Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bowling with Calvin!

... God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17)

We are prayerfully preparing for the rest and remembrance of the Lord with the church tomorrow, on the Lord's Day. In our congregation, we will also be ending our evening prayer meeting with... ice cream and games?

Of course. Just ask Calvin:
There is an old story, which may be apocryphal, that when John Knox came to Geneva to visit John Calvin at his home on the Sabbath, he was shocked to find Calvin engaged in lawn bowling. If the story is true, it may indicate that the theologian most devoted to Sabbath-keeping in history, Calvin, did not see recreation as a violation of the Lord’s Day, but as a part of the rest-taking or recreation that is to be part of this day. Recreation would never have been acceptable to Calvin if it had interrupted or supplanted the time devoted to worship on the Sabbath.

- R.C. Sproul, Defining the Debate, Tabletalk (June 2011)
It's good to remember that we are not Stoics or Ascetics. Our God has given us all good (and tasty!) things to enjoy, with thanks to Him.

And it's good to enjoy those things together.

Related Posts:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott (1921-2011)

John Stott passed into the presence of the Savior yesterday morning.

Certainly much more will be said regarding the impact of this great preacher of the Gospel in our generation, but we are indeed grateful for the life and ministry of John Stott. Now brother John enjoys the fruits of God's eternal grace, while we enjoy the fruits of God's grace in his life and ministry.

His last published words from a rare and accomplished ministry of writing:
As I lay down my pen for the last time (literally, since I confess I am not computerized) at the age of eighty-eight, I venture to send this valedictory message to my readers. I am grateful for your encouragement, for many of you have written to me. Looking ahead, none of us of course knows what the future of printing and publishing may be. But I myself am confident that the future of books is assured and that, though they will be complemented, they will never be altogether replaced. For there is something unique about books. Our favorite books become very precious to us and we even develop with them an almost living and affectionate relationship. Is it an altogether fanciful fact that we handle, stroke and even smell them as tokens of our esteem and affection? I am not referring only to an author’s feeling for what he has written, but to all readers and their library. I have made it a rule not to quote from any book unless I have first handled it. So let me urge you to keep reading, and encourage your relatives and friends to do the same. For this is a much neglected means of grace. . . . Once again, farewell! (The Radical Disciplepp. 136-137)
(HT: JT)

Though he is dead, he still speaks... may that continue for generations!

For more information:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Carson on M'Cheyne: Pastor-Theologian

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching... (1 Tim 4:16)

Why does D.A. Carson recommend Robert M'Cheyne? (See previous post).
First, he typifies a host of ministers who were scholar-practitioners, pastor-theologians, serious students yet fervent evangelists. The bifurcation between scholar and pastor that cripples so much of ministry today was not for him.

Second, he brought piety and serious study together in unashamed union. So much of the Western tradition of study magnifies dispassionate distance from the subject. Certainly we need the careful listening to the text that avoids mere subjectivism. But our aim should not be to become masters of the text but to be mastered by the text.

Third, M’Cheyne was passionately committed to reforming the church by the Word of God, and did all he could to promote a broad, deep, and reverent grasp of Scripture. By his standards, so much ecclesiastical ministry today seems misfocused or even frivolous.

So I recommend M’Cheyne—and not just M’Cheyne, but a host of pastor-theologians who manifest similar values. They will inform our minds, warm our hearts, and steel our wills.
Read Carson's entire recommendation of M'Cheyne in "Overlooked Shapers of Evangelicalism," pp. 77-79.

It may be that so many Christian minds are left ill-informed, so many Christian hearts are cold, and so many Christian wills are un-steeled, because our pastors are no longer theologians.

May God confound that satanic division of scholar and pastor and equip a generation of churchmen to reject frivolity for "a broad, deep, and reverent grasp of Scripture." Christians, these are the pastors for which we must be praying!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Carson on M'Cheyne: Study and Piety

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart(Deut 6:5-6)

When D.A. Carson was asked, "Whom would you name as someone whose contributions have been overlooked?" His answer? Robert Murray M'Cheyne! (See this post and that one, from last week).

Carson explains further:
Where M’Cheyne excelled was in his mix of serious study and eminent piety. While still a theological student in Edinburgh, he met regularly with Andrew Bonar, Horatius Bonar, and a handful of other earnest ministers-in-training. The purpose of these informal meetings was to pray, to study, and to work through Greek and Hebrew exercises—disciplines M’Cheyne preserved throughout his short life. This group of students took the Bible so seriously in their living and preaching that when the eminent Thomas Chalmers, then Professor of Divinity, heard of the way they approached the Bible, he said, “I like these literalities.”

- In "Overlooked Shapers of Evangelicalism," Southern Seminary Journal (Spring 1999): 78.
I have found M'Cheyne's Memoirs so invigorating and challenging for the same reason - "serious study and eminent piety." What God has joined together let no man separate.

May the tribe of "literalities" increase!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sproul on Difficult Passages and Doctrines

In a post last week, On Apologizing for God, we affirmed DeYoung's wise correction on whether Christians may dislike Scriptural doctrine; specifically, the doctrine of Hell.

The answer, of course, is no! And that is a good answer, as far as it goes. But, what exactly are we to do when we confront scriptural a passage or doctrine that initially does not sit well with us?

Though it is not rocket-science, outlining a proven-method can be quite helpful. And we find one from R.C. Sproul in chapter 3 of The Soul's Quest for God.

Here are three excerpts (pp. 61-62) introduced by my questions:

How should we respond to passages and/or doctrines that we initially dislike?
A word of advice I often give my seminary students is this: As you study the Bible, take special care to mark the passages you find difficult to accept. That is, mark the passages you don't like. Then give special attention to them. Closer scrutiny may reveal that you simply failed to understand the meaning of the text.
But what if we find that our understanding is, in fact, correct?
If you don't like what the Bible says, there is either something wrong with the Word of God or something wrong with your thinking. By isolating these texts you have a quick and easy way of discovering where your thinking is out of sync with the mind of Christ. You know exactly where you need to repent.
How have you practiced this in your own life and ministry, R.C.?
While in seminary I had a card on my desk that read: You are required to believe, to teach, and to preach what the Bible says, not what you want it to say.

I consulted the card frequently, especially when I struggled with the doctrine of predestination. Over the years, a pattern developed. First I would be convinced of the truth of the biblical teaching I didn't like. Then I would see the sweetness of those truths so that I delighted in them rather than despised them.
Classic Sproul, fun, simple, and helpful. Fun, because it is hard to imagine an R.C. Sproul who "struggled with the doctrine of predestination" - oh, how I would love to go back and talk with that student!

But it is even more helpful because treating our difficulties with Scripture is quite simple:
  1. Study
  2. Repent
  3. Delight
If you regularly bristle at any particular passage or doctrine, then there is certainly a breakdown in #'s 1, 2, or 3 - or all of the above.

Admittedly, the journey from #1 to #3 is often times long and arduous - and we will probably spend our entire lives on that journey with more than one passage - but it is nonetheless a journey worth taking. Why? At the end is the joy of knowing and loving our triune God as He really is in Himself.

NB, The Soul's Quest for God is a lesser-known work of R.C. Sproul. However, during this recent Q&A, Sproul remarked that he particularly labored-over this book and "poured his soul" into it. Thus far we have not been disappointed, especially with the frequent application of one Jonathan Edwards!

There are great deals to be had ($2!) at the Amazon Marketplace.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Where Would Jesus Be on Sunday?

Summer Sundays always tempt Christians with other distractions and activities. And they encourage us to underestimate the significance of regular corporate worship. We may therefore be helped here by simply asking, "Where would Jesus be on Sunday?"

And, thankfully, B.B. Warfield has given us a good answer:
If ever there was one who might justly plead that the common worship of the community had nothing to offer him it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But every Sabbath found him seated in his place among the worshipping people, and there was no act of stated worship which he felt himself entitled to discard.

Even in his most exalted moods, and after his most elevating experiences, he quietly took his place with the rest of God’s people, sharing with them in the common worship of the community. Returning from that great baptismal scene, when the heavens themselves were rent to bear him witness that he was well pleasing to God; from the searching trials of the wilderness, and from that first great tour in Galilee, prosecuted, as we are expressly told, “in the power of the Spirit”; he came back, as the record tells, “to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and” — so proceeds the amazing narrative — “he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue, on the Sabbath day.”

“As his custom was!”

Jesus Christ made it his habitual practice to be found in his place on the Sabbath day at the stated place of worship to which he belonged. “It is a reminder,” as Sir William Robertson Nicoll well insists, “of the truth which, in our fancied spirituality, we are apt to forget — that the holiest personal life can scarcely afford to dispense with stated forms of devotion, and that the regular public worship of the church, for all its local imperfections and dullness, is a divine provision for sustaining the individual soul.”

“We cannot afford to be wiser than our Lord in this matter. If any one could have pled that his spiritual experience was so lofty that it did no require public worship, if any one might have felt that the consecration and communion of is personal life exempted him from what ordinary mortals needed, it was Jesus. But he made no such plea. Sabbath after Sabbath even he was found in the place of worship, side by side with God’s people, not for the mere sake of setting a good example, but for deeper reasons. Is it reasonable, then, that any of us should think we can safely afford to dispense with the pious custom of regular participation with the common worship of our locality?”

Is it necessary for me to exhort those who would fain be like Christ, to see to it that they are imitators of him in this?

- B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings (P&R, 1970), 1:421–422
(HT: TR) As we prepare for this Lord's Day, we are well-advised to remember that "stated forms of devotion" do not undermine "the holiest personal life." In fact, they serve it!

Even our Lord Jesus - God Incarnate - attended to and participated in the common worship of His locality. Jesus would be with His local church.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dilbert onTwitter (and Facebook)

And now for something completely different...

(HT: Challies)

Like all great comic-strips, this one gets to the center of pressing existential questions in contemporary society. Here, that peculiar validation and assurance people seem to receive from their "followers" or "friends" (neither label, by the way, is an accurate description).

As for us, we remain quite content to live as if we don't exist.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

If You Die Wrong...

Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).

Continuing from yesterday's post, here's more from M'Cheyne's letter to "one awakened":
I was in a very wicked family to-day, where a child had died. I opened my Bible, and explained this verse to them over the coffin of their little one: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” Heb. ix.27. Solemn words! we have only once to die, and the day is fixed.

If you
die wrong the first time, you cannot come back to die better a second time. If you die without Christ, you cannot come back to be converted and die a believer,—you have but once to die. Oh! pray that you may find Christ before death finds you. “After this the judgment.” Not, after this purgatory. No further opportunity to be saved: “after this the judgment.” As death leaves you, so judgment finds you. If you die unsaved, you will be so in the judgment. May I never see you at the left hand! If I do, you will remember how I warned you, and prayed for you, and besought you to come to the Lord Jesus.

Come to Jesus,—He will in nowise cast you out.

- Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, pp. 277-78.
M'Cheyne's phrase is hauntingly true and helpfully simple - "If you die wrong the first time, you cannot come back to die better a second time." One error that cannot be undone is the error of "dying wrong."

I further find M'Cheyne's words pastorally sharpening - warn sinners not to die wrong. Now, there's a simple mission statement that'll get you out of bed in the morning!

Do not die wrong, come to Jesus!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Has the World Done for You?

The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17).

What we may most appreciate of Robert Murray M'Cheyne is how his own communion with God translated into such faithful evangelism. The following is from a letter he wrote in September of 1842, to "one awakened":
Surely you have lived long enough without Christ. You have despised Jesus long enough. What has the world done for you, that you love it so much? Did the world die for you? Will the world blot out your sins or change your heart? Will the world carry you to heaven? No, no! You may go back to the world if you please, but it can only destroy your poor soul. “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.”—1 Tim. v.6. Read these words in your Bible, and mark them; and if you go back, that mark will be a witness against you before the great white throne, when the books are opened.

Have you not lived long enough in pleasure? Come and try the pleasures of Christ,—forgiveness and a new heart. I have not been at a dance or any worldly amusement for many years, and yet I believe I have had more pleasure in a single day than you have had all your life. In what? you will say. In feeling that God loves me,—that Christ has washed me,—and in feeling that I shall be in heaven when the wicked are cast into hell. “A day in thy courts is better than a thousand.”—Ps. lxxxiv.10.

- Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (1894), p. 277.
Read his whole letter.

M'Cheyne boldly identified sin and unbelief - "You have despised Jesus long enough" - while tenderly describing the comforts of Jesus - "Come and try the pleasures of Christ." Such is a model of faithful evangelism that is consistent with the Savior and His apostles. As we grow in our own enjoyment of Christ, our evangelistic witness will inevitably become less of a programmatic function than the overflow of our pleasure in Him. And, with that, be delivered in the aroma of authenticity.

For Related Posts:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tough Guys and Fluff Guys

Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? (2 Cor 1:17a)

As we have mentioned on more than one occasion, we have not ceased to appreciate Carl Trueman's wit and wisdom. And "There's Tough and Then There's Fluff" was no exception.
Thinking over this story taught me an important lesson: there are tough guys and there are fluff guys. The fluff guys, rather like eunuchs, are often quite brilliant. They also (like eunuchs) know what should be done, how it should be done and who should be doing it but are sadly not actually capable of doing it themselves. The tough guys may not be perfect and may never achieve all that they hope to achieve. Calvin managed what? Maybe 70% of what he really wanted in Geneva? But they do actually do some reformation, they have the backbone to sit in meetings, say unpopular things to the face of those who oppose them, and take the consequent hits; they take personal risks with their careers for the sake of making a difference; they do not simply talk about reformation from the safe distance provided by the internet. Talk is fun; the internet is a hobby; only action makes a difference.
Read Trueman's entire post.

This reminded me of the divisive criticism of pastors and leaders, which can so easily take hold in our hearts and - if left unchecked - through an entire congregation. How easy it is for us to ask "Why hasn't he done more about ________?" Or, "Doesn't he care about Scripture, why doesn't he address ___________ ?" And yet we launch such assaults on character from a "safe distance" to the trenches of real reformation work. Such terms as "Monday morning quarterback" come to mind.

So, this is a reminder that before we criticize or confront our leaders - either in our church or in a wider sphere of influence - we need to keep several matters in mind. First, we may not know what our subject actually wants to achieve. We also may be overlooking the ferocity of the opposition which he may face. Thirdly, we may underestimate how much courage it actually takes to say unpopular things, especially with the knowledge that "hits" will come. And, in the end, we may best serve the cause of Christ simply by praying that the Lord will strengthen our leaders to remain faithful and persistent amid the heat of real action.

NB, for more from Carl Trueman:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Prayer Groups are Pure Hedonism

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31)

John Piper on corporate prayer groups:
  • God's hand is not shortened by the size of the prayer meeting.
  • There are hundreds of you who don't regularly pray with other believers... you have just considered it to be unimportant... I just want to plead with you that you are cutting yourself off from extraordinary blessing. And I would like you to have it... It's pure Christian hedonism.

Many of us who are indeed "chicken by nature" gather here each Lord's Day at 5pm - including this week! - to pray for boldness and for the world. Come and receive.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Apologizing for God

The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether [יַחְדָּֽו; lit., "at the same time"] (Ps 19:9).

Related to the inerrancy of God, there is wise correction from pastor Kevin DeYoung in "Is it Okay for Christians to Believe in the Doctrine of Hell But Not Like It?" DeYoung narrows on the recurring issue of whether Christians may dislike what they believe the Bible teaches - especially in relation to hell.
To admit that God says hard things is admirable honesty. But to profess our dislike for what he does or wish that he were a different kind of God who did things in a different way–even if we come around to accept these ways in the end–is not the right kind of humility. It’s one thing to say to unbelievers and skeptics, “I struggled with the same questions you’re asking.” It’s another to throw God under the bus, admitting “I don’t like hell anymore than you do. I’d take it out of the Bible if I could. But it’s in there, so I can’t deny it.”

God is good and his ways are always right. It is a measure of our maturity that we not only affirm the truth of God’s word but rest in the goodness and rightness of it. Christians should have anguish in heart at the thought of eternal suffering, but we should also see the glory of God in the Bible’s teaching on eternal punishment.
Read DeYoung's entire post here.

Unfortunately, on more than one occasion I have heard an otherwise faithful pastor say just what DeYoung hypothesized, "I'd take _______ out of the Bible if I could." I'm sure they do not understand the blasphemy of such a statement - implying they are wiser than the Author of the Bible.

A refresher from Theology 101 - neither you nor I are wiser than God. Admit challenges in understanding. Struggle with difficulties. Pray for spiritual illumination. Seek help from pastors and teachers. But never, ever, ever apologize or wish away any portion of Scripture. All of His Word is completely righteous... every jot and tittle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Resisting the Inerrancy of God

All Scripture is inspired by God [θεόπνευστος; lit., "God-breathed" or "breathed-out by God"] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).

The more we hear from Sinclair Ferguson, the more we appreciate his incisive pastoral and theological wisdom. Neither did he disappoint in the recent Q&A with RC Sproul & Ligonier Teaching Fellows. At the end of the session, as they discussed why people resist the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy, Ferguson made this biblically-informed observation:
It's amazing, isn't it, how many people will despise the inerrancy of Scripture who don't actually read the Scripture? And if you challenge them just on that simple point, then what lies behind their resistance to the inerrancy of Scripture is their resistance to the inerrancy of God at the end of the day.
That is not only insightful, it is helpful. People (even professing Christians) resist inerrancy because they know exactly what it implies - the clear authority of God over their lives. In other words, when you hold to "errancy," you get what every sinner ultimately desires - vague religious sentiments that allow you to fashion a deity who affirms your own (sinful) desires.

This should be in the back of our minds as we contend for inerrancy; it is ultimately about God Himself, and therefore, the Gospel. People resist an inerrant Bible, because they reject the authority of the God who has breathed-out the Bible in truth. Fortunately, we know a Savior who has come and risen to reconcile them to the inerrant God they resist.

Watch the whole Q&A:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Lord's Day is a Demand to Repent

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exod 20:8).

Great point to reflect upon from John Piper as we approach the Lord's Day. On the issue of why so many seem to regard the priority of the Lord's Day and the sabbath command as a burden, Piper responds:
The reason that so many people feel it as a burden is partly that we have so much leisure, we don't feel the need for the sabbath rest; but more important, I think, is the fact that not many people really enjoy what God intended us to enjoy on the sabbath, namely, himself. Many professing Christians enjoy sports and television and secular books and magazines and recreation and hobbies and games far more than they enjoy direct interaction with God in his Word or in worship or in reading Christian books or in meditative strolls.

Therefore, inevitably people whose hearts are set more on the pleasures of the world than on the enjoyment of God will feel the sabbath command as a burden not a blessing. This is what John says in 1 John 5:3, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." The measure of your love for God is the measure of the joy you get in focusing on him on the day of rest. For most people the sabbath command is really a demand to repent. It invites us to enjoy what we don't enjoy and therefore shows us the evil of hearts, and our need to repent and be changed.

- "Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy"
In a climate of leisure and recreation - and that being in the Church, as much as outside it - the command for direct communion with God is indeed "a demand to repent." Given my own propensity to enjoy the world before the Savior, I am grateful for the weekly call to trust that what He offers is more than any other.

Related Posts: