Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Last orders are offering a special deal on Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church.

You can get it for £6.90 (that includes postage) between now and 1st October.

To order just email and quote "Downblog"

This offer is only available in the UK

Why not buy a copy for your pastor? And if you are the pastor, treat yourself.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shut your mouth

Last Sunday evening I preached on Romans 3:9-20. The effect of Paul's argument ought to be the shutting of our mouths and the realisation that we are, personally, on account of our sins, liable to prosecution. Paul has presented the witness of creation, the witness of our moral constitution, and the witness of God's revealed commands to demonstrate that we are all guilty and without excuse before God and therefore all in need of the gospel.

I began the sermon with a series of questions that are vital to think through. Until we do so we will never understand ourselves, our Maker, and where we stand before him. I think that they are important evangelistic questions, and I first heard them asked ten years ago by a friend in a kebab shop:

One of the most important questions we can ever ask is “What does God think of me?”

What does he think about my life? My attitudes? My actions and reactions? The way I treat people? The way that I treat him? Have you ever asked those questions? Do you think that he approves of you? Does he consider you and your ways acceptable? Have you ever seriously thought about those questions?

Actually most people spend their time considering what other people think of them (what they wear, how they look, what they think of you as a person). We want to know how we measure up in the eyes of others. In fact for some people that is a major source of tyranny, the concern with having someone else's approval.

But, when you think about it rationally, how could that compare with knowing what God thinks of us? Shouldn't that be of much greater concern to us?

What does my Maker think of me? What is his assessment of my life?

Monday, September 28, 2009

John Calvin in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

The following article (based on his conference address from earlier this year) by Garry Williams has been posted on the Banner of Truth site. It was a privilege to hear it and I am sure that you will benefit from reading it. Calvin, as the author says, was a suffering Reformer.

Here's an extract:
Calvin married Idelette de Bure in 1540 and from the little we know they appear to have been very happily married. Yet their only son Jacques died shortly after he was born on 28 July 1542. Calvin expressed his grief to Pierre Viret: ‘The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter wound in the death of our infant son. But he is himself a Father, and knows best what is good for his children.’ In 1545 Idelette herself became ill, and in March 1549, after just nine years of marriage and with Calvin still under forty, she died. Calvin expressed his grief in a letter to Viret just over a week later:
Truly mine is no common source of grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it been so ordered, would not only have been the willing sharer of my indigence, but even of my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance. She was never troublesome to me throughout the entire course of her illness; she was more anxious about her children than about herself.
A few days later he wrote to Farel: ‘I do what I can to keep myself from being overwhelmed with grief.’
Go read the whole thing here

Dr. Garry Williams is the Director of the John Owen Centre for Theological Study. Find out more about the John Owen Centre here

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You cannot share the limelight with the Son of God

Probing words for preachers from the pen of John Brown:
There is something incongruous and disgusting in one whose mind ought to be habitually employed about the glory of the Divine character--the order and stability of the Divine government--the restoration of a ruined world to purity and happiness--the incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God--the transforming and consoling influence of the Holy Ghost--the joys and sorrows of eternity--and whose grand business it ought to be to bring these things, in all their reality and imp0rtance, before the minds of his fellow-men--it is incongruous and disgusting in such a man to appear primarily anxious to draw men's attention to himself--seizing every opportunity to bring himself into notice--exhibiting the truths of the gospel chiefly for the purpose of displaying his own talents--calling men's attention to them more as his opinions than as God's truth, and less ambitious of honouring the Saviour, and saving those who hear him, than of obtaining for himself the reputation of piety, or learning, or acuteness, or eloquence.

This is truly pitiable; and if angels could weep, it would be at folly like this.
John Brown, Galatians, p. 53-4

A razor's edge but a world of difference

Doctrinal precision matters. Clarifying what we mean, and don't mean, by our theological terms matters a great deal. And it simply will not do to dismiss the importance of this by thinking that it is merely nit-picking. Take the phrase "justification by faith." What do we mean by justification in that statement? How does faith justify? What is faith? What role does it play in justfication? If this truth, expressed only in this minimalist form, is agreed on by different parties, how do we know if they mean the same thing by it?

Here are some snippets from James Buchanan's clasic work The Doctrine of Justification:
It has been justly said that, in controversies of faith, the difference between antagonist systems is often reduced to a line sharp as a razor's edge, yet on the one side of that line there is God's truth, and on the other a departure from it. (p. 136)

The fundamental error of the Church of Rome consisted in substituting the inherent righteousness of the regenerate, for the imputed righteousness of the Redeemer. (p. 116)

There can be no honest compromise between the Popish and the Protestant doctrine of Justification, --the one is at direct variance with the other, not in respect of verbal expression merely, but in respect of their fundamental principles,--and any settlement, on the basis of mutual concession, could only be made by means of ambiguous expressions, and could amount to nothing more than a hollow truce, liable to be broken by either party as soon as the subject was brought into serious discussion. (p. 137)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Name that legalist: a game the whole church can play

OK, this is round one of "Name that legalist: a game the whole church can play."

Who wrote this?
Therefore it is not without reason that the Old Testament command was to write the Ten Commandments on every wall and corner, and even on garments. Not that we are to have them there only for display, as the Jews did, but we are to keep them incessantly before our eyes and constantly in our memory and to practice them in all our works and ways.

Each of us is to make them a matter of daily practice in all our circumstances, in all activities and dealings, as if they were written everywhere we look, even wherever we go or wherever we stand.

Thus, both for ourselves at home and abroad among our neighbors, we will find occasion enough to practice the Ten Commandments, an no one need search far for them.
Don't consult google. Have a guess. Here are the usual suspects:

The answer, of course, was d) Luther

a) Marcion

b) Pelagius

c) Augustine

d) Luther

e) Calvin

f) Wesley

g) Finney

Well done to Messrs Walker and Bennett. Luther of course was no legalist, unless you count saying anything positive about God's law and the Christian life as a form of legalism.

Phil Ryken's introduction to The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Over at Ref 21 Phil Ryken has posted his introduction to the reprint of The Marrow of Modern Divinity. This highly significant book has been reprinted by Christian Focus and has much to say to the contemporary evangelical world. William MacKenzie was here earlier and told me that it is a really, really well produced edition.

Ryken says:
My purpose in this introduction is to answer to a simple question: Why is this old theological book still good and useful to read today?

Perhaps the best way to begin to answer this question is by mentioning two equal but opposite errors that have plagued the church since the days of the New Testament. On the one hand, some congregations tend to be overly legalistic. They have a performance-based approach to the Christian life, in which Christianity is reduced to a list of rules. A good Christian is someone who does certain things and avoids doing certain other things. The only way to gain favor with God is by leading a good life. Somehow churches like this never manage to outgrow their "inner Pharisee."

Yet there is an equal error in the opposite direction, the sin of lawlessness, or what theologians like Thomas Boston would call "antinomianism" (which simply means to be "against the law"). Churches like this tend to be overly permissive. They take the question that the apostle Paul asked in Romans 6:1 ("Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?), and answer in the affirmative rather than the negative. They use their Christian liberty as an excuse for license. They may even use the grace of God to legitimize bad behavior.

Both legalism and antinomianism are perennial dangers for the church and for individual Christians. When we begin to think of the Christian life primarily as a list of "dos" and "don'ts," we are under the sway of legalism. When we begin to think that it is okay for us to go ahead and sin, because God will forgive us anyway, we are feeling the temptation of antinomianism.

Filled with quotations from the great reformer Martin Luther and from the worthy Puritans, The Marrow emphasizes biblical, evangelical doctrines such as the sovereignty of God in the covenant of grace, the free offer of the gospel, assurance in Christ as the essence of faith, and sanctification by grace rather than by the law.
You can read more here

Monday, September 21, 2009

His steadfast love is better than life

Our response to changed circumstances reveals a great deal about what we value the most. This is especially so when our material comforts are taken away. We may then find that we have been resting on them, finding in them our security in this world. Of course, this is not restricted to material things. We can find ourselves resting and relying on our position, or our reputation.

At these times adversity is like a litmus test. We find out where our security really lies. But some things cannot be shaken. Some things cannot be taken away. Do we really value them as much as we ought to?
The only true source of our happiness is in the knowledge that God loves us and that we are his children. Without this knowledge, all the prosperity in the world is of no value to us.

God may afflict us with many sorrows, and at such times we need to value his grace above everything else; it should content us, even if everything else were taken away. As we have already said, if we live in comfort, surrounded by all kinds of pleasures and delights, we will still be miserable if we do not have the peace of conscience which comes from knowing that God loves and accepts us.
John Calvin's Sermons on Galatians, p. 17, 18-19

Friday, September 18, 2009

Speaking of sequels: The Gospel-Driven Life by Mike Horton

This is the follow up to his Christless Christianity which is a terrific read and an important book (R. C. Sproul's review is here).

Horton writes:
The goal of this book is to reorient our faith and practice as Christians and churches toward the gospel: that is, the announcement of God's victory over sin and death in his Son, Jesus Christ. The first six chapters explore that breaking news from heaven, while the rest of the book focuses on the kind of community that this gospel generates in our world. It is not merely that there is a gospel and then a community of people who believe it; the gospel creates the kind of community that is even now an imperfect preview of the kingdom's marriage feast that awaits us.
Sample pages are available here.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Dan Brown's beautiful prose

The Telegraph selects twenty clumsy phrases from the works of Dan Brown

A Generous Orthodoxy?

Permit me to share some reflections on reviews of Risking the Truth.

Perhaps the most frequently used word has been "unusual." The format, interviews rather than essays, certainly is that. But I have also had the impression that the tone of the book has been a surprise too. Rather than finding the book to be a munitions dump for trigger happy heresy hunters it has been described by some pastors as "wise" (Kevin De Young), "practical, Christ centred and heart warming" (Jonathan Thomas), "the pastoral and relational emphasis that permeates the book makes dealing with a difficult topic a relatively encouraging task" (Gary Ware), and as possessing the "tenderness of pastoral wisdom" (M. Jay Bennett). Not, of course, that it holds back in calling a spade a shovel.

But if you are dealing with theological errors you need to be passionate about the gospel, grateful for the work of the Holy Spirit, thorough in your research, precise in your analysis and critique, vigilant in your care for the church, and compassionate toward people.

He became obedient unto death

It is perfectly legitimate, and, for some purposes it may be useful, to distinguish between the active and passive obedience of Christ, as constituting together his one entire righteousness, and also between the pardon and acceptance of the sinner, as constituting together the one entire privilege of justification.

We are naturally led, even, to make use of such distinctions, in order to illustrate the relation which the constituent elements of Christ's righteousness, and also those of our own justification, bear respectively to the penal and preceptive requirements of the divine Law; but we should ever remember, that two things which are distinguishable in idea, may be inseparable in fact.

It will be found impossible to separate his atoning death from his holy obedience, so as to admit of the one being imputed without the other; for his death was the crowning act of his obedience--"He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, p. 333

Truth Matters with IPC Ealing

In a couple of weeks I will be heading down to London to speak at the IPC Ealing (International Presbyterian Church) on "Truth Matters." My friend and fellow Welshman Paul Levy is the minister of the church there. You can visit the church website here.

As well as preaching five times over the weekend I'm also due to take a seminar on covenant theology.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sin lite

Rejections and revisions of the great doctrines of the person of Christ, the penal substitutionary work of Christ, and the justification of sinners by grace alone through faith alone ought to be examined not only on their own terms but also in relation to the doctrine of sin.

It is possible to so minimise and pare down the doctrine of sin, in relation to its effects on human nature and its just condemnation by a holy God, that really there is no need, or desire, or reason to suppose that Christ is both God and Man, and that his work has an essential legal character.

Sin? No problem, God will forgive it. No incarnation needed.

Sin? No problem, God is love and accepts you as you are. No Mediator needed.

Sin? No problem, just repent of it and follow Jesus' teaching. No atonement needed.

Sin? No problem, just stop doing bad things and start doing what God wants. No regeneration needed.

Sin? No problem, just start over again and keep trying. No justification needed.

Sin? No problem, stop beating yourself up. No eternal consequences. No wrath no come. No hell to avoid. No Saviour needed.

Don't neglect the biblical doctrine of sin or you will go astray on the biblical doctrine of the Saviour and his work.

This is but a 21st Century echo of that wise, learned, godly Scottish theologian William Cunningham:
All false conceptions of the system of Christian doctrine assume, or are based upon, inadequate and erroneous views and impressions of the nature and effects of the fall,--of the sinfulness of the state into which man fell; producing, of course, equally inadequate and erroneous views and impressions of the difficulty of effecting their deliverance, and of the magnitude, value, and efficacy of the provision made for accomplishing it.
Historical Theology Vol. 2, p.43

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Wages of Spin: The White Horse Inn

Carl Trueman was recently interviewed on the White Horse Inn. You can catch the programme here. You can find out more about Carl's book here.

Over the summer we started a Curry Club for men at our church where we have ended the meal by listening to an episode of The White Horse Inn and having a discussion together about the issues raised. Great food, great listening, and plenty to discuss. I recommend it.

Interview with Darryl Hart

David Strain give us the final part of his interview with Darryl Hart here

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Driven by fear

We are attracted to some heresies because of what they offer. They pander to our sinful cravings. They do things for the Pelagian within us, or for our inner Rationalist. We are drawn to some errors, however, not by their mock spiritual worth but by the threat of adverse consequences. We are driven by fear. The classic New Testament example of this comes from Galatians, and the corresponding section in Acts 15. There was a compulsion to accept the ritual of circumcision on pain of exclusion, not merely from God's people, but from salvation (Acts 15:1-2; Galatians 6:12).

No wonder then that Paul's opening salvo is directed to those who "trouble you" and want to "distort the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7). The deviant influence of the false teachers was not only upon the gospel but also upon the spiritual well being of the Galatian churches. "Filling them," wrote John Brown, "with doubts and alarms as to the safety of their state while they remained uncircumcised and unsubjected to the law of Moses."

As much as errors can come to us laden with promises of blessings they may also, at the same time, speak threatening words if we refuse them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The elephant and the mouse

Some people think that they are too good to come to Jesus Christ. They never think that they, or their sins are so bad that they need a Saviour. Some people, however, know that they are so bad that they are afraid to come to Jesus. They feel so ashamed that they think that he will reject them and turn them away.

You know what, I preach to both of those types of people every Sunday. And every Sunday I point both groups to Christ crucified, so that both groups will really learn to see how ugly their sin is in God's sight by gazing at the cross, and that both groups will see that there is more grace in Jesus Christ than sin in them.

Preaching on the "grand old text" 1 Timothy 1:15 C. H. Spurgeon used this illustration:
If a bridge is strong enough to bear an elephant, it will certainly bear a mouse. If the greatest sinner who ever lived has entered into Heaven by the bridge of the atoning Sacrifice of Christ, no man who has ever lived may say "My sin is beyond forgiveness." Today no mortal has just pretence to perish in despair.
(More on Spurgeon here and here and here too)

John Owen expressed the same rich truth in this way:
...when the conduit of Christ's humanity is inseparably united to the infinite, inexhaustible fountain of the Deity, who can look into the depths thereof? If, now, there be grace enough for sinners in an all sufficient God, it is in Christ.

And on this ground it is that if all the world should (if I may so say) set themselves to drink free grace, mercy, and pardon, drawing water continually from the wells of salvation; if they should set themselves to draw from one single promise, and angel standing by and crying, "Drink, O friends, yea, drink abundantly, take so much grace and pardon as shall be abundantly sufficient for the world of sin which is in everyone of you;"--they would not be able to sink the grace of the promise one hair's breadth.
And Samuel Rutherford in this way:
If there were ten thousand, thousand millions of worlds, and as many heavens full of men and angels, Christ would not be pinched to supply all our wants, and to fill us all.

Christ is a well of life, but who knoweth how deep it is to the bottom?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Great Exchange: Let's swap bank accounts

I posted this illustration back in July. Several people have linked to it, but if you missed it the first time here it is again. I hope that it encourages you.
Two brothers were talking one day. One of them had made a great success of his business career and had amassed a fortune. The other brother had made one bad decision after another and in the end racked up debts that he had no way of paying for.

One day, as they are talking together, the brother with the debts tells the other of his folly and shame.

The millionaire brother takes out his cheque book and asks "How much do you owe?" He then writes out a cheque and hands it to his brother and says "all your debts are cleared."

Taking hold of the cheque, with a lump in his throat, the other brother says "how can I ever find words to express how much your kindness means to me."
And yet, as wonderful as this would be, it is not enough to adequately illustrate the gospel.

Revisit the scene:
One day, as they are talking together, the brother with the debts tells the other of his folly and shame. The millionaire brother...paused...and said "let's swap bank accounts. I will take your debts and you may have all my riches."
That is the gospel.

Here are some statements that express the truth in clear terms:
The gospel is not just that we are forgiven, but that believers are reckoned as law keepers for the sake of Christ's law keeping credited to them (Rom. 4:3; 2 Cor 5:19-21; Gal 3:6). Whoever trusts in Jesus and rests in his finished work alone is righteous before God. It is as if the Christian has performed all that the law requires.

R. Scott Clark, "Do This and Live," in
Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry, p. 265

By becoming incarnate, the Son of God became the representative and substitute for sinners, in his life keeping the law of God in all its demands and in his death bearing the full punishment that sin merits in the estimate of God. This provision of righteousness coram deo [before God] is the supreme expression of the grace of God--not just something undeserved but the opposite of what is deserved.

Hywel R. Jones, "Preaching Sola Fide Better," in
Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry, p. 321
And in the statements of the Heidelberg Catechism:
60. How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ:1 that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them,2 and am still prone always to all evil;3 yet God, without any merit of mine,4 of mere grace,5 grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction,6 righteousness, and holiness of Christ,7 as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me;8 if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.9

1 Rom 3:21-28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Php 3:8-11; 2 Rom 3:9-10; 3 Rom 7:23; 4 Dt 9:6; Ezek 36:22; Tit 3:4-5; 5 Rom 3:24; Eph 2:8; 6 1 Jn 2:2; 7 Rom 4:3-5; 2 Cor 5:17-19; 1 Jn 2:1; 8 Rom 4:24-25; 2 Cor 5:21; 9 Jn 3:18; Acts 16:30-31; Rom 3:22, 28, 10:10

61. Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God;1 and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.2

1 1 Cor 1:30-31, 2:2; 2 Isa 53:5; Rom 4:16, 10:10; Gal 3:22; 1 Jn 5:10-12

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Risking the Truth in Evangelicals Now

There is a review by Erroll Hulse here, and an article by Ligon Duncan on the Federal Vision which is an edited extract from the book. You can read Ligon's article here.

The New Pastors Conference Nov 23rd-25th 09

Let me give you a heads up on a new conference that I have had a small part in putting together and will be speaking at.

Art Azurdia will be giving the main addresses on the theme of "For His Glory." You can listen to a stack of Art's sermons by visiting Monergism here.

All the details you will need, plus a booking form can be found here.

If you are travelling from overseas Bala is less than two hours from Liverpool and Manchester airports and just over two hours from Birmingham International airport.

Here's the blurb:

The first few years in Pastoral ministry are often thrilling and demanding. God sends many challenges to both humble and excite you in His service. One moment you feel overwhelmed by the difficulties the next it’s the sheer privilege of seeing Christ work through your ministry and it’s all part of a days work for God’s servants. These are formative years – years that mould your thinking and character as a man of God for future service. They are also years when the friends you make may be some of the greatest encouragements for your future ministry. This conference is the opportunity to be refreshed by fellowship and ministry with those who understand the challenges you are facing.

The New Pastors’ Conference is for all Christ loving, cross centred, bible believing men who are in the first five years of Christian work, or students in the final year of their training.

Key Info:

Dates: 23-25 November, 2009
Venue: Bryn-y-Groes Conference Centre, Bala, North Wales
Speakers: Dr. Art Azurdia III, Bill Dyer, Andrew Davies, Martin Downes, Phil Swann, Geoff Thomas, Gwynn Williams

Conference Aims:

  1. To encourage, motivate and prepare pastors for a lifetime of ministry
  2. To build lasting supportive friendships and relationships
  3. To explore and develop our motivation for ministry
  4. To increase our vision of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit

Here’s a taste of the sessions available …

  • For His glory – four sessions lead by Art Azurdia
  • Glory at the cutting edge – two sessions lead by Bill Dyer
  • Change without a sledgehammer – Andrew Davies

Seminar options:

  • Facing error and opposition in the Church (2 Timothy 2:14-3:9) Martin Downes
  • 360 degree preaching (2 Timothy 4:1, 2) Art Azurdia (English), Gwynn Williams (Welsh)
  • Being an evangelistic pastor (2 Timothy 4:3-5) Bill Dyer
  • Hills to die on – establishing Biblical priorities in ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5) Martin Downes (E), Gwynn Williams (W)
  • No secret sins: seeking purity in public and private ministry (2 Timothy 1:9; 2:22) Andrew Davies
  • Foundations for long term ministry (2 Timothy 3:10-17) Geoff Thomas

There will plenty of time to relax and develop friendship during the conference. Outdoor activities have been organized for Tuesday afternoon under the leadership of Matt Rees (outdoor instructor). The conference centre offers quality surroundings and meals in a relaxed atmosphere.


Full board accommodation – £150
Early bird discount (for those booking before September 30th) – £120
Day visitor – £30 (not including meals)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Legalism, Antinomianism and the Gospel

We are all much the better for having the classic literature of the past available to us today. If you have ever thought about the place of the law in relation to the gospel and its relationship to grace in the Christian life you may want to pick up a classic volume that is about to be republished by Christian Focus, namely The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Perhaps there is no area of the Christian life today where there is such a pressing need to listen to the voices of the saints from past centuries who were steeped in Scripture and experimentally aquainted with the grace of God in the new covenant.

The title of the work may not strike the 21st Century ear as that attractive, but if ever a book should not be judged by its title it is probably this one. I have no doubt that all who read and digest its contents will be much the richer for it.

This reprint includes the explanatory notes of Thomas Boston (and if you are new to that name you are in for a treat), and an introduction by Phil Ryken. To get you orientated to the time of its writing and its influence and significance there is also an historical introduction by William Vandoodeward.

You can download some sample pages from the book here

If the names Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Thomas and Phil Ryken carry any weight with you then just read over what they have to say:

Both legalism and antinomianism are perennial dangers for the church and for individual Christians. When we begin to think of the Christian life primarily as a list of “dos” and “don’ts,” we are under the sway of legalism. When we begin to think that it is okay for us to go ahead and sin, because God will forgive us anyway, we are feeling the temptation of antinomianism.

The Marrow of Modern Divinity proclaims a gospel that can rescue us from both of these dangers. Filled with quotations from the great reformer Martin Luther and from the worthy Puritans, The Marrow emphasizes biblical, evangelical doctrines such as the sovereignty of God in the covenant of grace, the free offer of the gospel, assurance in Christ as the essence of faith, and sanctification by grace rather than by the law. Thomas Boston loved these grace-filled doctrines and discovered that they strengthened his hold on the precious gospel that he lived and preached.

Philip G. Ryken~ Senior Minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in The Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself. I personally owe it a huge debt. Despite their mild-mannered appearance, these pages contain a powerful piece of propaganda. Read them with great care

Sinclair B. Ferguson ~ Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina

The Marrow of Modern Divinity is one of the most important theological texts of all time

Derek Thomas ~ Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi

Some reviews of Risking the Truth

Kevin De Young reviews it here. He says:
I wasn't sure what to expect from Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church but Martin Downes' collection of interviews proved to be a wise and insightful read...there is a remarkable similarity in the general approach to truth and error given by these men: preach the Bible, don't neglect your own heart, don't spend all your time on controversy, test your theology against historic creeds and confessions, beware of pride. I really enjoyed this book. Pastors and scholars especially would do well to pick up a copy.
Jeff Downs is reviewing the book bit by bit at the Alpha and Omega Ministries site. Read his opening thoughts here.

There is a review by Erroll Hulse in this month's Evangelicals Now, you can read that here, plus an article on the Federal Vision featuring an extract from my interview with Ligon Duncan. You can read Ligon's article here. Erroll Hulse writes:
This work is important because it deals with contemporary trends, history, creeds and confessions, and doctrines that are currently under attack. There is personal reflection on these matters, lessons drawn from experience, and practical advice.
There has also been a review in Evangelical Times. Here's a snippet:
This is an unusual but helpful book on a neglected but vital subject. It consists of interviews with twenty leading evangelical pastors and seminary teachers on the issue of handling and refuting error in the local church...provides wise, godly and eminently pastoral advice that will help church leaders protect the flocks under their care. I commend it warmly to men in church leadership.
Todd Pruitt has written the following at the Westminster Bookstore site:
One of the things I liked immediately about Risking the Truth was its unique format. Martin Downes assembled an oustanding 'cast of characters' to deal with the issues he raises. In a series of thought provoking interviews Downes explores some of the ways error snakes its way into the church and what are the appropriate responses to this reality. One of the unifying characteristics is the challenge of jealously guarding the church against error while seeking to love and restore those who err.

Pastors and elders in particular will benefit from this book. But I highly recommend this book for lay persons as a means to equip them with an understanding of what is required to properly guard the flock of God.
My fellow Welshman Guy Davies has reviewed it over at Ref 21

Mike Plant, General Secretary of the EFCC here in the UK (The Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches), writes:
Martin Downes’ book is very unusual. To be honest I had already seen it and decided its subject was so depressing that I didn’t want to read it before reading the ‘Exiled Preacher’ interview led me to buy it. Martin has written the two introductory and two closing chapters and the rest of the book consists of twenty interviews with evangelical academics and pastors.

There are some very sharp insights from some of the contributors but there are common emphases: ‘the importance of biblical exposition in the life of the church, the value of well-tested and pastorally well-proven Confessions of the church, the importance of guarding the heart, the privilege of genuine friendships in which men seek to hold one another to a gospel life-style.’ Well worth reading – I just read a chapter a day and gave time to thinking about what had been said.

Monday, September 07, 2009

We must live with an eternal perspective

Last night I preached from Romans 2:1-16 on the coming day of judgement. Whilst preparing to preach I was struck by the words of C. S. Lewis spoken to a group of students at Oxford University in the opening months of World War II. He asked them how they could take an interest in their studies whilst the lives of their friends and the liberties of Europe were in the balance:
Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?...But to a Christian the true tragedy of Nero must not be that he fiddled while the city was on fire but that he fiddled on the brink of hell.
(Quoted by Robert Peterson in Hell Under Fire, p. 223-4)

The great issues of life that cast the ease of academic study in a poor light were not the threats of war but the realities of eternity, not the intrusion of the miseries of this life but the looming prospect of eternal sorrows.

To read of, and to contemplate, such matters ought to fill us with what J. I. Packer onced called a "traumatic awe." It is one aspect of the dual eternal perspective that we must hold to if we are to live aright in the present. The other aspect is that expressed in the words of J. Gresham Machen (thanks to my friend Jeremy Walker for drawing my attention to this):
The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life – no, all the length of human history – is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth – no, all the wonders of the starry heavens – are as the dust of the street.
(HT: The Wanderer)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Two Kingdoms

My old friend David Strain has recently been interviewing Darryl Hart. You can check out part one and part two. In the latest installment they discuss the two kingdoms. Here's a taster:

1.Would you briefly state the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (2K) for us?

I should have a handier definition than I do. I guess I would describe it this way.The church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.2) outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Communicant and non-communicant church members are part of that kingdom, the kingdom of grace (which is different from the kingdom of Satan and which is playing a part in hastening the kingdom of glory – the Shorter Catechism speaks of these three kingdoms, Satan’s, grace, and glory in explaining the second petition of the Lord’s prayer.

The kingdom of the civil realm has its own rules and sovereignty, and has criteria for membership that vary in places and across time.

The kingdom of grace operates according to the doctrine of forgiveness. The church is to minister the message of forgiveness of sins that comes through trusting in Christ and repentance from sin. The state operates according to standards of justice and is supposed, no matter how imperfectly, to punish wrongdoing.

Confusing forgiveness and justice is a huge example of category confusion. Granted, the forgiveness the church administers is premised on the justice that Christ underwent in suffering for the penalty of sin. And granted the magistrate’s ideals of justice are a type of the eschatological justice that will be administered on the Last Day.

In other words, you can’t understand the church or the state apart from God’s righteous standards, that is, his law.

But the church is involved in the work of reconciling God and man through Christ. The state has no direct role in that project of reconciliation. It may create and sustain an environment in which the church can minister. But the aim of the state is fundamentally different from that of the church.
Read the whole thing

Friday, September 04, 2009

War & Peace in the ministry

The great danger for those who engage in polemics is to develop a love for the taste of blood, to delight in the love of conflict. Heresies ought to distress us, just as they did the apostles. But we must watch our own hearts so that the sense of compassion is not displaced and swallowed up by frustration, hardness of heart, bitterness, pride and an absence of grace.

To allow that to happen would represent a departure from the apostolic teaching of 2 Timothy 2:24-26. And that would be all the more tragic if at the same time we heartily confess that our own repentance is not due to our native spiritual responsiveness, but solely to the grace of God applied to us personally by the Holy Spirit. In all honesty, to walk this road of godliness whilst engaging in and not neglecting the demands of theological controversy required of oversees (Titus 1:9), can only be as a result of the supernatural grace of God at work in us.

John "Rabbi" Duncan wrote the following words about the great nineteenth century Scottish theologian William Cunningham:
A good soldier of Jesus Christ, who with wise and tender love for the persons of all men, used mercilessly the might which Christ had given him only against error and sin, pernicious to man as dishonouring to God.
May that be true of us in the ministry of the word of God.

Preach for eternity

When the great Thomas Chalmers was converted, even though he had been a minister for several years, it led to a seismic shift in his preaching. Gone were the days filled with mathematical and scientific studies, with but an hour or two on a Saturday evening given to sermon preparation.

In its place there was a "sense of seriousness unfelt before; and the world to come cast an aweful shadow over every sermon."

If this Sunday you are preaching the word, or listening to it, may this be your experience too.

The Trinity is everywhere

Over the summer holidays, while we were in South Wales, we visited Big Pit Blaenavon. It closed as a working coal mine thirty years ago. Now it is a museum. But the winding gear still works, and kitted out with a miner's hat and a lamp, they take you down 300 feet underground and give you a tour of the history of the coal mine.

Back in the days before deep mining people dug the coal that they found in outcrops on the hills. Here and there, sticking out of the ground, would be outcrops of coal. You may have thought that all the coal there was was just there on the surface visible to the eye. But that was just an outcrop. Beneath the ground lay millions of tons of coal. Coal was everywhere.

It is like that with the doctrine of the Trinity. Some people read the Bible and they can see that the Trinity is hinted at in a verse here, and a verse there. Perhaps a passage like the baptism of Jesus where the Son is baptized, the Father speaks from heaven, and the Spirit descends in a dove like form. Or the ending of Matthew's Gospel, or Paul's benediction from the end of 2 Corinthians 13. That's where you can see the Trinity. It is in this verse, and that verse, sticking out as it were.

But that is what you see on the surface. In the opening words of Galatians, and as he does throughout his epistles, Paul is praying to God to bless his readers in such a way that he clearly considers the Lord Jesus Christ to be equal to God the Father. He prays to the Father and the Son as equals, and as equally the source of the blessings of grace and peace that the Galatians, and you and I need.

In that economy of words, words so well worn and familiar at the beginning of each of Paul's letters, lies the very foundational reality of Christian theology. Like the coal at Blaenavon you begin to realize that the Trinity is everywhere. Not just here and there in some special verses, but undergirding the whole reality of what it means to know God and to have dealings with God. The Trinity is everywhere.

Let me give you an extract on this point from B. B. Warfield's magnificent article "God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (The Princeton Theological Review, v. xv, 1917, pp. 1-20):

Clearly, the phrase "Jesus Christ and God the Father" denotes something purely Divine. It is in effect a Christian periphrasis for "God." And in this Christian periphrasis for "God" the name of Jesus Christ takes no subordinate place.

Paul places God and the Lord absolutely side by side, as joint source of the blessings he seeks for his readers; addresses his prayers for benefits he desires for his readers to them in common; treats them, in a word, as one.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The terrible anathema

Referring to Paul's solemn, sobering words in Galatians 1:6-10, George Smeaton wrote:
Were the atonement not the principal matter of the gospel, and the highest exhibition of the united wisdom, love and faithfulness of God,--in a word, the greatest act of God in the universe,--that terrible anathema on its subverters would seem to us something inexplicable, if not intolerable. But the doom is justified by the nature of Christ's death, and by the great fact of the atonement.
The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement, p. 19