarations and entreaties and commands that Christ’s ambassadors issue.
In it we learn three things concerning the Father: his sovereignty, his justice, and his grace. We learn three things concerning the Son: his holiness, his sufferings, and his merit. We learn three things concerning ourselves: our sin and guilt, our deliverance, and our present condition. Here is the basis on which a sinner can approach God to be reconciled; here is the foundation for the joy of a reconciled sinner.
God helped my soul as I preached, and as we celebrated the Lord’s supper together. I was encouraged to think that there were less people around that first table (just!) than there were around his table at the church in Crawley last night.
I was pretty weary when I got home. Today I had to head out to get a new card-reader to actually read our new audio recordings. I think the quality has improved, but I need to tweak some of the new kit. Isn’t it comical how reading that sentence one might be foolishly led into thinking that I have any idea what I am doing! Today has been a little bitty, and I am facing increasing frustrations with the editing of the video (one of which includes the fact that there was no recording from Sunday evening’s service, and another of which is a whole new world of error messages from Windows Media Encoder).
Ah, well . . . onwards and upwards.
Behold the blessèd Lamb of God,
Who for the world poured out his blood;
He died and suffered on the tree
That men the grace of God might see.
Behold the bleeding Sacrifice -
Salvation at unmeasured price.
He came to this dark world below,
God’s greatest blessing to bestow.
Behold the Saviour, Christ the King,
Let all his ransomed people sing
Of him, who to redeem us died,
But reigns now at the Father’s side.
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The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction by Sinclair B. Ferguson
Banner of Truth, 1981 (218pp, pbk)
The premise of this volume is that Christians need a firm and accurate grasp upon the basic doctrines of our faith, the fundamental realities of true religion, in order to lead lives that bring glory to God: “how we think is one of the great determining factors in how we live” (2). Nothing is more practical than doctrine.
With this underpinning principle established, the author carries us on through a total of 18 chapters in what is, in effect, a slightly expanded treatment of the ordo salutis (the order of salvation, or sequence in which the saving benefits of Christ’s death are applied in the experience of a child of God). He begins with the context in which salvation is necessary – ‘God’s broken image’ – before outlining the plan of grace and working through the elements of God’s plan. There is more than a passing nod to the outstanding treatment of Professor John Murray in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, but Professor Ferguson’s treatment is more popular and slightly broader. For example, the chapter titles are less technical (Murray’s ‘Effectual calling’ is Ferguson’s ‘Called by God, for ‘Regeneration’ is given ‘Born again’, in place of ‘Adoption’ we have ‘Sons of God’) and the style more friendly for the average reader. Furthermore, the material is less dense and more developed, more expansive, more fully explained and applied. For example, there are chapters on conviction of sin and election woven in; there are chapters on both faith and repentance that make plain the connections between the two while treating each in its own right. The saint’s pursuit of holiness and increasing conformity to Christ are addressed in three chapters on the end of sin’s dominion, Christian conflict with sin, and crucifying sin. Before addressing glorification, we are given instruction on falling asleep in Christ.
This is systematic theology at its most accessible and profitable. Step by step, Professor Ferguson leads us along the wonderful tapestry of God’s dealings with us in Christ, pointing out the details, pausing to admire the handiwork, and not ceasing to make plain that these are not boxes to be ticked as a matter of dry orthodoxy, but truths to be lived. As a parent might first chew meat to soften it up for an infant to eat and digest, so this is chewed-up soteriology suitable for an audience not theologically astute or untrained. I do not mean by that to suggest that this is a book for children alone: rather, these are truths made accessible for everyone, and it would do many saints of mature years much good to use this as a means to maturity of understanding. That said, it would be ideal material for older and adult Sunday School classes, family worship for couples or those with older children, as well as simple instructional and devotional reading.
The prayerful and attentive reader will be well served by this volume. You walk away from each chapter not only persuaded that doctrine should make a difference, but that it does and how it does – the difference that this particular element of the plan of salvation will make to you in your life. This is indeed an outstanding doctrinal introduction, and one which should gladden the heart of every earnest child of God.
Am I accepted by God? Why should I care?
There are many important reasons why you should care about whether you are accepted by God, but by far the most important is this: if you are not accepted by God, you will be rejected by him.
But does that really matter?
The answer is yes.
To be rejected by God means that you cannot fully enjoy anything that God has given to you; it means you have God as your enemy; and, ultimately, it means you will face God’s punishment.
But why should God reject me?
You cannot be accepted by God while you are guilty of sin. God is a holy God – that means he is completely pure and free from any wickedness – and he cannot look upon any form of sin without loathing it.
But I am not a sinner!
The Bible says that each one of us has sinned, and falls short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).
How, then, can I be accepted by God?
There is only one way: we can only be accepted in Jesus Christ. He is God’s dearly beloved Son. If we repent of our sins, and trust in Christ, then God will accept us for his sake.
We have redemption only through the blood of Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1.7).
Has Jesus Christ died in your place? Do you know the blessing of the forgiveness of sins? Are you accepted in God’s beloved Son? Or are you still lost in sin and misery?