Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Covenant of Redemption

David Van Drunen & Scott Clark on the covenant of redemption:
In Reformed theology, the pactum salutis has been defined as a pretemporal, intratrinitarian agreement between the Father and Son in which the Father promises to redeem an elect people. In turn the Son volunteers to earn the salvation of his people by becoming incarnate...by acting as surety of the covenant of grace for and as mediator of the covenant of grace to the elect. In his active and passive obedience, Christ fulfills the conditions of the pactum salutis...ratifying the Father's promise, because of which the Father rewards the Son's obedience with the salvation of the elect. And because of this the Holy Spirit applies the Son's work to his people through the means of grace.

Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry, p. 168

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Euan Murray in The Independent

I was delighted to read the interview with the Scottish international prop Euan Murray in The Independent newspaper. He is a formidable scrummager and I hope will make the British Lions tour party to South Africa next summer.

Murray was seriously injured during a club match a few years ago but by the grace of God it led to real spiritual changes. The whole interview is here. I was delighted to read this:
"I became scared of where I was going when I died. Life's here one minute and could be gone the next. I tried to change my life and I couldn't, then suddenly my life changed and it was Christ who changed my life, that's why I have faith."

It's impressive for a professional sportsman - never mind a prop forward - to openly discuss this type of thing.

"It's the most important thing in my life," insists Murray. "It's the best thing that's ever happened to me. You want to tell people about it, why keep it to myself?"


Friday, November 28, 2008

Implicit or Explicit? The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament

Yesterday I gave two lectures on the doctrine of God at the North West Partnership training course. Lecture two was on the Trinity, and toward the end of the lecture we tackled two questions:
  • Is the Trinity revealed in the Old Testament?
  • Could the Trinity have been revealed in the Old Testament?

The consensus among the group was to answer yes to both questions, but with a caveat. The qualifier in question concerned whether the Trinity was explicitly or only implicitly revealed in the Old Testament. An implicit revelation was favoured by most.

Roughly put this position contends that there is sufficient evidence in the Old Testament to warrant the conclusion that it is Trinitarian, but that this evidence is of insufficient clarity to warrant the conclusion that on the basis of the Old Testament alone it is possible to be Trinitarian. The trouble with implicit Trinitarianism is that it is not in fact Trinitarian. At best it affirms the unity of God with indications of a plurality within that unity. That is, of course, not the same as saying that this plurality ought to be conceived of as a tri-unity.

So that makes it a full thirty-nine books without a clear view of God as the Holy Trinity. Book forty, or the events that the books in the New Testament record and explain, finally bring us into an estate of clear Trinitarian theology and out of the estate of hints and suggestions as to the unity and plurality of the persons in the Godhead.

I disagreed with this conclusion, which caused an interesting reaction. It was as if I had said something deeply controversial.

Earlier in the lecture I offered the following minimal outline of the doctrine of the Trinity (you will find slight variations on this in some recent evangelical systematic theology textbooks):

1. There is only one God

2. There are three distinct persons in the Godhead: Father, Son and Spirit

3. Each person is fully God

Now, bearing in mind a few qualifiers, I think that the case can be made for supporting each of these points from the Old Testament alone. Point one of course being easy to establish (Deuteronomy 4:32-35; 6:4; Isaiah 44:8). Among my qualifiers are the following:

a. The New Testament records for us the incarnation of the Son and the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. Redemptive history turns on these events, and they are both reported and interpreted by the New Testament authors. The Old Testament anticipates these events in much the same way that the New Testament anticipates the return of Christ and the end of the age. The Old Testament is full of theophanies (God walking in the Garden, Jacob wrestling with the angel as Hosea 12:4 puts it, although he knows that he has seen God face to face and yet his life has been delivered, Genesis 32:30) but nevertheless looks forward to the incarnation of the Son of God. To assert the explicit nature of Old Testament revelation concerning the Trinity is not to deny that the Old Testament events, promises, types and prophecies required fulfillment in the New Testament.

b. It has been said that "the doctrine of the Trinity is not so much heard as overheard in the statements of Scripture." Warfield could speak of a passage such as 1 Corinthians 12 alluding to rather than asserting the Trinity. All the data that was needed to establish the creedal doctrine of the Trinity (e.g. the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed) was to be found in the pages of Scripture. But this data is not recorded in exactly the same verbal form as we find in the creeds and confessions (e.g. "being of one substance with the Father"). The creeds are a summary of a large body of data corresponding with points 1-3 in our minimalist Trinitarian framework. It is a rationalistic mindset, posing as a commitment to biblical authority, that faults the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity because it lacks, in one specific text, the wording of the creeds.

c. The doctrine of the Trinity is revealed in Scripture in action and not in the abstract. The saving God is the triune God, and he reveals himself as such as he saves his people. The Father elects and sends, the Son is sent, becomes incarnate, dies and rises thus redeeming his people, and Father and Son send the Spirit to regenerate, sanctify, indwell God's people, and to apply the work of the Son. This is directly related to point b.

d. We ought not to smuggle in unwarranted assumptions about what God could or could not reveal about himself during the Old Testament period. John Frame in The Doctrine of God (which I must say has been a very helpful resource for my teaching) cites Warfield's comment that "a full account of the Trinity would have confused the ancient Hebrews...in the great battle between monotheism and polytheistic idolatry" (this is a paraphrase of Warfield's position p. 703). As much as it goes against the grain to disagree with Warfield (tell it not in Gath!), how could he know that they would have been confused? Isn't that a little too psychological an approach to take? And if they lacked a "full account" would they not have been in even greater danger of slipping into polytheistic idolatry merely with hints and implications (Genesis 1:26 being but one example)? Is it not the case that a partial account would have been even more dangerous (a unity and unnumbered plurality in God)? Frame hints at this when he writes:

...from the data of the Old Testament alone, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine how many divine beings there are. One might well ask if Word, wisdom, name, glory, angel, Messiah, and Spirit designate seven distinct divine beings, and, if not, what the relationships among them are. (Frame, The Doctrine of God, p. 637-8)
Although I presume that he really means "how many" personal subsistences there are in the divine being as opposed to several distinct divine beings. However, David distinguishes between the Messiah as his Lord and the LORD (Psalm 110:1) and the Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:11). Are we safeguarded from thinking of there being more than three divine persons by the dominance of Christophanies in the Old Testament (the preincarnate mediatorial work of the Son of God) and the distinguishing, but not separating, of God and his Spirit? Is it not the case that in Genesis and Exodus we are clearly introduced to a person who is God, and yet is sent by God, one who can be seen, even as we are taught that no man can see God and live? Jesus has many names in the New Testament, and many names in the Old (the angel of the Lord, the Commander of the Lord's army, the Son of Man). Perhaps we are on safer ground when we see that the plurality of names finds its unity in the preincarnate appearances of the person of the God-man.

For now let me finish with three lines of enquiry:

i. The angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is clearly God, and yet is sent by God

He speaks to Hagar (Genesis 16:6-13), to Abraham (Genesis 22:2, 11-12), wrestles with Jacob (Genesis 32:30), identifies himself to Jacob as the "God of Bethel" (Genesis 31:11-13), redeems Jacob (Genesis 48:15-16), speaks to Moses (Exodus 3:1-6), testifies to Israel that he brought them out of Egypt and into Canaan (Judges 2:1-4, which God said that he had done in Joshua 24:2-8). The angel of the Lord identifies himself as God, speaks as God, and does the works of God.

And yet the angel of the Lord is also sent by God:

"But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you." (Exodus 32:34)

"Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him." (Exodus 23:20-21)

How can we avoid the conclusion that the angel of the Lord is both God, and yet sent by God? And how is this any different to the theology of John's gospel where the Son is sent by God and yet is God?

ii. The promised Messiah in the Old Testament in clearly both human and divine

David calls him Lord, even though the Messiah is David's son (Psalm 110:1 and Mark 12:35-37; Acts 2:25-36). Psalm 45:6-7 is quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9, affirming that the Messianic King is both God and man.

iii. Although fewer in number the Old Testament does not lack passages where two or more divine persons are referred to

Some examples would be:

"Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there." And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit. (Isaiah 48:16)

"In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them." (Isaiah 63:9-10)

A distinction is made here, as it is elsewhere, between God and his Spirit (cf. Genesis 1:2), as well as affirming that the Holy Spirit is grieved by the sin of God's people (much the same as Ephesians 4:30).

For thus said the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye: "Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me. Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you." (Zechariah 2:8-11)

In that last passage the Lord sends the Lord, which as Calvin says in his commentary is Christ being sent by the Father.

My contention is that these three lines of Old Testament enquiry are the kind of texts that support the minimal Trinitarian doctrinal framework set out in three points above.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The whole counsel of God? Or just the inspirational bits?

Whilst reading Mike Horton's Christless Christianity I came across the following comment:
Just as Joel Osteen has decided for himself the message he will preach, he has also tailored his own vocation. In interviews, he has said that he is not called to explain the Scriptures or expound doctrine. In this book [Become a Better You] he adds, "I'm not called to explain every minute facet of Scripture or to expound on deep theological doctrines or disputes that don't touch where real people live. My gifting is to encourage, to challenge, and to inspire." (p. 90)
To which Horton replies "Ambassadors do not get to choose what they say."

Seeing an erudite thinker like Horton take on Osteen reminded me of the comment once made about Richard Baxter going after some inferior opponents, "Wielding his club like Nimrod the mighty hunter going after a nest of wrens."

But that aside there are some valuable lessons that we can learn from this exchange.

How much of the Bible do Christians need to know? How do we decide whether a deep theological doctrine is relevant enough to be worth teaching? Would you ever preach through Ephesians? Could you? After all it is not as if Paul stops being doctrinal when he gets to the "where real people live" bits. Is there anything worth believing that hasn't been disputed at some point? Justification by faith alone anyone?

However, it would be wrong to turn from this feeling smug and self satisified. I have to ask myself not whether I am capable of being selective in what I preach, but at what points I am susceptible to this temptation. What am I tempted to leave out? To hold back on? To downplay? Why is this? Am I afraid of the reaction that I will get? Am I unclear as to what I ought to teach? Am I too controlled by the desires and aspirations, the moods and tastes, of my audience? Am I too succumbing to the temptation to please people and not God (1 Thess. 2:3-6; Gal. 1:10)?

Even if we can recognise failure at this point in others it is a sobering fact that we have never been innoculated against this same pressure and temptation. Watch you life and doctrine closely is the apostolic watchword to all preachers (1 Tim. 4:16)

If we roll back the centuries we can listen to Luther thunder against this approach:
Truth and doctrine, are to be preached always, openly, and firmly, and are never to be dissembled or concealed; for there is no offence in them; they are a staff of uprightness.--And who gave you the power, or committed to you the right, of confining the Christian doctrine to persons, places, times, and causes, when Christ wills it to be proclaimed, and to reign freely, throughout the world?

He does not say--preach it to some and not to others.

You see therefore, again, how rashly you run against the Word of God, as though you preferred far before it, your own counsel and cogitations.
Erasmus' Preface Reviewed, Section XXI, The Bondage of the Will

Choosing between truth and error

I have had an interest in heresy for the last ten years. One of my concerns has been to explore the the pastoral and moral implications of heresy for those peddling it and those taken in by it.

There is a great danger in having such an impoverished view of doctrine that we consider it to be merely a cerebral matter. But whether we are willing to embrace orthodoxy or heresy is more than a matter of intellectual preferences. It is in fact an litmus test of the "rectitude of the heart." Truth and error elicit from us not just intellectual agreement but reveal our ultimate commitments in matters of authority, the place of reason and faith, our moral disposition, what we love etc.

Take note of the images, metaphors, and practices that occur in the New Testament when the subject of false teaching crops up. Choosing between truth and error is never divorced from holiness, godliness, humility, pride, ungodliness and sin.

Luther had it exactly right when he penned these words:
For when we begin to be, in the least degree, disposed to trifle, and not to hold the sacred truths in due reverence, we are soon involved in impieties, and overwhelmed with blasphemies.
The Bondage of the Will

Humility, inability and grace

God has promised certainly his grace to the humbled: that is, to the self-deploring and despairing. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled, until he comes to know that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsel, endeavours, will and works, and absolutely depending on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of another, that is, of God only.
Martin Luther

The Bondage of the Will

Monday, November 24, 2008

Things that need to be said: Christless Christianity

There are certain books that, even within a few pages, give you the distinct impression that they must be read, and re-read, with great care. Michael Horton's latest volume Christless Christianity : The Alternative Gospel of the American Church is that kind of book.

Horton's analysis of what is wrong with so much that passes for Christianity in the United States, and which of course is being exported across the globe, is clear sighted, substantiated by the evidence, and devastating in its implications. Old errors are alive and well and the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ is being supplanted by them.

Some twelve and a half years ago R. C. Sproul wrote that "We need an Augustine or a Luther to speak to us anew lest the light of God's grace be not only overshadowed but be obliterated in our time." It is precisely with that same concern, and in that same vein, that Horton has directed his aim at a "Christless Christianity" that gravitates toward a theology and practice that draws us away from God's astonishing sovereign grace.

This appalling trade-off leaves us with a Christ that we may still call a Savior, but "we really save ourselves by knowing and following the steps of the new birth and victorious living" (p. 54). It is an alternative view of what is wrong with human nature, a revision of our sin, guilt, and real needs before God, that inevitably redefines what we consider to be the good news. "Once the self is enthroned as the source, judge, and goal of all of life, the gospel need not be denied because it is beside the point" (p. 40).

If sin and guilt are about subjective feelings and states that can be overcome with the right guidance, coaching, and examples, what need is there for the Christ of the Cross? Horton points to the profusion of evangelical "how to" literature, all outlining "the most efficient steps and techniques" (p. 53), and all of course bearing witness to an unsubdued and unsurrendered confidence in human ability.

This "Christianity-lite" is no more than the redux version of the old errors of pelagianism and gnosticism, a heady brew of works-righteousness and rampant subjectivism, but all tailored to the needs of those reared on 21st century aspirations and expectations.

"Christless Christianity" is anti-gospel error with a smile. It has enough truth, or perhaps words associated with the truth, to maintain plausibility, and enough error to pander to the cravings of our sinful hearts and minds. Our ability to obey is massaged, our spirituality is pampered, but our sins, true guilt, total helplessness, our need for Jesus Christ and his substitutionary death are neglected, ignored, and replaced.

Horton writes:
So much of what I am calling "Christless Christianity" is not profound enough to constitute heresy. Like the easy-listening Muzak that plays ubiquitously in the background in other shopping venues, the message of American Christianity has simply become trivial, sentimental, affirming, and irrelevant...I think our doctrine has been forgotten, assumed, ignored, and even misshaped and distorted by the habits and rituals of daily life in a narcissistic culture. (p. 21)
Instead of a gospel that is grace all the way down, "Christless Christianity" is "moralistic, therapeutic deism" (p. 40). Even though it may try to distance itself from the old legalism of the fundamentalists, it is still legalism. It is law, and not gospel. This whole approach is typified by the dazzling self-help moralism of Joel Osteen:
Osteen seems to think that we are basically good people and God has a very easy way for us to save ourselves--not from his judgment, but from our lack of success in life--with his help. "God is keeping a record of every good deed you've ever done," he says--as if this is good news. "In your time of need, because of your generosity, God will move heaven and earth to make sure you are taken care of." (p. 70)
Indeed the pandering to works is astonishing:
Make no mistake about it, behind all of the smiles there is a thorough-going religion of works-righteousness: "God's plan for each of our lives is that we continually rise to new levels. But how high we go in life, and how much of God's favour and blessing we experience, will be directly related to how well we follow his directions." (p. 86)
But it is not only the Joel Osteens and Robert Schullers of this world who confuse law and gospel, the same is true in the writings of emergent guru Brian McLaren (p. 110-4). The good news for Osteen is how to become a better you, for McLaren it is following a new way, but for both the work of Christ outside of us, apart from us, and crucially for us, is being jettisoned. Horton rightly says "Jesus and the community, his work and ours, blend into one saving event" (p. 114).

One could be forgiven for thinking that Christless Christianity is merely a withering critique of all that is wrong with the pragmatic, pelagian, individualistic, market and emergent driven American church landscape. However, at every turn Horton points us, to borrow the title from another of his works, to a better way. As well as having a polemical edge this book is soul enriching. It is as we are reminded of our sinful depravity and helplessness, as we are humbled, that we are reminded again and again in the book of the sheer grace of God in Jesus Christ, of his atoning blood, glorious resurrection, and total sufficiency. Indeed Horton directs us to preaching Christ, to the churchly means of grace, as God's provision for burned out souls.

Let me end this brief review with a striking passage that I think encapsulates the reason why evangelical church life is so desperately faddish, frantically pursuing a boom and bust cycle of spiritual experience reminiscent of Israel in the book of Judges:
Similarly today, the preaching of the law in all of its gripping judgment and the preaching of the gospel in all of its surprising sweetness merge into a confused message of gentle exhortation to a more fulfilling life. Consequently, we know neither how to mourn nor how to throw a real party. The bad news no longer stands in such sharp contrast with the good news; we become content with so-so news that eventually fails to bring genuine conviction or genuine comfort but keeps us on the treadmill of anxiety, craving the next revival, technique, or movement to lift our spirits and catapult us to heavenly glory. (p. 63)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What is God? (WSC Q. 4, Bruce Benedict)

With three adjectives and seven nouns, which you have to get in the right order, here's a little help with the memorization.

video

What is the chief end of man? (Bruce Benedict)


video

Learning the Shorter Catechism

On Sunday we held our first catechism class. There were fifty of us lined up for the start of the marathon. In three years we will cover all 107 questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Learning the catechism in this way is a long term investment in the truth.

Bruce Benedict has set the catechism to "quirky, folky music" to help memorization. I think he has done a grand job of it.

You can get hold of the cd/downloadable mp3 plus some samples here. Have a listen. And at just $8 for Q. 1-38 I'd really encourage you to buy it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

John Owen December book giveaway

The boys at Feeding on Christ and Reformed Forum are giving away two books in some kind of Reformed lottery.

Here's the link.

There's also a recent interview, well worth listening, to with Carl Trueman.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Risking The Truth

Updated [New endorsement from Jim Hamilton]

The official title for the interviews book that Christian Focus will be publishing next year is:

Risking The Truth: Handling Error in the Church
Interviews with Mark Dever, Carl Trueman, Mike Horton, Tom Schreiner, Scott Clark, Ligon Duncan, Derek Thomas, Kim Riddlebarger...

...and several other senior ministers and seminary professors.

Here are some endorsements:

This collection is fascinating, sobering and encouraging. It presents an impressive range of experience and wisdom on the challenges facing the church and its ministry in dealing with false teaching while being sensitive to those affected by it.

Robert Letham
Tutor in Systematic Theology
WEST (Wales Evangelical School of Theology)

Serious. Thoughtful. Humble. Godly. Loving. Bracing. Encouraging. These interviews will be a blessing to anyone seeking to be faithful in Christian ministry.

James M. Hamilton Jr.
Associate Professor of Biblical Theology
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The threat of heresy is no small matter. Heresy so twists and alters the most essential saving truths that it detroys authentic Christian faith and places those who embrace it in eternal danger. All errors in doctrine are harmful. All errors in doctrine lead to errors in practice. But some errors are deadly to our souls.

Concerning the danger to the church posed by heresy the late Harold Brown wrote:
"Traditionally, the church has been symbolized by an ark; those who board the ark will survive the deluge. Heresy not merely undermines one's intellectual understanding of Christian doctrine, but threatens to sink the ark, and thus to make salvation impossible for everyone, not merely for the individual heretic."



Amazon got their prices wrong

Commiserations to all of you who "bought" excessive amounts of NICOT/NICNT commentaries at silly prices only to find that Amazon.co.uk got their prices wrong.

Of course those of you who are English will have had that feeling of "astronomically raised hopes being cruelly dashed" every time that the football world cup comes around.

Heresy as "wilfulness in doctrine"

More From Warfield:

In a time deeply marked by "concession," at all events, it is worth our while to remember on the one hand that "concession" is the high road to "heresy," and that "heresy" is "willfulness in doctrine"; and on the other, that God has revealed his truth to us to be held, confessed, and defended, and that, after all, he is able to defend and give due force to the whole circle of revealed truth.

And surely it is worth our while to recognize the most outstanding fact in the conflicts of our age-this, namely, that the line of demarcation between the right-thinking and the wilfully-thinking lies just here-whether a declaration of God is esteemed as authoritative over against all the conjectural explanations of phenomena by men, or whether, on the contrary, it is upon the conjectural explanations of phenomena by men that we take our stand as over against the declaration of God.

In the sphere of science, philosophy, and criticism alike, it is the conjectural explanations of phenomena which are put forward as the principles of knowledge. It is as depending on these that men proclaim science, philosophy, and criticism as the norm of truth.

We are "orthodox" when we account God's declaration in his Word superior in point of authority to them, their interpreter, and their corrector.

We are "heretical" when we make them superior in point of authority to God's Word, its interpreter, and its corrector.

By this test we may each of us try our inmost thought and see where we stand-on God's side or on the world's.




Warfield on Heresy

From the pen of B. B. Warfield:

Whatever account we may give, however, of the power of the world's thought over Christian men, it seems pretty clear that the "concessive" attitude which leads men to accept the tenets which have originated elsewhere than in the Scriptures as the foundation of their thinking, and to bend Scripture into some sort of conciliation with them, is the ruling spirit of our time, which may, therefore, be said to be dominated by the very spirit of "heresy."

"Modern discovery" and "modern thought" are erected into the norm of truth, and we are told that the whole sphere of theological teaching must be conformed to it. This is the principle of that reconstruction of religious thinking which we are now constantly told is going on resistlessly about us, and which is to transform all theology.


What is demanded of us is just to adjust our religious views to the latest pronouncements of philosophy or science or criticism. And this is demanded with entire unconsciousness of the fundamental fact of Christianity-that we have a firmer ground of confidence for our religious views than any science or philosophy or criticism can provide for any of their pronouncements.


It is very plain that he who modifies the teachings of the Word of God in the smallest particular at the dictation of any "man-made opinion" has already deserted the Christian ground, and is already, in principle, a "heretic."


The very essence of "heresy" is that the modes of thought and tenets originating elsewhere than in the Scriptures of God are given decisive weight when they clash with the teachings of God's Word, and those are followed to the neglect or modification or rejection of these.

Read more here.


Scrabble: Aged 60, and played at 13 000ft

This is such a good picture.

Ok, back to heresy...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Commentary sale now closed

My good friend Mike Chalmers informs me that the crazy NICOT/NICNT commentary sale at Amazon has sold out.

Update

You may find some of these volumes appearing for sale on Ebay by ministers looking to make a quick buck.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Crazy NICOT/NICNT Commentary sale

Check it out at Amazon.co.uk:

NICOT

NICNT

Waltke on Proverbs (2 Volumes) £6.00 and £6.80 instead of £28.00.

Wenham on Leviticus £1.99 instead of £22.00.

Barnett on 2 Corinthians £4.79 instead of £30.00.

And much, much more.

(HT: Tim Chester)

From Grief to Glory: Book Review

"Grace tried is better than grace, and it is more than grace; it is glory in its infancy"
Samuel Rutherford

"You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness. Then He is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation,--a rock rising above the storm."
Robert Murray M'Cheyne

James Bruce has done us all a remarkable service by writing, and the Banner of Truth for publishing From Grief to Glory: A Book of Comfort for Grieving Parents. I would not hesitate to say that every pastor and elder ought to read this book, and every church bookstall or library should have several copies. I'm so glad that my friend Geoff Thomas sent this book to me. My wife and I were amazed to discover that in the UK over six thousand babies a year are either stillborn or die in the first few weeks of birth.

James Bruce writes out of his own experience of sorrow at the death of his son aged just fifty five days. He says that he prayed that God would spare him this sorrow:
But God's ways are not our ways, and he would not let me play the coward or escape the cords of death so easily. What I had feared most came to pass, and (now I can say) we had the blessing of being with our son the night he died...God had beheld his unformed substance and decreed the bounds beyond which he could not pass. (p. 17)
He then goes on to ask "...who has set us a Christian example of how to bear up under the loss of a child?" (p.18). The answer to that question can be found throughout the pages of church history. Grieving parents today have the company of those in the past who shed the same tears and found the comfort of a loving, gracious God and Father:
This book is a collection of short accounts of some of these eminent men and women who lost a beloved child--who wept and who yet were comforted by the Father of mercies...The comfort they obtained has helped me, and I believe that all who suffer similar losses may discover these saints to be comrades and find in their stories comfort and encouragement for present distresses. But you must follow them all the way to the path of glory. (p. 21)
The book is a compilation of testimonies, poems, and hymns articulating thr grief and triumphant faith of Luther, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Calvin, the Countess of Huntingdon, Matthew Henry, Charles Wesley, Horatius Bonar, R. L. Dabney, and many others.

Listen to Luther:
As they laid her in the coffin he said: 'Darling Lena, you will rise and shine like a star, yea, like the sun. I am happy in spirit, but the flesh is sorrowful and will not be content, the parting grieves me beyond measure. I have sent a saint to heaven.' (p. 44)
And to Dabney:
Ah! When the mighty wings of the angel of death nestle over your heart's treasures, and his black shadow broods over your home, it shakes the heart with a shuddering terror and a horror of great darkness...As I stand by the little grave, and think of the poor ruined clay within, that was a few days ago so beautiful, my heart bleeds. But as I ask, 'Where is the soul whose beams gave that clay all its beauty and preciousness?' I triumph! (p. 50)

Now I feel, as never before, the blessedness of the redeeming grace and divine blood, which has ransomed my poor babe from all the sin and death which he inherited through me. (p. 51)
The book is valuable because it is honest about the agony of losing a child ("Small coffins are placed in the ground, but more than the body is buried"), of the shattering of a father's and a mother's hopes and dreams. And yet this book also powerfully testifies to the comfort of God, of his redemption in Christ, of victory over the grave, of sufficent promises to sustain his people in their sorrows. This is true.

It is not the death of children but the loss of the gospel that ultimately leaves us in despair. Not that this comfort always comes without a struggle. The emotions are raw and real, but as Bruce says:
Still, in general, you will find in these writers that faith prevails over emotions. Emotions are based on what we see, but faith on what we know. In the midst of trails, particularly as we mourn the death of a loved one, we must walk by faith and not by sight. Our eyes see defeat in the corpse, the casket, and the grave. Yet by faith we may say, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?...Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Cor. 15:54-57). (p. 21)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Changes

I've made some changes to the blog. Some of the blog links, mainly those to the big hitters, have been replaced. I figured that if people are going to visit those blogs they are probably not going to do that via my links. I have updated the blog links with some, perhaps, less well known but "well worth reading" blogs.

Also added are links to:
  • Major creeds, confessions and catechisms
  • Theology resources
  • Links to articles that I have written
  • A biblico-theological sermon on Lamentations 2 (The Suffering City and the Suffering Saviour) a book that is emotionally difficult to preach through but more rewarding than I first anticipated
  • A couple of books that I have contributed to
And my thanks to Dave Bish for helping me sort out the unintended appearance of bullet points in the sidebar.

The most influential evangelical theologian of the 21st century

Monergism have an article dedicated to the man and the movement he shaped here.

Ministers day conference with Doug Moo on justification

Doug Moo (Wheaton College) will be speaking in Bridgend (South Wales) on:

The doctrine of justification in Paul and in biblical theology

Date: Monday 2nd February 2009

Time: 10.30am-3.30pm

This event is being organised by the Evangelical Movement of Wales

For more details (including cost) call the EMW office on 01656 655886 (from outside the UK dial 011 44 1656 655886)

The End of the Law?

Is the title for the 2009 Affinity Theological Study Conference

The dates are 4th - 6th February 2009 and the venue is the High Leigh Conference Centre (Hertfordshire)

The conference is about the role of the law in the Bible, the Church and Society

Here's the line up:

Robert Letham "The concept of covenant in the history of theology"
Iain D. Campbell "The validity of the three-fold division of the Mosaic law in Scripture"
Doug Moo "One covenant or two: the relationship between the old and the new"
Chris Bennett "The use of the Mosaic law in the New Testament church"
Paul Helm "The use of the Mosaic law in society today"
Mike Horton "Where do we go from here?"

All the details that you need can be found here.

The conference brochure can be downloaded here.

The Doctrine of God: Nick Tucker

Holy Trinity Platt (Manchester) are hosting an evening and morning of talks on the doctrine of God with Nick Tucker (Oak Hill Theological College).

The talks will start at 7.30pm on Friday 28th November and continue on the Saturday morning beginning at 9.30am abd finishing at lunch time.

Directions can be found here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

God and preaching

Here's something I wrote a few years back.

What is "enough"? Reflections on theological performance and pride

Dave Bish posted a link to some mp3 sessions by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis and a list of contrasts between "communities of grace" and "communities of performance." Tim Chester sets them out as follows:
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)
He then goes on to offer some brief, helpful comments.

Linking a focus on orthodoxy or behaviour with a "community of performance" ought to be out of place. They belong firmly in a community of grace (just think of the weighting that Paul gives to orthodoxy and behaviour in the pastoral epistles). Of course the crunch issue is the context in which they are placed, and how they are approached, hence I assume the immediate caveat in brackets (allowing people to think they are sorted). They don't, however, inherently belong there. A focus on orthodoxy is precisely what must mark Timothy's ministry:
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:13-14)
"Follow" the pattern, the blueprint, and "guard" the good deposit are Paul's imperatives to Timothy. Orthodoxy, however, has a certain atmosphere. The pattern of sound teaching is to be followed in the "faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." Similarly Paul spells out how heterodox teachers are to be engaged in a way that stresses the need for a right heart approach to the problem (2 Timothy 2:22-26). A community of grace must focus on orthodoxy, and it will seek to do so in the atmosphere of the faith and love that are in Christ.

A focus on orthodoxy can of course end up wrongly supporting a community of performance. Theological knowledge can become a means of achieving status within a community. What is intended for our good, and the good of the community, becomes the means by which we advance our status and image in the eyes of others, or the means by which we feel diminished and belittled before others. In other words doctrinal knowledge becomes the offering that we present to the idol of pride. Conversely, our lack of knowledge can drive us to painful insecurity. And that of course is pride on the way down.

Diagnostic questions to ask ourselves
  • How much knowledge is enough?
  • How much do I need to know to achieve, maintain and advance my status in a community of performance?
  • What do I need to read and learn to keep this going?
  • How do I react when my theological status is threatened?
  • What is my motivation in telling others about my theological reading?
What ought to be for our good, for the good of others, and for the the glory of God ("And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" Mark 12:30) can so easily become an instrument in self-serving idolatry and a club to beat down others.

To treat theological knowledge in this way, as a servant of pride, is to destroy gospel grace. I can never know when I have read enough, that I know enough, so that my status is secure. This false master is one that I can never ever satisfy or please. Therefore my status is always under threat, and I must pervert and misuse good things in order to maintain it. I am confessing that I am accepted (respected?) because of what I know, how much I know, and how my knowledge is viewed by others. How can that be confessed at the same time as the gospel of grace?

There is only one way out of this sinful mess. 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. This includes our abuse of the truth in the sin of serving our intellectual pride. And this grace, therefore, sets us free to serve others for their good and for God's glory. Which is why, as every pastor knows and must keep on learning, Christ has given gifts of Word ministers to build his church (Eph. 4:11-16).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Providence

Great providence of heaven--
What wonders shine
In its profound display
Of God's design:
It guards the dust of earth,
Commands the hosts above,
Fulfils the mighty plan
Of his great love

The kingdoms of this world
Lie in its hand;
See how they rise or fall
At its command
Through sorrow and distress,
Tempestuous storms that rage,
God's kingdom yet endures
From age to age

Its darkness dense is but
A radiant light;
Its oft-perplexing ways
Are ordered right.
Soon all its winding paths
Will end, and then the tale
Of wonder shall be told
Beyond the veil.

David Charles, 1762-1834;
Translated from the Welsh by Edmund Tudor Owen

Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Confession of Faith (1823)

Article 7, Of God's Providence in the Preservation and Government of the World

God, in his wise, holy, and righteous providence, upholds and governs all creatures and their actions. His providence extends over all places, all events, all changes, and all times. His providence, in its operation, is full of eyes to behold, and powerful to perform, and makes all things work together for good to them that love God. It overrules the sinful actions of men; nevertheless, it neither causes nor occasions the sinfulness of any of them.

Belgic Confession

Article 13 About the Providence of God

We believe that this Most High God, after He created all things, did not in the least hand them over to fate or the rule of fortune, but continually rules and governs them according to the precept of His sacrosanct will so that nothing may happen in this world apart from His decree and ordination.

Neither is it possible to say that God is the author of or the guilty party in the evils that occur in this world. For both His power and goodness lie widely open as immeasurable and incomprehensible, and His work and proceedings are sacredly and justly determined and executed, although both the Devil and the wicked unjustly act.

Truly, whatsoever He does, having exceeded human constraints, we do not wish to inquire about these things pryingly and beyond our constraints. In fact, on the contrary, we nevertheless humbly and reverently adore the hidden and just judgments of God. For it is enough for us, as disciples of Christ, to learn no more than that which He Himself teaches us in His Word, without transgressing the limits that we regard as lawful.

Truly, this doctrine brings immeasurable comfort to us. For from it we know that nothing happens to us by fortune, but only all things by the will of our heavenly Father, Who truly keeps watch for us with fatherly care, having subjugated all things unto Himself so that not even a hair our head (which have all been numbered down to the individual one) can be plucked out, nor can the smallest chick fall to the ground, apart from the will of our Father.

And so we thoroughly rest in this, acknowledging that God restrains the devils and all our enemies, just as curbed with whips, so that no one is strong enough to hurt us apart from His will and good permission.

And therefore in this place we reject the detestable opinion of the Epicureans, who create an idle god, doing nothing and forfeiting all things.

Act. 23:8; John 5:17; Heb. 1:3; Prover. 16:4; Iacob. 4:15; Jacob. 4:15; Job 1:21; 2 Kings 22:20; Act. 4:28; 1 Sam. 8:25; Psal. 115:3; Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6; Deut. 19:5; Prover. 21:1; Ps. 105:25; Isa. 10:5; 2 Thess. 2:11; Ezech. 41:9; Rom 1:28; 1 Kings 11:23; Gen. 45:8, 50:20; 2 Sam. 16:10; Matt. 8:31; 1 John 3:8

Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter 5: Of Providence

I. God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

II. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

III. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.

IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first Fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God, doth oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.

VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden; from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had; and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.

VII. As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures, so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his Church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

The Heidelberg Catechism
Q. 26. What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth with all that in them is,1 who likewise upholds, and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence,2 is for the sake of Christ, His Son, my God and my Father,3 in whom I so trust as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul;4 and further, that whatever evil He sends upon me in this troubled life, He will turn to my good;5 for He is able to do it, being Almighty God,6 and willing also, being a faithful Father.7

1 Gen 1-2; Ex 20:11; Job 38-39; Ps 33:6; Isa 44:24; Acts 4:24, 14:15; Col 1:16; Heb 11:3; 2 Ps 104:2-5, 27-30, 115:3; Mt 6:30, 10:29-30; Acts 17:24-25; Eph 1:11; Heb 1:3; 3 Mt 6:8; Jn 1:12-13; Rom 8:15-16; Gal 4:4-7; Eph 1:5, 3:14-16; 4 Ps 55:22, 90:1-2; Mt 6:25-26; Lk 12:22-31; 5 Acts 17:27-28; Rom 8:28; 6 Gen 18:14; Rom 8:31-39, 10:12; 7 Num 23:19; Mt 6:32-33, 7:9-11

Q 27. What do you understand by the providence of God?

The almighty, everywhere-present power of God,1 whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures,2 and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought,3 fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,4 health and sickness,5 riches and poverty,6 indeed, all things come not by chance,7 but by His fatherly hand.8

1 Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-28; 2 Heb 1:3; 3 Jer 5:24; 4 Acts 14:15-17; 5 Jn 9:3; 6 Job 1:21; Ps 103:19; Prov 22:2; Rom 5:3-5; 7 Prov 16:33; 8 Mt 10:29; Eph 1:1

Q 28. What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds, all things?

That we may be patient in adversity,1 thankful in prosperity,2 and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love,3 since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.4
1 Job 1:21-22; Ps 39:10; Rom 5:3; Jas 1:3; 2 Deut 8:10; 1 Thes 5:18; 3 Ps 55:22; Rom 5:3-5, 8:35, 38-39; 4 Job 1:12, 2:6; Ps 71:7; Prov 21:1; Acts 17:24-28; 2 Cor 1:10