The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘grace

Desiring Christ

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John Flavel, preaching in his Method of Grace on alluring the hearts of men to come to Christ, focuses on his being “the desire of all nations.” He asserts that “the desires of God’s elect in all kingdoms, and among all people of the earth, are, and shall be drawn out after, and fixed upon the Lord Jesus Christ.” Having explored the title, and asked why and how it is appropriate, Flavel spends most of his sermon in applying these truths. He concludes with seven uses of direction for stirring up heart desires toward Christ, as follows:

Do these, or any other considerations, put thee upon this enquiry; how shall I get my desires kindled and enflamed towards Christ? Alas! my heart is cold and dead, not a serious desire stirring in it after Christ. To such I shall offer the following directions.

Flavel, JohnDirect. 1. Redeem some time every day for meditation; get out of the noise and clamour of the world, Psal. 4:4. and seriously bethink yourselves how the present state of your soul stands, and how it is like to go with you for ever: here all sound conversion begins, Psal. 69:5–9.

Direct. 2. Consider seriously of that lamentable state, in which you came into the world; children of wrath by nature, under the curse and condemnation of the law: so that either your state must be changed, or you inevitably damned, John 3:3.

Direct. 3. Consider the way and course you have taken since you came into the world, proceeding from iniquity to iniquity. What command of God have you not violated a thousand times over? What sin is committed in the world, that you are not one way or other guilty of before God? How many secret sins upon your score, unknown to the most intimate friend you have in the world? Either this guilt must be separated from your souls, or your souls from God to all eternity.

Direct. 4. Think upon the severe wrath of God due to every sin; “The wages of sin is death,” Rom. 6:23. And how intolerable the fulness of that wrath must be when a few drops sprinkled upon the conscience in this world, are so insupportable, that hath made some to chuse strangling rather than life; and yet this wrath must abide for ever upon you, if you get not interest in Jesus Christ, John 3:36.

Direct. 5. Ponder well the happy state and condition they are in who have obtained pardon and peace by Jesus Christ, Psal. 32:12. And seeing the grace of God is free, and you are set under the means thereof; why may not you be as capable thereof as others?

Direct. 6. Seriously consider the great uncertainty of your time, and preciousness of the opportunities of salvation, never to be recovered, when they are once past, John 9:4. let this provoke you to lay hold upon those golden seasons whilst they are yet with you; that you may not bewail your folly and madness, when they are out of your reach.

Direct. 7. Associate yourselves with serious Christians; get into their acquaintance, and beg their assistance; beseech them to pray for you; and see that you rest not here, but be frequently upon your knees, begging of the Lord a new heart, and a new state.

In conclusion of the whole, let me beseech and beg all the people of God, as upon my knees, to take heed, and beware, lest by the carelessness and scandal of their lives they quench the weak desires beginning to kindle in the hearts of others. You know what the law of God awards for striking a woman with child, so that her fruit go from her, Exod. 21:22, 23. O shed not soul-blood, by stifling the hopeful desires of any after Christ.

Blessed be God for Jesus Christ, the desire of all nations.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 September 2019 at 09:03

Grace and sin

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A number of pastoral issues have arisen recently which have brought home to me some particular truths and some particular emphases arising from them. Many of these situations are on the fringes of church life or outside it (though I sincerely hope that some of them might, under God’s gracious influences, come within it in due course). How much we need to grasp spiritual realities with scriptural definition! It is a great distress to see how often false religion dismisses the former and degrades the latter, but even more grievous is to see professing Christians mishandle matters of central importance. (Please understand that these are not veiled critiques of events in the Christian stratosphere, but observations about concrete situations in local churches, or at least those places which call themselves churches. But you are wise, and may apply it.)

One area where this has cropped up recently is in the matter of grace, what Matthew Henry somewhere describes as “the free favour of God and all the blessed fruits of it.” In common Christian parlance, grace seems to have become a catch-all noun to describe a certain kind of softness and carelessness with regard to sin. When acts and patterns of sin are exposed, we are encouraged to be gracious, but that grace is often not defined or ill-defined. When criticisms are made of certain acts and their actors, the rebuke is readily offered, “That is not gracious!” Grace, apparently, can ignore the sin that calls forth the critique, but not the sin of critiquing it!

So, for example, when there is gross sin in the church, we must show grace. When someone is acting wickedly, it is gracious not to condemn it. When a lie is told, grace will ignore the matter. When leaders fudge matters of righteousness, ignore God’s truth, and expose God’s flock to harms because they will not deal with transgressors, they are showing grace, and we must show grace by not charging them with any failings.

But this nebulous notion of grace is very far removed from the spiritual reality with scriptural definition that we find revealed and displayed in our Bibles. Gospel grace does not excuse or ignore or neglect sin. Gospel grace is never casual or careless with regard to transgression. Gospel grace, whether patterned in God or echoed in man, never pretends sin is not sin. Gospel grace does not expose the flock to harm because it will not identify error and heresy and defend against errorists and heretics, even in the name of love. Gospel grace suffers long, but it is not a disregard for iniquity that is dishonouring to God and dangerous to men. Gospel grace does not call evil good, and good evil; it does not put darkness for light, and light for darkness, or bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Is 5.20).

Gospel grace always faces and addresses sin, though it does so in a gracious way. If you want a seasonal example, think of that just man, who did not want to make the woman he loved a public example, despite what he was legitimately persuaded was the growing evidence of heinous sin, and “was minded to put her away secretly” (Mt 1.19). Grace took no delight in parading sin, but it did not pretend that it was not (as far as could reasonably be determined) sin. When Joseph was enlightened concerning the reality of the situation, would he not have been relieved that he did not have an immediately ungracious response, and make of Mary the most public example he could? Grace prevents us making errors born of harshness, and allows for the easy correction of mistakes.

Remember that fervent love is commanded among the saints, a love which will cover a multitude of sins (1Pt 4.8 cf. Prv 10.12), but consider that such love recognises sin as sin and chooses that, for good and proper reasons, it will be discreet in dealing with it or covering it. Again, to quote Matthew Henry, this love “inclines people to forgive and forget offences against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others, rather than aggravate them and spread them abroad.” We read that “the discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Prv 19.11) – he decides, as appropriate, that this transgression is not something that needs to be dealt with immediately and publicly, though he still recognises it as transgression, and there may come a time when a pattern of transgression requires him to stop overlooking and start acting. We do not pull one another up on every slip of deed and word, but take account of our frailties and failings as sinful creatures, creatures with remaining sin even as redeemed men and women. This is the grace of God as Father, who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103.8–14).

Notice here the hints at the greatest expression of grace: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in coming into the world to die on the cross for his wretched and sin-wrecked people was at once the clearest recognition of sin and the highest expression of mercy. God did not pretend that there was no sin; he saw it more clearly than we ever shall, but put it away by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The cross is at once the revealing of the sinfulness of sin and the demonstration of the graciousness of grace.

Gospel grace does not revel in the public exposure of sin and aggressive shaming of sinners, like a church boasting of how many cases of corrective discipline it has handled recently. But neither does it sweep sin away as if it were of no moment. True gospel grace, patterned in a gracious God and echoed in gracious men, always faces sin head on. It is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, but it is also fiercely committed to the glory of a God who is holy and to the good of those who are called to be holy just as he is holy. It calls sin sin, and it considers the nature, occasion and consequences of any particular sin and responds appropriately.

Grace is not, then, an excuse to downplay or dismiss sin as if it were of no consequence, to go on neglecting to deal with it. Grace does not make sin of no account. Grace is the most honest in dealing with sin. Grace always takes account of sin, it looks sin in the ugly eye and – one way or another – it puts it away, sometimes at great cost to itself, dealing fairly and even tenderly with those in whom that sin is discerned, as occasion demands.

Grace, ultimately, is Godlike. It is not a commodity, a mere thing, but an expression of the heart of God in Christ Jesus his Son. If we would have a pattern for gospel grace, we must find it in Christ crucified. Bring all sin into the light of the gospel, put all sin under the shadow of the cross, and there you shall find wisdom in how to deal with it. Deal with it graciously, but deal with it you must. There is nothing gracious about pretending otherwise.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 23 December 2014 at 10:01

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Of law and gospel

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‘Do this and live’

Every gospel preacher, wanting to emphasise that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, will have contrasted this gospel with the attempt to gain salvation by works. It is worth reflecting, therefore, on the fact that when the Lord Jesus Christ is asked by a lawyer ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ he answers, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ When the lawyer repeats the two great commandments, concerning loving God and loving your neighbour, Jesus says, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live’ (Luke 10: 25-28). When a rich young man asks him virtually the same question, Jesus tells him ‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments’ (Matt 19:17). He then, in the one case by a personal challenge and in the other by a parable, quickly reveals the spiritual bankruptcy of both men. However valid the principle, they cannot fulfil it.

Why does Jesus start here?

Mostyn Roberts offers an answer. It will get your brain working, but it’s stimulating stuff.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 5 May 2012 at 22:17

Mercy for roadkill

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“What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?”

When our dogs die, we cry. When these dogs died, people laughed. Dogs were pests not pets. They were vermin. The only good dog was a dead dog. And that’s what Mephibosheth felt like – a splattered, stinking, dog corpse that people shuddered to look at.

Yet the king not only looked at him, but scraped him off the ground, cared for him, clothed him, fed him, and sat him at the royal table continuously.

From roadkill to a royal son. What mercy?

I wonder if Mephibosheth kept the chain of grace going?

Have you?

Read about this chain of grace and determine that you will not be the failing link.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 March 2012 at 12:22

On the law of God

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The law of God is good and wise
And sets his will before our eyes,
Shows us the way of righteousness,
And dooms to death when we transgress.

Its light of holiness imparts
The knowledge of our sinful hearts
That we may see our lost estate
And seek deliv’rance ere too late.

To those who help in Christ have found
And would in works of love abound
It shows what deeds are his delight
And should be done as good and right.

When men the offered help disdain
And wilfully in sin remain,
Its terror in their ear resounds
And keeps their wickedness in bounds.

The law is good; but since the fall
Its holiness condemns us all;
It dooms us for our sin to die
And has no pow’r to justify.

To Jesus we for refuge flee,
Who from the curse has set us free,
And humbly worship at his throne,
Saved by his grace through faith alone.

via Heavenly Worldliness.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 10 January 2012 at 19:31

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Indicatives and imperatives

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Justin Taylor has provided a helpful set of links to the ongoing discussions between William Evans and Sean Lucas at Reformation21 and Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian at the Gospel Coalition. Having made reference to a couple of these before, being persuaded of how important the issues are, and therefore having an ongoing interest in the matter, I thought others might appreciate following the discussion. Taylor summarises:

William B. Evans and Sean Michael Lucas have been engaged in a profitable discussion over at Reformation 21 on sanctification and the gospel. Here are their exchanges:

Rick Phillips also added a helpful and important post summarizing seven assertions about the relationship between justification and sanctification.

As I’ve mentioned before, Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian have been engaged in a longer—though less direct—discussion addressing similar issues:

UPDATE: Kevin DeYoung appears to have discovered a new grammatical/theological category. According to the URL for his penultimate piece in his conversation with Tullian, he is actually discussing “inidactives.” No wonder these guys are in danger of talking past each other! From now on we must consider the indicatives, the imperatives, and the fearsome and yet to be designated inidactives.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2011 at 09:07

God’s gospel gift

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 12:11

Grace breaks in

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After the morning service on Sunday, I walked over to see what everyone was starring at through the window of the sanctuary. It was 4 men, dressed in black, trying to break into the car of one of our church members. So, how did I see the grace of the gospel in this?

Read Brian Croft’s answer.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 13 January 2011 at 09:40

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Mining the past

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Too often while reading contemporary authors on the law in the life of believers, I find myself asking the question, “Haven’t these guys read the great minds of the past on this issue?”

So asks Rich Barcellos, before supplying a few key statements from some of the theological giants who have wrestled with these issues before.

UPDATE: And there’s more.

UPDATE: More again.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 November 2010 at 17:48

“O touch my heart with grace divine”

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Lledrod L.M.

O touch my heart with grace divine,
The Father, Spirit, Son combine;
Save me through merit not my own:
Great Saviour, touch a heart of stone.

Touch me with mercy sweet, divine,
A sinner by my sins entwined,
My weakness great, my heart untrue,
Only the blood can make me new.

O touch me now with truth sublime,
The truth that conquers space and time,
And do what you alone can do:
Make me to know salvation true.

Touch now my heart with peace divine,
Safe knowing that the Lord is mine,
Each day show me undying love:
Show me anew, O heavenly Dove.

O touch my heart with love divine,
And let it through my being shine;
Sing out, my soul, to tell his praise,
To bless my God through endless days.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 24 April 2010 at 11:52

“No one like him”

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“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him! He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Job 1:8

We ought not to set up our rest in low degrees of grace; or content ourselves to be like others in grace. We should labour (if it be possible) to go beyond all others in grace. It did not satisfy Job that he had gotten to such a degree, to such a frame and temper of heart, to such a course of holiness, as his neighbors or brethren had attained unto; but he laboured to go beyond them all, “Not such a man upon the earth as Job.”  It is an holy ambition to labour to exceed all other in grace and goodness.  We have a great many in the world that desire to be so rich, as none should be like them; to be so gay in their apparel, as none should be like them; so beautiful, as none should be like them; but where are that desire and endeavour to have such a portion or stock of grace, that none should be like them, to be above others in holiness, as Job was?  True grace never rests in any degrees or measures of grace, but labours to increase: he that hath any grace would have more; do not think it enough when you are like others, you ought to labour to be beyond others.

Practical Observations on Job, Joseph Caryl (1:103)

HT: Johnny Farese.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 April 2010 at 20:26

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By grace alone

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Sinclair Ferguson’s new book is out from Ligonier.  You can order it here, and probably half a hundred other places.  Ligonier’s blurb:

Are you truly amazed by God’s grace? Or have you grown accustomed to it? Yes, we sing of God’s “Amazing Grace,” but do you truly understand what you as a Christian have experienced in receiving the grace of God? Or do you take divine grace for granted?

In By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson laments that “we have lost the joy and energy that is experienced when grace seems truly ‘amazing.’” In an effort to restore the wonder of divine grace, he reflects on it from seven angles, each built around a stanza from a rich but little-known hymn, “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me,” written by Emmanuel T. Sibomana, a pastor in the African nation of Burundi.

This book poses probing questions for today’s believer: “If I am not amazed by God’s grace, can I really be living in it? Can I really be tasting, and savoring, and delighting in it?” But those willing to delve into God’s Word with Dr. Ferguson will come away with a deeper astonishment at the depths of God’s grace.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 February 2010 at 10:24

Posted in Book notices

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“How shall the mortal lip convey”

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Warrington  L.M.

How shall the mortal lip convey
The glory of the Lord Most High,
His radiance greater than the day,
Brightness unpierced by mortal eye?

How shall we praise our glorious King,
Give him the glory he is due?
Though age on age his praises sing,
Each generation fails anew.

How many prayers, and how much praise,
Should daily pierce the holiest place!
The joy of saints’ unnumbered days
Is gazing more upon his face.

Though helpless to complete the task
Of rightly praising God the Lord,
Yet every day more grace we ask
To sweeten each attempted word.

Lord, let that grace our hearts inspire
To praise the more, the more we see,
And stir up with a holy fire
Our whole redeemed humanity.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 16 February 2010 at 09:10

Posted in Hymns & psalms

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Grace vertically and horizontally

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Ray Ortlund hits home with a few thoughts about the necessity of grace embraced in the vertical dimension (from God to man) working out on the horizontal dimension (between those who have enjoyed God’s grace in Christ).

I don’t know who he is aiming at, but he hit me.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 12 February 2010 at 22:17

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“How pleasant is the life of grace!”

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Fulda  L.M.

How pleasant is the life of grace!
What great delight to seek God’s face,
To sing his goodness, give him praise,
Whose glory shines through endless days.

How precious is our gracious Lord,
By all his ransomed ones adored,
Who, stooping low, raised us on high,
Whose glory now we magnify.

Once darkness shrouded every part,
Now God’s light reigns within the heart;
Though sin may strive, in every place
Intrudes the conquering power of grace.

©JRW

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 1 February 2010 at 08:22

Posted in Hymns & psalms

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“Majestic and merciful God”

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Trewen 8 8. 8 8. D

Majestic and merciful God,
My sins mount up into the sky;
Iniquity swells and abounds,
Transgressions and shames multiply.
A wretch and a worm I approach,
My soul and my conscience afire,
Scarce daring to wonder if I’ll
Obtain the one thing I desire.

Almighty and merciful God,
I could not complain if condemned;
My mouth in a moment be stopped,
If goodness divine were now stemmed.
But now, where my sin did abound,
Your grace has abounded much more,
For even as I come in shame,
I find that you loved me before.

My gracious and glorious God,
Your son and your servant I stand,
Amazed by your loving embrace,
Raised by your omnipotent hand.
Brought back by the promise of grace,
And blessed from your heavenly stores,
What I am and have is not mine;
For now, and eternity, yours.

©JRW

prodigal-son-rembrandt

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Trewen 8 8. 8 8. D

Majestic and merciful God,

My sins mount up into the sky;

Iniquity swells and abounds,

Transgressions and shames multiply.

A wretch and a worm I approach,

My soul and my conscience afire,

Scarce daring to wonder if I’ll

Obtain the one thing I desire.

Almighty and merciful God,

I could not complain if condemned;

My mouth in a moment be stopped,

If goodness divine were now stemmed.

But now, where my sin did abound,

Your grace has abounded much more,

For even as I come in shame,

I find that you loved me before.

My gracious and glorious God,

Your son and your servant I stand,

Amazed by your loving embrace,

Raised by your omnipotent hand.

Brought back by the promise of grace,

And blessed from your heavenly stores,

What I am and have is not mine;

For now, and eternity, yours.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 8 May 2009 at 12:35

A dying man’s questions

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This is both poignant and painful.  I remember Pastor Ted Donnelly:

Unconverted people may call us glomy.  They may consider our meetings old-fashioned and dull, without the sparkle of the polished ecclesiastical comedians.  That cannot be helped.  But when they are in trouble, in a real crisis, will they turn to the clowns?  Will they look for someone to tell them little stories and make them laugh?  Time and again we find that people in need are drawn instinctively to those who are serious, in earnest, in touch with real life.  They sense a sterling character, an ability to help on a profound level.  In the long run, the jester has less impact than the man or woman with tears of compassion.  Those who once mocked us may come to discover that ‘it is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools’ (Eccles. 7:5).[1]

HT: Extreme Theology.

PS There are several videos like this that have been proved clever but not genuine.  I have no reason to doubt this one, but – should you know otherwise – please let me know and I will remove it immediately.


[1] Ted Donnelly, Heaven and Hell (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 54-55.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 April 2009 at 13:38

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“A sensible reformation of attitudes”

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That is what Tony Blair, erstwhile Prime Minister and now roaming head and chief cheerleader of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, is calling for with regard to homosexuality in a Times article today.  The piece reports on Mr Blair’s interview with Johann Hari of the gay magazine, Attitude, in which

the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.

Asked about the Pope’s stance, Mr Blair blamed generational differences and said: “We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith.”

Later on in the piece, we are offered the following profound insight:

He continued: “What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d’être was to change the way that people thought traditionally.”

Worryingly, Mr Blair also has confidence that things are ‘improving’ elsewhere:

He also claimed that the mood was changing in evangelical circles, which have been long been anti-gay – the source of the dispute that has taken the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.

Referring to his contacts with evangelical groups in the US and elsewhere through the foundation, he said: “I think there is a generational shift that is happening. If you talk to the older generation, yes, you will still get a lot of pushback, and parts of the Bible quoted, and so on. But if you look at the younger generation of evangelicals, this is increasingly for them something that they wish to be out of – at least in terms of having their position confined to being anti-gay.”

So, Mr Blair’s alleged Christianity is based entirely on temporally shifting metaphor, rather than eternally solid truth.  This allows him to interpret Jesus – “or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad,” because we great religious thinkers are capable of seeing, apparently, that their diametrically opposed notions are perfectly reconcilable – as merely a rebel and progressive, concerned only to change the way people think traditionally.  In keeping with his pointless and nebulous view of faith, the architect of faith, Jesus, is simply trying to keep us on the move, bring us change, which is good for its own sake, being merely whatever is not traditional.  “Yes, we can.”

We also see the all-too-familiar vacuous idea of an ‘evangelical’ trotted out, probably more to do with a style of worship, dress and hair than anything substantial (for example, rooted in the gospel).  Here is a generational shift: old people will still give you those old chestnuts, “parts of the Bible quoted, and so on.”  But the young people, the radicals, the emergents, they are being nicely liberalised, and there is hope for them.  They do not want to be defined by their stance on homosexuality, as if any genuine Christian defines himself or herself by such a stance.

The Bible is not “anti-gay” in the sense that it tells us to hate homosexuals.  It is “anti-gay” in the sense that it is anti-sin, exposing homosexuality – along with a multitude of other sins – as what it really is: an offence against the God that made us.  Sexual sins, including homosexuality, get unusually short shrift because they are a high-handed demonstration of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1.25).  The idea that true religion is defined simply by its stance on homosexuality is utterly vacuous.  Christians have always accepted “gay people as equals”:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”  “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3.9-20)

See: absolute equality.  Oops, there’s me, only in my thirties, and quoting parts of the Bible, and so on . . .

But the point is that the Bible levels every man before God: we are all, by nature and deed, guilty.  And it is to guilty sinners that God makes known his righteousness in Christ Jesus, his incarnate Son:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-26)

True religion is men and women saved from their sins by the overwhelming and glorious grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the good news, preached to sinners of all kinds, outwardly virtuous or evidently vicious, religious or irreligious or pagan, and each with a rotten heart.  It is the declaration of salvation, of a true and lasting change of heart, accomplished by the power of God in the hearts of men and women whose ingrained pattern of life was once to think and speak and act contrary to the Lord God of heaven.  The apostle Paul describes such sinners:

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.  (Romans 1.26-32).

Yes, homosexuality is in there (note, Mr Blair, in the New Testament, and not just in those tricky Levitical bits that you are so quick to dismiss).  In fairness, though, it is a fairly comprehensive catalogue, and not one that leaves any of us with a leg to stand on.

To such men and women the Scriptures of God offer an uncompromising warning and a glorious hope:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

That is how true Christians define themselves: as new creatures washed in the blood of Jesus, set apart to serve God in the pursuit of holiness, indwelt by the Spirit of God and so continuing to pursue likeness to Jesus Christ.

Quite apart from these flaws in his thinking, the principle on which Mr Blair builds his argument is also inherently unstable.  What happens if accepting and promoting homosexuality becomes the norm?  Would Tony Blair have us then overthrow the new tradition?  If Tony Blair and those who think like him establish the agenda for the world, is that the time for everyone to rise up and change the way things are for something new?  This would be a recipe for chaos, a rolling maul of pointless, directionless change.

Given such thinking, would it not be about time we rethought slavery?  Being against slavery has become quite a traditional idea in the West.  Is it time to ring the changes once again?  It seems that the right to choose to end the life of a child in the womb is substantially accepted by the majority of people today.  Is that traditional enough for Mr Blair to call for a change?

Of course, the very premise on which he is arguing is patently a nonsense, and it is actually not what Mr Blair wants at all.  He wants to fix a tradition, to establish a norm, in his own image, and in the image of those who think like him.  Like every sinful man, in his heart he wants to dethrone God and be God himself.

What a heap of confusion!  We end up with a faith which has no foundation, a Jesus who is no God, and a gospel defined only by what it is not.  What a miserable and empty vision for religion.  What on earth – seriously, what on earth – does such a perspective have to offer?

How much more credible, coherent, consistent, hopeful, real and glorious, is the gospel of the true and living God, eternal and unchangeable:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 April 2009 at 09:21

Trusting in Christ – past, present, future

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Yesterday morning I completed the current segment of our studies in the Christian family by wrapping up some issues of training our children with regard to their social and cultural development.  Beginning with Luke 7.36-50 we noted that our Lord criticizes Simon (a comparative criticism, contrasting him with “the woman of ill repute”) for being rude – he was a poor host, running contrary to God’s will, and so sinned.  The lack of social grace is an indicator of a much more substantial absence of grace.  While we recognise a difference between Scriptural absolutes and cultural standards (the holy kiss will not get you very far in the typical British congregation), there is an application of the absolutes taking into account the culture in which we live.

We therefore looked at some of the issues that social and cultural development must address, both in terms of our relationships to other people and our ability to contribute to the society and culture in which God puts us.  It was a very cursory glance, but an attempt to at least sketch out some of the issues.

I closed by urging parents not to miss the mark: we do not aim at our own reputation as ‘good parents’ with ‘good children’; not social acceptability by eradicating the worst excesses and expressions of sin; not good citizenship in terms of civic responsibility and awareness and contribution; not even good churchmanship, as if we should teach behaviours that get children under the radar of even thoughtful churches; but genuine conversion.  This is about Jesus, about pointing our children – even by means of these things – to the Saviour of sinners and model for righteousness.

In the morning service, we continued to look at the marks of a true Christian.  Having exposed some inconclusive indications of a genuine work of grace last Lord’s day, I dealt with the first two indispensable indicators of a genuine conversion – those things which, according to the apostle John, must be present for a man to know himself saved, even if they are not perfect.

The first is a humble and wholehearted embrace of the divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin.  A Christian man has an accurate view of himself as a sinning sinner.  He acknowledges God’s just judgments; Spirit-wrought conviction leads to genuine repentance; with repentance is joined faith in Jesus as presented in the gospel.

The second is a humble reverence for and joyful devotion to God and his glory.  A radical reversal of priority has occurred: the idol Self is toppled and God reigns in the heart.  Gratitude for grace received and delight in God himself issues in joyful service of the Lord of glory.  The testimony of such a man’s heart is “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73.25-26).  He believes it, knows it, pursues it, and repents afresh because he does not know and feel and prove it more.

Two more will follow, God willing.

In the evening, I sought to use our celebration of the Lord’s supper to point forward to Christ’s return, in accordance with Christ’s command and promise.  From 1 Peter 1.13 we considered Hoping in Christ’s revelation.

What should a Christian be expecting? Grace, as the complement and completion of grace already received: the crowning glories of God’s undeserved and unmerited goodness – the incorruptible inheritance received, perfected salvation enjoyed, total vindication granted, and incomparable glory bestowed.

When shall we receive it? Grace is not a distinct commodity, but is bound up in Jesus, and this grace is being brought to us at Christ Jesus’ revelation.  Our expectation is connected with the coming of Christ in glory.  All the grace we anticipate is in and with him, and our blessings are entirely tied up in the person of Jesus.

What should be out attitude? A settled and vigorous frame of spirit that rests entirely in God’s promised grace in the risen, reigning, returning Christ the Lord.  The command to rest our hope fully in this grace being brought to us at Christ’s unveiling is a call to a fixed perspective, a complete dependence, a certain assurance, a joyful expectation, a constant encouragement, and should issue in a childlike obedience.  Christ is coming, and we should live in the light of it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 6 April 2009 at 09:25

Law and grace at Sinai

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 25 February 2009 at 09:24

Posted in While wandering . . .

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“Fearless Pilgrim: The Life and Times of John Bunyan”

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Fearless Pilgrim: The Life and Times of John Bunyan by Faith Cook

Evangelical Press, 2008 (528pp, hbk)

john-bunyan-1John Bunyan has had a good number of biographers, but Faith Cook’s new work sits in a niche of its own.  It is at once carefully-researched and popular; it considers the man himself yet puts him in his historical, social, political and cultural context; it recognises his literary brilliance yet sees him primarily as a man of God; it appreciates his own mental and emotional constitution but also takes account of spiritual realities.

In structure, the book essentially traces the turbulent life of John Bunyan through the turbulent times in which he lived.  But there is more to it than that.  Mrs Cook carefully situates her man in his times, showing evidence of careful research and thought.  This journey is illuminated by judicious quotes from Bunyan’s writings.  Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners obviously has a prominent place, especially in the earlier years of Bunyan’s spiritual journey, but various other works come to the fore in their turn.  This literary element is particularly enjoyable: we keep track of Bunyan’s work alongside his passing years, and the circumstances out of which his books were written provide insight into his life, and vice versa.  At points along the way there is a little necessary reading into the white spaces of Bunyan’s life.  Mrs Cook usually keeps closer to reasonable surmise than to narrative licence to fill the gaps that exist.

The author is certainly and understandably sympathetic to her subject, but she does not cut him unreasonable slack.  She spells out the trials of his sensitive conscience, but also has wise words of warning with regard to hypersensitivity of conscience.  She recognises his constitutional frailties, but also appreciates his spiritual struggles, interacting with others who have sought to assess (and, in some cases, diagnose) Bunyan’s spiritual and mental condition.  She does not shy away from the conflicts that Bunyan had with those outside the church, nor the debates with those within her arising from his distinctive views (for example, on the relationship between baptism and church membership).  In these matters, however, she is generally careful to report rather than to judge.  These elements, together with consideration of a variety of other issues – often drawing on other movers and shakers from the period (both in the religious and other spheres) – enrich the tapestry of Bunyan’s life.

fearless-pilgrimIt will be interesting to see how this volume fares in the academic realm.  It is soundly researched and well-written, and yet the author’s own commitment to the same truths which fired Bunyan’s heart is likely to compromise the worth of the book in the eyes of many specialists in the fields of literature and history.  This would be a great shame.  However, while academia might struggle to understand and acknowledge the heart of Bunyan, Christian scholars will be glad to have a competent, substantial yet sympathetic work to assist in understanding this early Baptist in his context and to validate their approach to him as a Christian man and minister.  Christians outside of this context should be able simply to enjoy this well-paced and insightful treatment.

The book is also well-illustrated with various prints, photographs and sketches.  However, a proliferation of fonts does not necessarily improve the reading experience.  With regard to substance, this deserves to be a standard work among Christians interested properly to grasp the life, work and times of this eminent servant of God.  It is heartily recommended.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 January 2009 at 07:15

Without the holiness of God . . .

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What difference does the holiness of God make?

Without the holiness of God, sin has no meaning and grace has no point.  God’s holiness gives to the one its definition and to the other its greatness.  Without the holiness of God, sin is merely human failure, but not failure before God.  It is failure without the standard by which we know it to have failed.  It is failure without guilt, failure without retribution, failure without any serious moral meaning.

Without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of his judgment that covered the cross.  Without God’s holiness, grace would be nothing more than sentimental benevolence.  It is this holiness that shows the graciousness of grace, its character as unmerited, because it also shows us the offensiveness of sin.

Without the holiness of God, faith is but a confidence in good fortune, optimism about our prospects, hope in some future happiness.  It is not what takes hold of the one in whom God has wrought his propitiation.  It is not that trusting in the utter reliability of the good character of God that makes his promises “Yes and Amen” in Christ.[1]


 [1] David F. Wells, The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Nottingham: IVP, 2008), 241.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 2 January 2009 at 06:00

Posted in General

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“Matchless blessings we possess”

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Dix 7 7. 7 7. 7 7

Matchless blessings we possess
In the Saviour we confess;
Countless joys attend each day
As we walk the narrow way:
Let my tongue for ever sing
Hymns of praise to Christ my King.

For the joy of sin put down;
For the promise of a crown;
For the strength to run the race;
For the might of saving grace:
Let my mind and heart rejoice,
And thanksgiving find its voice.

When on bended knee we plead,
Wisdom measures every need;
Perfect knowledge, joined with power,
Meets the need of every hour:
For the mercies given in love
Let my song resound above.

Boundless grace attends our way
Even in life’s darkest day;
Guardian angels from above
Minister God’s perfect love:
Let my song return on high,
And my Saviour magnify.

When we come to heaven’s height,
Entering glory’s purer light;
When we bow before the throne,
Taken up with God alone:
Oh, how then I will explore
God’s great love forevermore!

©JRW

light-through-clouds

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 20 December 2008 at 12:20

False dichotomies

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In the last couple of days a list of qualities in communities of performance and communities of grace has been floating around the interweb (e.g. here).  It apparently comes from an address by Tim Chester at the Total Church Conference, and also appears on Tim’s blog.  I recently read Total Church by Tim and his colleague, Steve Timmis, and found much that was provocatively helpful and challenging, and a few things with which I disagreed or about which I had questions (I may try to review this book shortly).  Here is the list:

Communities of performance

  • the leaders appear sorted
  • the community appears respectable
  • meetings must be a polished performance
  • identity is found in ministry
  • failure is devastating
  • actions are driven by duty
  • conflict is suppressed or ignored
  • the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted)

Communities of grace

  • the leaders are vulnerable
  • the community is messy
  • meetings are just one part of community life
  • identity is found in Christ
  • failure is disappointing, but not devastating
  • actions are driven by joy
  • conflict is addressed in the open
  • the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)

We are asked to assess the churches of which we are a part and to which we belong, and to see whether we belong to a community of performance or a community of grace.

However, what we are presented with here is a series of false dichotomies: this is a logical fallacy in which two options are given on the premise that the one is mutually exclusive of the other, and that there are no other alternatives.  But it is a false dichotomy because the contrast is either not jointly exhaustive or not mutually exclusive.  Put more simply, you are being told that this is an ‘either-or’ choice when it really is not.

So, are your leaders sorted or are they vulnerable?  These are not mutually exclusive choices.  Is it wrong for leaders to be competent?  Is that the same as sorted?  What does ‘vulnerable’ mean?  Does it mean that their fallen though redeemed humanity is apparent, that they evidently are earthen vessels (2Cor 4.7)?  Webster’s Dictionary suggests that a vulnerable person is “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” – what does that have to do with grace?  If it means that the leaders of a church don’t pretend to be superhuman, all well and good.  But how does that contrast with ‘sorted’?  A lot of people who like to appear sorted are actually prone to being wounded – vulnerability is often part of the package, because it’s the very thing that the performer is trying to deny.  Furthermore, a leader who is not only capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, but who is constantly wrecked by it and made incapable of serving others through it (e.g. curling up in self-centredness) is not really a demonstration of grace.  Only where one’s vulnerability works itself out in, for example, a Pauline dynamic does it prove a demonstration of grace.

The community appears respectable or it is messy?  If by this we are called to distinguish between a Pharisaic outward morality and a readiness to acknowledge the realities of remaining sin and the imperfections of sinners wrestling toward holiness, fine.  But is messy the opposite of respectable?  If we are beacons of gospel light in a fallen world could we not appear – or, indeed, be – ‘respectable’ to a twisted and miserable world without being Pharisees?  And does messy require that we not make progress toward godliness, even while we recognise that God’s grace is not always the neat and streamlined thing we would like it to be?  Are we being told to oppose messy with orderly?  After all, things in the church are to be done decently and in order (1Cor 14.40).  Is there something ungodly about being like God?

Again, if a polished performance is the be-all-and-end-all of a meeting for worship, then clearly we are in trouble.  But how is that opposed to a meeting that is one part of community life?  The whole life of a community could be the pursuit of a polished performance.  What does it become then?  Again, could a meeting that is decent and orderly be a genuine arena for true grace?  Paul evidently thought so.

Is your identity found in ministry or in Christ?  Surely and fundamentally, it is in Christ.  But is knowing and labouring in one’s calling and service the opposite of finding one’s identity in Christ?

Is failure devastating or disappointing?  Well, it depends on the nature of the failure.  When Peter failed to own Christ, he was more than disappointed.  He was, of course, restored by God’s grace, but he was devastated.  Are we called to distinguish between the demand for sinless perfection and the recognition that there is a constant battle against sin and for godliness?  Amen!  But surely it is not the necessary mark of a mere performer to be profoundly grieved over sin (one’s own or that of others), and some of the most gracious men are much more than disappointed by their sin and those of others, while recognising that where sin abounds grace much more abounds?

Are your actions driven by duty or joy?  Well, are not a lot of my actions duties?  Cannot my duties be driven by joy?  What sort of joy?  What is the opposite of this joy?  Distress?  Grief?  To be sure, my actions are not to be driven by guilt, or with a view to earning merit, or merely being applauded.  But to be driven (motivated?) by joy does not mean that what I am doing is not my Christian duty.

Is conflict suppressed or ignored or addressed openly?  What does openly mean?  If it means in front of the whole community, then that runs against our Lord’s injunction to go first alone to win one’s brother, and then with one or two others (Mt 18.15-17).  “Of course it doesn’t mean that!” you respond.  I know, but in terms of the false contrast supplied it could.  What does suppression mean?  If it means covering a brother’s ignorant offence with a blanket of love (in the longsuffering spirit of 1 Corinthians 13.4) because you do not need to raise it with him unless it becomes a pattern of sin, surely that is a mark of grace?  If and when a problem does need to be dealt with, do you do so frankly, transparently, openly?  Good, that too is grace.

Is the focus of your local church on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted) or on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)?  Why should an affectionate heart full of love to God and persuaded of the sinfulness of sin and the abounding grace of God in Christ lack orthodox belief and righteous behaviour?  As Martin Downes points out (just seen this!), orthodoxy is demanded in a true community of grace and a true minister of the gospel of grace (2Tim 1.13-14).  There is no necessary exclusivity between orthodox doctrine and righteous living and the affections of the heart (as the parenthetical caveats acknowledge, there is a specific context in which these qualities can become opposed, even if they not mutually exclusive themselves).

If you read Tim Chester’s own blog, you will see that he is much more nuanced than the list suggests.  This is a good thing, because the naked list is thoroughly misleading.  It sets up a series of unfair contrasts that demand a much more carefully explained context to be genuinely helpful.  The categories established and the judgments demanded by them suck the unwary reader into an ‘either-or’ quandary which is simply unnecessary, not to mention unreasonable.  The opposing lists feel edgy and radical, but – standing alone – they seem flawed and can be very easily misunderstood.  Indeed, almost all of the marks of a community of grace we are offered could very easily be ‘performed.’  I hope that by simply pointing this out, I will not be immediately consigned to one of those terrible ‘communities of performance.’

Some of the things that Tim identifies certainly can mark a community as tainted with Pharisaism and legalism and hypocrisy.  Some of the marks he suggests identify a community of grace are – rightly understood – indicative of spiritual health.  However, there is a mere surface contrast being demanded by these lists that could betray us into a denial of true grace at work.  Martin Downes makes plain that

Christ is enough. His obedient life is enough. His finished work is enough. The imputation of his righteousness is enough. It has all be done by Him for us. Grace has set us free from seeking to establish, maintain and advance our status on the basis of a false righteousness.

Where Christ is enough and known and felt to be enough, grace will reign and our communities will be awash with grace.  It will be grace in which we stand (Rom 5.2) and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Such realities are not advanced by false dichotomies.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 3 November 2008 at 14:24

The pardon of sin: a meditation for the Lord’s day

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From Abraham Booth, taken from The Reign of Grace:

How glorious, then, is that forgiveness which is with God, that pardon I have been describing! It has every requisite to make it complete in itself, and suitable to the indigent, miserable sinner. It has not one discouraging circumstance to forbid the most guilty, or the most unworthy, applying to the ever-merciful Jehovah for it. It is full, free, and everlasting, every way complete and worthy of God. It was absolutely necessary to the peace of our consciences, and to the salvation of our souls, that it should be of such unlimited extent, of such unmerited freeness, and of such everlasting efficacy. Less than this would not have supplied our wants, or have served our purpose. If it had not been full, taking in every kind and every degree of sin, we must have suffered the punishment due to some part of it ourselves, and then we had been lost forever. If it had not been entirely free, we could never have enjoyed the inestimable blessing, for we have nothing, nor can we do any thing to purchase it, or to qualify for it. And if it had not been everlasting, never to be reversed, we should have been under continual anxiety and painful apprehensions, lest God should, on account of our present unworthiness or future failings, recall the blessing when once bestowed. But, being possessed of these properties, the vilest sinner has no reason despondingly to say, “My sins, alas! are too many and great for me to expect pardon.” None have any cause to complain, “I long for the blessing; it is dearer to me than all worlds; but my strong corruptions, and utter unworthiness, render me incapable of ever enjoying it.” Nor have any occasion to fear lest, after the comfortable enjoyment of the superlative privilege, they should forfeit it, and again come under condemnation and wrath.

Praise God for the full, free and everlasting forgiveness of our sins!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Sunday 2 November 2008 at 00:12

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