Friday, September 7, 2012

The Puritans and Counseling

Justin Taylor has a very helpful post at The Gospel Coalition on the Puritans and how helpful they can be in biblical counseling. 

His reference to Tim Keller gives great reasons why the Puritans are so helpful. But I especially liked his reference to the book by Mark Deckard, Helpful Truth in Past Places: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Counseling (Christians Focus, 2010). Taylor notes:

The introduction, “New Is Not Necessarily Better,” can be read online for free. Deckard takes six questions that people struggle with, and uses a classic Puritan work to help us answer it:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Indelible Grace

From The Trinity Hymnal, 1990:
A Debtor to Mercy Alone 
1 A debtor to mercy alone,Of covenant mercy I sing;Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,My person and off'ring to bring.The terrors of law and of GodWith me can have nothing to do;My Saviour's obedience and bloodHide all my transgressions from view. 
2 The work which his goodness began,The arm of his strength will complete;His promise is Yea and Amen,And never was forfeited yet.Things future, nor things that are now,Nor all things below or above,Can make him his purpose forgo,Or sever my soul from his love. 
3 My name from the palms of his handsEternity will not erase;Impressed on his heart it remains,In marks of indelible grace.Yes, I to the end shall endure,As sure as the earnest is giv'n;More happy, but not more secure,The glorified spirits in heav'n. 
Written by Augustus Montague Toplady, 1740-1778

Notice the first stanza shows the imputed righteousness of Christ to us. Stanza two shows the Godward side of our security in Him and stanza three shows based on the truths of the first two stanzas, we will endure to the end. 
What a beautiful and comforting hymn!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sovereign Election in Psalms

Out of the mass of sinful humanity, God has set apart a chosen people for Himself. Each of these elect individuals will become increasingly godly:
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lordhears when I call to him. —Psalm 4:3
David teaches here that God “sets apart” the godly, an act that is synonymous with divine election. This choice was made before time began, and guarantees that all God’s chosen ones will be sanctified and become godly within time. God does not elect a person because he or she is godly, but in order that the person might become godly.
imgSpurgeon comments upon this verse, “The godly are the chosen of God, and are, by distinguishing grace, set apart and separated from among men. Election is a doctrine which unrenewed men cannot endure, but nevertheless, it is a glorious and well-attested truth, and one which should comfort the tempted believer. Election is the guarantee of complete salvation, and an argument for success at the throne of grace. He who chose us for Himself will surely hear our prayers.”
—Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 144.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Words of Jesus. The Good Shepherd.

The Words of Jesus is a 31 day devotional I am attempting to read daily. It is based on John Macduff. Macduff was a Scottish preacher who lived from 1818-1895. Thanks to Grace Gems for making this available.
The Good Shepherd
"Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said,"
"I am the Good Shepherd. I know My sheep — and My sheep know Me." — John 10:14
"The Good Shepherd" — well can the sheep who know His voice, attest the truthfulness and faithfulness of this endearing name and word. Where would they have been through eternity — had He not left His throne of light and glory, traveling down to this dark valley of the curse, and giving His life a ransom for them? Think of His love to each separate member of the flock — wandering over pathless wilds with unwearied patience and unquenchable ardor, ceasing not the pursuit — until He finds it. 
Think of His love now — "I AM the Good Shepherd." Still that tender eye of watchfulness following the guilty wanderers — the glories of Heaven and the songs of angels unable to dim or alter His affection — the music of the words, at this moment coming as sweetly from His lips as when first He uttered them, "I know My sheep." Every individual believer — the weakest, the weariest, the faintest — claims His attention. His loving eye follows me day by day out to the wilderness — marks out my pasture, studies my needs, and trials, and sorrows, and perplexities — every steep ascent, every brook, every winding path, every thorny thicket! 
"He goes before them." It is not rough driving — but gentle guiding. He does not take them over an unknown road; He Himself has trodden it before. He has drunk of every "brook by the way;" He Himself has "suffered being tempted;" He is "able to support those who are tempted." He seems to say, "Fear not! I cannot lead you wrong; follow Me in the bleak wasteland, the blackened wilderness — as well as by the green pastures and the still waters. Do you ask why I have left the sunny side of the valley — carpeted with flowers, and bathed in sunshine — leading you to some high mountain alone, some cheerless spot of sorrow? Trust Me! I will lead you by paths you have not known — but they are all known to Me, and selected by Me — Follow Me!" 
"My sheep know Me!" Reader! can you subscribe to these closing words of this gracious utterance? Do you "know" Him in all the glories of His person — in all the completeness of His finished work — in all the tenderness and unutterable love of His every dealing towards you? 
It has been remarked by Palestine travelers, that not only do the sheep there follow the guiding shepherd — but even while eating the herbage as they go along, they look wistfully up to see that they are near him. Is this your attitude — "looking unto Jesus?" "In all your ways acknowledge Him — and He will direct your paths." Leave the future — to His providing. "The Lord is my Shepherd — I shall not lack." I shall not lack! — it has been beautifully called "the bleating of Messiah's sheep." Take it as your watchword during your wilderness wanderings, until grace is perfected in glory. Let this be the record of your simple faith and unwavering trust, "These are those who follow — wherever He sees fit to guide them." "His sheep follow Him — for they know His voice."

For me today, and really every day, this is the challenge: "Is this your attitude — "looking unto Jesus?" "In all your ways acknowledge Him — and He will direct your paths." Leave the future — to His providing."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Words of Jesus. The Tender Solicitude.

The Words of Jesus is a 31 day devotional I am attempting to read daily. It is based on John Macduff. Macduff was a Scottish preacher who lived from 1818-1895. Thanks to Grace Gems for making this available.

The Tender Solicitude

"Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said,"
"The very hairs of your head are all numbered!" — Matthew 10:30

What a "word" is this! All that befalls you, to the very numbering of your hairs — is known to God! Nothing can happen by accident or chance. Nothing can elude His inspection. The fall of the forest leaf — the fluttering of the insect — the waving of the angel's wing — the annihilation of a world — all are equally noted by Him! Man speaks of great things and small things — but God knows no such distinction.

How especially comforting to think of this tender solicitude with reference to His own covenant people — that He metes out all their joys — and all theirsorrows! Every sweet--and every bitter--is ordained by Him. Even "wearisome nights" are "appointed." Not a pang I feel, not a tear I shed — but is known to Him. What are called "dark dealings," are the ordinations of undeviating faithfulness. Man may err — his ways are often crooked; "but as for God — His way is perfect!" He puts my tears into His bottle. Every moment His everlasting arms are underneath and around me. He keeps me "as the apple of His eye." He "bears" me as a man bears his own son!

Do I look to the FUTURE? Is there much of uncertainty and mystery hanging over it? It may be, much foreboding of evil. Trust Him. All is marked out for me. Dangers will be averted; bewildering mazes will show themselves to be interlaced and interweaved with mercy. "He keeps the feet of His saints." Not a hair of their head will be touched.

He leads sometimes darkly, sometimes sorrowfully; most frequently by cross and circuitous ways, which we ourselves would not have chosen; but alwayswisely, always tenderly. With all its mazy windings and turnings, its roughness and ruggedness — the believer's is not only a right way — but the right way — the best which covenant love and wisdom could select.

"Nothing," says Jeremy Taylor, "does so establish the mind amid the rollings and turbulence of present things — as both a look above them and a look beyond them; above them — to the steady and loving hand by which they are ruled; and beyond them — to the sweet and beautiful end to which, by that hand, they will be brought." "The Great Counselor," says Thomas Brooks, "puts clouds and darkness round about Him, bidding us follow at His beck through the cloud, promising an eternal and uninterrupted sunshine on the other side." On that "other side" we shall see how every apparent rough blast has been hastening our boats nearer the desired haven.

Well may I commit the keeping of my soul to Jesus in well-doing — as unto a faithful Creator. He gave Himself for me. This transcendent pledge of love — is the guarantee for the bestowment of every other needed blessing. Oh, blessed thought! my sorrows are numbered--by the Man of Sorrows; my tears are counted--by Him who shed first His tears, and then His blood for me! He will impose no needless burden, and exact no unnecessary sacrifice. There was no unnecessary drop in the cup of His own sufferings; neither will there be in that of His people. "Though He slays me — yet will I trust in Him!" "Therefore comfort one another with these words."

What an amazing little phrase by Jesus. And Macduff's comments are so helpful and encouraging. I especially am comforted by these words: "He puts my tears into His bottle. Every moment His everlasting arms are underneath and around me. He keeps me "as the apple of His eye." He "bears" me as a man bears his own son!"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Words of Jesus. The Father Glorified.

The Words of Jesus is a 31 day devotional I am attempting to read daily. It is based on John Macduff. Macduff was a Scottish preacher who lived from 1818-1895. Thanks to Grace Gems for making this available.

The Father Glorified

"Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said,"
"Herein is My Father glorified — that you bear much fruit; showing yourselves to be My disciples." — John 15:8

When surveying the boundless ocean of covenant mercy — every wave chiming, "God is Love!" does
the thought ever present itself, "What can I do for this great Being who has done so much for me?" Recompense, I cannot! No more can my purest services add one iota to His un-derived glory, than the tiny candle can add to the blaze of the sun at noonday, or a drop of water to the boundless ocean. Yet, wondrous thought! from this worthless soul of mine there may roll in a revenue of glory which He who loves the broken and contrite spirit will "not despise." "Herein is My Father glorified — that you bear much fruit."

Reader! are you a fruit-bearer in your Lord's vineyard? Are you seeking to make life one grand act of consecration to His glory — one thank-offering for His unmerited love? You may be unable to exhibit much fruit in the eye of the world. Your circumstances and position in life may forbid you to point to any splendid services, or laborious and imposing efforts in the cause of God. It matters not. It is often those fruits that are unseen and unknown to man, ripening in seclusion — that He values most — the quiet, lowly walk — patience and submission — gentleness and humility — putting yourself unreservedly in His hands — willing to be led by Him even in darkness — saying, Not my will — but Your will — the unselfish spirit, the meek bearing of an injury, the unostentatious kindness; these are some of the "fruits" which your Heavenly Father loves, and by which He is glorified.

Perchance it may be with you the season of trial, the chamber of protracted sickness, the time of desolating bereavement, some furnace seven times heated. Herein, too, you may sweetly glorify your God. Never is your Heavenly Father more glorified by His children on earth, than when, in the midst of these furnace-fires, He listens to nothing but the gentle breathings of confiding faith and love, "Let Him do what seems good unto Him." Yes — you can, there in the furnace, glorify Him in a way which angels cannot do in a world where they have no trials. They can glorify God only with the crown; you can glorify Him with the cross and the prospect of the crown together! Ah, if He is dealing severely with you — if He, as the Great Gardener, is pruning His vines, loppingtheir boughs, and stripping off their luxuriant branches — remember the end! "He prunes it — that it may bring forth more fruit," and "Herein is My Father glorified!"

Be it yours to lie passive in His hands, saying in unmurmuring resignation, "Father, glorify Your name! Glorify Yourself, whether by giving — or taking, filling my cup — or "emptying me from vessel to vessel! Let me know no will but Yours!" Angels possess no higher honor and privilege than glorifying the God before whom they cast their crowns. How blessed to be able thus to claim brotherhood with the spirits in the upper sanctuary! No, more, to be associated with the Savior Himself in the theme of His own exalted joy, when He said, "I have glorified You on earth!" "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Words of Jesus. The Unveiled Dealings.

The Words of Jesus is a 31 day devotional I am attempting to read daily. It is based on John Macduff. Macduff was a Scottish preacher who lived from 1818-1895. Thanks to Grace Gems for making this available.

The Unveiled Dealings

"Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said,"
"You do not realize now what I am doing — but later you will understand." — John 13:7

O blessed day, when the long sealed book of mystery shall be unfolded, when the "fountains of the great deep shall be broken up," "the channels of the waters seen," and all discovered to be one vast revelation of unerring wisdom and ineffable love! Here we are often baffled at the Lord's dispensations; we cannot fathom His ways — like the well of Sychar — they are deep, and we have nothing to draw with. But soon the "mystery of God will be finished;" the enigmatical "seals," with all their inner meanings, opened. When that "morning without clouds" shall break, each soul will be like the angel standing in the sun — there will be no shadow; all will be perfect day!

Believer, be still! The dealings of your Heavenly Father may seem dark to you; there may seem now to be no golden fringe, no "bright light in the clouds;" but a day of disclosures is at hand. "Take it on trust a little while." An earthly child takes on trust what his father tells him: when he reaches maturity, much that was baffling to his infant comprehension is then explained. You are in this world in the childhood of your being — Eternity is the soul's immortal manhood. There, every dealing will be vindicated. It will lose all its "darkness" when bathed in floods "of the excellent glory!"

Ah! instead of thus being as weaned children, how apt are we to exercise ourselves in matters too high for us! not content with knowing that our Father wills it — but presumptuously seeking to know how it is, and why it is. If it is unfair to pronounce on theunfinished and incomplete works of man; if the painter, or sculptor, or artificer, would shrink from having his labors judged of when in a rough, unpolished, immature state — how much more so with the works of God! How we should honor Him by a simple, confiding, unreserved submission to His will — contented patiently to wait the fulfillment of this "later" promise, when all the lights and shadows in the now half-finished picture will be blended and melted into one harmonious whole — when all the now disjointed stones in the temple will be seen to fit into their appointed place — giving unity, and symmetry, and compactness to all the building.

And who is it that speaks these living "words," "What I am doing?" It is He who died for us! who now lives for us! Blessed Jesus! You may do much that our blind hearts would like undone — "terrible things in righteousness which we looked not for." The heaviest (what we may be tempted to call the severest) cross You can lay upon us we shall regard as only the apparent severity of unutterable and unalterable love. Eternity will unfold how all — all was needed; that nothing else, nothing less, could have done! If not now, at least then — the verdict on a calm retrospect of life will be this, "The Word of the Lord is right, and all His works are done in truth."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Smart-Ass Pastors

Smart-Ass, according to the Free Dictionary online, "n. Slang. A smart aleck." Ok. So then over to "smart aleck." It says, "smart aleck" or "smart arse."

There is no real definition, just some synonyms. Like...

The Words of Jesus. The Power of Prayer.

The Words of Jesus is a 31 day devotional I am attempting to read daily. It is based on John Macduff. Macduff was a Scottish preacher who lived from 1818-1895. Thanks to Grace Gems for making this available.

The Power of Prayer
"Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said,"

"Whatever you shall ask in my name, that will I do — that the Father may be glorified in the Son." — John 14:13

Blessed Jesus! it is You who has unlocked to Your people the gates of prayer. Without You, they must have been shut forever. It was Your atoning merit on earth that first opened them; it is Your intercessory work in Heaven that keeps them open still.

How unlimited the promise — "Whatever you shall ask!" It is the pledge of all that the needy sinner requires — all that an Omnipotent Savior can bestow! As the great Steward of the mysteries of grace, He seems to say to His faithful servants, "Take your request, and under this, My superscription, write what you please." And then, when the blank is filled up, He further endorses each petition with the words, "I WILL do it!"

He further encourages us to ask "in His name." In the case of an earthly petitioner there are some pleas more influential in obtaining a benefit than others. Jesus speaks of this as forming the key to the heart of God. As David loved the helpless cripple of Saul's house "for Jonathan's sake," so will the Father, by virtue of our covenant relationship to the true Jonathan (lit., "the gift of God"), delight in giving us even "exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think."

Reader, do you know the blessedness of confiding your every need and every care — your every sorrow and every cross — into the ear of the Savior? He is the "Wonderful Counselor." With an exquisitely tender sympathy, He can enter into the innermost depths of your need. That need may be great — but the everlasting arms are underneath it all. Think of Him now, at this moment — the great Angel of the Covenant, with the censer full of much incense, in which are placed your feeblest aspirations, your most burdened sighs — the odor-breathing cloud ascending with acceptance before the Father's throne. The answer may tarry — these your supplications may seem to be kept long on the wing, hovering around the mercy-seat. A gracious God sometimes sees it fitting thus to test the faith and patience of His people. He delights to hear the music of their importunate pleadings — to see them undeterred by difficulties — unrepelled by apparent forgetfulness and neglect. But He will come at last — the pent-up fountain of love and mercy will at length burst out — the soothing accents will in His own good time be heard, "Be it unto you according to your word!"

Soldier of Christ! with all your other armor, do not forget the weapon, "All-prayer." It is that which keeps bright and shining "the whole armor of God." While yet out in the night of a dark world — while still camping in an enemy's country — kindle your watch-fires at the altar of incense. You must be Moses — pleading on the Mount; if you would be Joshua — victorious in the world's daily battle. Confide your cause to this waiting Redeemer. You cannot weary Him with your importunity. He delights in hearing. He is glorified in giving. The memorable Bethany-utterance remains unaltered and unrepealed, "I know that You hear Me always." He is still the "Prince that has power with God and prevails" — He still promises and pleads — he still He lives and loves!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Intinction. Should We?

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is set to decide whether to ban the practice used by some churches known as intinction. Intinction is where the communicant dips the bread into the wine and then eats (thus not truly drinking). The PCA presbyteries will be voting,
"...on whether to amend BCO 58-5 by adding this sentence: “As Christ has instituted the Lord’s Supper in two sacramental actions, the communicants are to eat the bread and drink the cup in separate actions.”
If approved by 2/3 of the presbyteries, intinction will be banned. D. Clair Davis, a PCA Teaching Elder, former professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and now a Professor and Chaplain at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, has written about this issue. Dr. Davis writes in part,
I appreciate this ‘decent and orderly’ process.  When all presbyteries consider changes to our Constitution, it is bound to bring more biblical wisdom to bear than when the GA alone with its limited time issues an opinion.  And as we consider to what extent GA ‘in thesi’ pronouncements are binding upon us, it can help to just avoid that issue and instead point to our Constitution, as amended.
Then, Dr. Davis concludes, 
A common identity is a wonderful thing, a true gift of the Holy Spirit.  It seems to me that supplementing PCA identity with a ban on intinction is disproportionate, divisive, and radically unwise.  I hope all our Presbyteries agree.
I don't have a strong opinion on intinction. I've been in churches where it is practiced. Seemed fine for me. We shall see what the PCA decides.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Words of Jesus. The Comforting Assurance.

The Words of Jesus is a 31 day devotional I am attempting to read daily. It is based on John Macduff. Macduff was a Scottish preacher who lived from 1818-1895. Thanks to Grace Gems for making this available.
The Comforting Assurance 
Acts 20:35, "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said,"
"Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things." — Matthew 6:32
Though spoken originally by Jesus regarding temporal things, this may be taken as a motto for the child of God amid all the changing vicissitudes of his changing history. How it should lull all misgivings; silence all murmurings; lead to lowly, unquestioning submissiveness, "My Heavenly Father knows that I have need of all these things!" 
Where can a child be safer or better — than in a father's hand? Where can the believer be better — than in the hands of his God? We are poor judges of what is best for us. We are under safe guidance with infallible wisdom. If we are tempted in a moment of rash presumption to say, "All these things are against me!" let this "word" rebuke the hasty and unworthy surmise. Unerring wisdom and Fatherly love, have pronounced all to be "needful." 
My soul, is there anything that is disturbing your peace? Are providences dark, or crosses heavy? Are spiritual props removed, creature comforts curtailed, gourds smitten and withered like grass? Write on each, "Your Father knows that you have need of all these things!" It was He who increased your burden. Why? "It was needed." It was He who crossed your worldly schemes, marred your cherished hopes. Why? "It was needed." A pleasant flower in the coveted path — it was supplanting Himself — He had to remove it! There was some higher spiritual blessing in communion with God. 
Seek to cherish a spirit of more childlike confidence in your Heavenly Father's will. You are not left unfriended and alone to buffet the storms of the wilderness. Your Marahs as well as your Elims are appointed by Him. A gracious pillar-cloud is before you. Follow it through sunshine and storm. He may "lead you about," but He will not lead you wrong. Unutterable tenderness is the characteristic of all His dealings. "Blessed be His name," says a tried believer, "He makes my feet like hinds' feet" (literally,"equals" them), "He equals them for every precipice, every ascent, every leap." 
And who is it that speaks this quieting word? It is He who Himself felt the preciousness of the assurance during His own awful sufferings, that all were needed, and all appointed; that from Bethlehem's cradle to Calvary's Cross — there was not an unnecessary thorn in the crown of sorrow which He, the Man of Sorrows, bore. Every drop in His bitter cup was mingled by His Father: "This cup which You give Me to drink, shall I not drink it?" Oh, if He could extract comfort in this hour of inconceivable agony, in the thought that a Father's hand lighted the fearful furnace-fires — what strong consolation is there is the same truth to all His suffering people! 
What! one superfluous drop! one unessential pang! one unneeded cross! Hush the secret atheism! He gave His Son for you! He calls Himself "your Father!" Whatever be the trial under which you are now smarting, let the word of a gracious Savior be "like oil thrown on the fretful sea;" let it dry every rebellious tear-drop. "He, your unerring Parent, knows that you have need of this as well as all these things."
These comments serve to remind me in life's storms, raging all around me, that there is no better place for me than in His providential care. Things that I see as obstacles and hardships are but His tender care, seeking to "some higher spiritual blessing in communion with God."

May I learn!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Words of Jesus. The Gracious Invitation.

The Words of Jesus, a 31 day devotional I am beginning today. It is based on John Macduff. Macduff was a Scottish preacher who lived from 1818-1895. Thanks to Grace Gems for making this available.

Day 1: The Gracious Invitation
"Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." —Matthew 11:28.
Gracious "word" of a gracious Savior, on which the soul may confidingly repose, and be at peace forever! It is a present rest—the rest of grace as well as the rest of glory. Not only are there signals of peace hung out from the walls of heaven—the lights of Home glimmering in the distance to cheer our footsteps; but we have the "shadow" of this "great Rock!" in a present "weary land." Before the Throne alone is there "the sea of glass," without one rippling wave; but there is a haven even on earth for the tempest-tossed—"We who have believed DO enter into rest."
Reader, have you found this blessed repose in the blood and work of Immanuel? Long going about "seeking rest and finding none," does this "word" sound like music in your ears—"Come unto Me"? All other peace is counterfeit, shadowy, unreal. The eagle spurns the gilded cage as a poor equivalent for his free-born soarings. The soul's immortal aspirations can be satisfied with nothing short of the possession of God's favor and love in Jesus.
How unqualified is the invitation! If there had been one condition in entering this covenant Ark, we must have been through eternity at the mercy of the storm. But all are alike warranted and welcome, and none more warranted than welcome. For the weak, the weary, the sin-burdened and sorrow-burdened, there is an open door of grace.
Return, then, unto your rest, O my soul! Let the sweet cadence of this "word of Jesus" steal on you amid the disquietudes of earth. Sheltered in Him, you are safe for time, safe for eternity! There may be, and will be, temporary tossings, fears, and misgivings—manifestations of inward corruption; but these will only be like the surface-heavings of the ocean, while underneath there is a deep, settled calm. "You will keep him in perfect peace" (lit. peace, peace) "whose mind is stayed on You." In the world it is care on care, trouble on trouble, sin on sin, but every wave that breaks on the believer's soul seems sweetly to murmur, "Peace, peace!"
And if the foretaste of this rest be precious, what must be the glorious consummation? Awaking in the morning of immortality, with the unquiet dream of earth over—faith lost in sight, and hope in fruition—no more any bias to sin—no more latent principles of evil—nothing to disturb the spirit's deep, everlasting tranquility—the trembling magnet of the heart reposing, where alone it can confidingly and permanently rest, in the enjoyment of the Infinite God. "These things have I spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace."
I love this: "For the weak, the weary, the sin-burdened and sorrow-burdened, there is an open door of grace."

The Contraceptive-Abortifacient Mandate. FAQs

The Gospel Coalition has some very helpful information in the form of FAQs on the Obamacare's controversial contraceptive-abortifacient mandate which went into effect August 1.

Among the many FAQs they cover, this one is perhaps the most important one:
I don't oppose contraceptives, so why should I care about this issue? 
There are two reasons that all Christians, regardless of their view on contraceptives, should be concerned about this mandate. 
The first is because it forces Christians to pay for abortion-inducing drugs. The policy currently requires coverage of Ulipristal ("Ella"), which is chemically similar to the abortion drug RU-486 (mifepristone) and has the same effect (to prevent embryos from being implanted or, if already implanted, to die from lack of nutrition). Additionally, RU-486 is also being tested for possible use as an "emergency contraceptive." If the FDA approves it for that purpose, it will automatically be included under the mandate. 
The second is that it restricts religious liberty by forcing religious institutions to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients even if the employer has a religious or moral objection to such practices.
Click over and read the rest.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Your Good Things Are All Yet to Come!

I needed this today from J.C. Ryle.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God!" Hebrews 12:1-2 

We must run with perseverance--or we shall never obtain. There may be many things we cannot understand, much that the flesh could perhaps wish otherwise--but let us endure unto the end, and all shall be made clear, and God's arrangements shall be proved best. Think not to have your reward on earth--do not draw back, becauseyour good things are all yet to come
Today is the cross--but tomorrow is the crown. 
Today is the labor--but tomorrow are the wages. 
Today is the sowing--but tomorrow is the harvest. 
Today is the battle--but tomorrow is the rest. 
Today is the weeping--but tomorrow is the joy.

And what is today, when compared to tomorrow? 
Today is but seventy years--but tomorrow is eternity! 

"Run in such a way as to get the prize!" 1 Corinthians 9:24

From J.C. Ryle

'Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee

Great hymn. Check out these words:

1. 'Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For, Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse Thee,
But Thou hast chosen me;
Thou from the sin that stained me,
Hast cleansed and set me free,
Of old Thou hast ordained me,
That I should live to Thee.
2. 'Twas sov'reign mercy called me,
And taught my op'ning mind;
The world had else enthralled me,
To heav'nly glories blind;
My heart owns none before Thee,
For Thy rich grace I thirst;
This knowing, if I love Thee,
Thou must have love me first.

Trinity Hymnal #471

Monday, July 30, 2012

Racial Issues in the Church

Surely you've heard by now about the Southern Baptist church in Mississippi? The one which refused to allow an African American couple to be married in the church building? In 2012!

Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson were told only one day before their previously announced and planned wedding that they’d have to be married somewhere else. FBC Crystal Springs would not be available. The pastor complied. According to the article, this mess was because of only a few apparently powerful people in the church.

I personally think this is awful. Deplorable. It was a sinful action by the church. The pastor can be seen as spineless. Or perhaps wise, in not wanting to make a national scene on the day before the wedding.

What should happen here now? To the church? The pastor? Anything?

Here's a link in case you missed this.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Preaching for Revival

Rev. Al Baker,
In a day when many seem to be mitigating the preached Word of God, calling us to a neo-sacerdotalism (emphasizing the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism over against the efficacy of the preached Word of God)1, we all the more need preachers who will preach for revival. How are we to do it? The church and her preacher have only two weapons — prayer and preaching. Nothing else will work. So, how do we preach for revival? First, the preacher and congregant alike must believe that revival is necessary and possible. Surprisingly, this is not even on the radar screen of many western believers. I will go further and say that the revival culture of Acts is normative, that this is always the benchmark of the church and anything short of it is dishonouring the One who gave himself for us. Second, we must pray with the intolerable burden of which I have so often spoken and written in the past. We can have revival in our day if we are willing to pay the price for it — if we are willing to pray, fast, and weep like Ezra (Ezra 10:1) and Nehemiah (Neh. 1:1-4); if we are in such anguish over the state of Christ’s church that we will pull the hair out of our heads and sit down appalled like Ezra (Ezra 9:1-3 ), that we will pull the hair from the heads of our brethren, like Nehemiah (Neh. 13:25); if we are willing to pray with deep humility, confessing and repenting of sin like Daniel (Dan. 9:1ff). Without this kind of sustained burden we have no reason to believe our prayers are effectual. We must pray prayers of supplication, intense passion (Dan. 9:3; Zech. 12:10). Third, as the preacher proclaims God’s Word he comes to his great calling hot with Christ, after hours of prayer, study, and meditation on the Word to be preached; after filling up his heart and mind with the glory of Christ, after feeling deeply and passionately the truths he will proclaim; after believing in the total sufficiency and efficacy of the preached Word through the Spirit’s anointing. He knows he must have the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit fall on his preaching. He knows his gifts, charisma, training, or experience will not bring revival fire. He labours in his preaching and every aspect of his pastoral ministry with the expectation of revival. This kind of preaching brings action. It demands a verdict. Preaching for revival affects the conscience, heart, and will. No one could listen to the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul, or Isaiah the prophet without being moved in heart, mind, and will. Some loved the message and embraced it fully. Others despised it and wanted to kill the purveyors of it. When the Holy Spirit falls upon such preachers and their preaching, then the devil and his minions are awakened from hell. They come after the preacher in many forms — discouragement, financial or health crises, sexual temptation, severe opposition from within the church leadership, hatred and disdain from the world. But with the Apostle Paul, the preacher and the congregation are able finally to say together, 'We have fought the good fight. We have finished the course. We have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for us the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to us on that day, and not only to us, but also to all who have loved His appearing' (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Read the rest here. Rev. Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Victorious To the Uttermost

John Calvin's commentary on the Psalms. Introduction to Psalm 2:
David boasts that his kingdom, though assailed by a vast multitude of powerful enemies, would, notwithstanding, be perpetual, because it was upheld by the hand and power of God. He adds, that in spite of his enemies, it would be extended even to the uttermost ends of the earth. And, therefore, he exhorts kings and other rulers to lay aside their pride, and receive, with submissive minds, the yoke laid upon them by God; as it would be vain for them to attempt to shake it off. All this was typical and contains a prophecy concerning the future kingdom of Christ.
From Psalm 2:

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
(Psalm 2:8 ESV)
Christ, it is true, besought his Father (John 17:5) to “glorify him with the glory which he had with him before the world was;” yet the more obvious meaning is, that the Father will deny nothing to his Son which relates to the extension of his kingdom to the uttermost ends of the earth. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Love That Won't Let Go

George Matheson (1842-1906) of Scotland wrote several hymns during his lifetime. We sang one of them yesterday in worship, a hymn that was particularly timely for me.

This hymn, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go (#708 in the Trinity Hymnal) has an interesting background.

Written on the evening of Matheson’s sister’s marriage. His whole family had went to the wedding and had left him alone. And he writes of something which had happened to him that caused immense mental anguish. There is a story of how years before, he had been engaged until his fiancĂ© learned that he was going blind, and there was nothing the doctors could do, and she told him that she could not go through life with a blind man. He went blind while studying for the ministry, and his sister had been the one who had taken care of him all these years, but now she is gone. He had been a brilliant student, some say that if he hadn’t went blind he could have been the leader of the church of Scotland in his day. He had written a learned work on German theology and then wrote “The Growth of The Spirit of Christianity.” Louis Benson says this was a brilliant book but with some major mistakes in it. When some critics pointed out the mistakes and charged him with being an inaccurate student he was heartbroken. One of his friends wrote, “When he saw that for the purposes of scholarship his blindness was a fatal hindrance, he withdrew from the field – not without pangs, but finally.” So he turned to the pastoral ministry, and the Lord has richly blessed him, finally bringing him to a church where he regularly preached to over 1500 people each week. But he was only able to do this because of the care of his sister and now she was married and gone. Who will care for him, a blind man? Not only that, but his sister’s marriage brought fresh reminder of his own heartbreak, over his fiancĂ©’s refusal to “go through life with a blind man.” It is the midst of this circumstance and intense sadness that the Lord gives him this hymn – written he says in 5 minutes! Looking back over his life, he once wrote that his was“an obstructed life, a circumscribed life… but a life of quenchless hopefulness, a life which has beaten persistently against the cage of circumstance, and which even at the time of abandoned work has said not “Good night” but “Good morning.” How could he maintain quenchless hopefulness in the midst of such circumstances and trials? His hymn gives us a clue. “I trace the rainbow in the rain, and feel the promise is not vain” The rainbow image is not for him “If the Lord gives you lemons make lemonade” but a picture of the Lord’s commitment! It is a picture of the battle bow that appears when the skies are darkening and threaten to open up and flood the world again in judgment. But then we see that the battle bow is turned not towards us – but toward the Lord Himself! (Source)

Here are the words.

1 O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
2 O Light that follow'st all my way,
I yield my flick'ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine's blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
3 O Joy that seekest me through pain
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
4 O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life's glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Gift

J. C. Philpot (1802-1869) "was known as “The Seceder”. He resigned from the Church of England in 1835 and became a Strict & Particular Baptist. While with the Church of England he was a Fellow of Worchester College, Oxford. After becoming a Strict and Particular Baptist he became the Editor of the Gospel Standard magazine and served in that capacity for twenty years."

From his Meditations on Ephesians 1 & 2 comes this gem on ch. 2:8:

Now, by this grace or pure favor of God we are saved through faith, faith itself being the special gift of God; and thus the very medium by which we receive salvation, and become manifestly interested in it, is not of ourselves. The eye which sees salvation in the person and work of the Son of God, the ear which hears and receives the glad tidings, the hand which lays hold of and embraces the Savior in his atoning blood and justifying obedience, are all the special gift of God. Do we see Jesus and salvation in and through him? God has opened our eyes to see. Have we heard his blessed voice? God has given us ears to hear. Have we laid hold of him, and brought him into our heart in all his saving benefits and blessings? God gave us that faith by revealing his dear Son in us, and making him spiritually and experimentally known to our souls. Source.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Theology in Action

Rev. Al Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He writes a weekly devotional Forget None of His Benefits

A recent devotional is based on the text, Get up. Let us go from here. (John 14:31).
Our strength is our weakness in the Reformed Church. We are very strong in our commitment to Reformed Theology, more specifically the so-called doctrines of grace (TULIP — total inability, unconditional election, limited or particular redemption, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of God with the saints). This is a very good thing, but our strength has become our weakness. I suggest that we are far too cerebral, far too content to sit in our favourite chair and read or discuss theology. What we need are the five practical points of Calvinism. And what are they?
First, we must make disciples of all the nations. This ought to be clear enough (Matt. 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). We are to evangelize the lost and we are to bring them to maturity in Christ (Col. 1:27-29). 
The second point of practical Calvinism is — you cannot make disciples of the nations. Why not? Because people are dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1-3)! They don’t seek for God. Their throats are open graves (Rom. 3:10ff). 
The third practical point of Calvinism — you must thirst. Ask God to give you an intolerable burden for the lost, for them to know the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus, to see him as the altogether lovely Saviour, to bow humbly before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 
The fourth practical point of Calvinism — you must pray. Because Jesus is worthy of the praise of all the nations, because people are unable to call upon Jesus in their own strength to be saved, because we must evangelize, then does this not drive us to pray for the Spirit’s unction, power, authority, and regenerating work to fall on people! 
The fifth practical point of Calvinism — you will shine. Like Moses on Mt. Sinai (2 Cor. 3:13), like Stephen before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15), like God’s covenant people receiving the Aaronic benediction (Num. 6:24-26) the glory of the Lord will be on your face.
Read the rest of the devotional as Rev. Baker fleshes these points out here

John 3:16 and the Word Kosmos

Jim McClarty gives a good explanation of the text.

HT: Timmy Brister

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Machen on Adam and Original Sin & Guilt


God said to Adam that if he disobeyed he would die. What is the meaning of that death? Well, it includes physical death; there is no question about that. But, alas, it also includes far more than physical death. It includes spiritual death; it includes the death of the soul unto things that are good; it includes the death of the soul unto God. The dreadful penalty of that sin of Adam was that Adam and his descendants became dead in trespasses and sins. As a just penalty of Adam's sin, God withdrew his favor, and the souls of all mankind became spiritually dead. The soul that is spiritually dead, the soul that is corrupt, is guilty not only because of Adam's guilt but also because of its own sin. It deserves eternal punishment.
He concludes,

Man, according to the Bible, is not merely sick in trespasses and sins; he is not merely in a weakened condition so that he needs divine help: but he is dead in trespasses and sins. He can do absolutely nothing to save himself, and God saves him by the gracious, sovereign act of the new birth. The Bible is a tremendously uncompromising book in this matter of the sin of man and the grace of God. 
The Biblical doctrine of the grace of God does not mean, as caricatures of it sometimes represent it as meaning, that a man is saved against his will. No, it means that a man's will itself is renewed. His act of faith is his own act. He performs that act gladly, and is sure that he never was so free as when he performs it. Yet he is enabled to perform it simply by the gracious, sovereign act of the Spirit of God. 
Ah, my friends, how precious is that doctrine of the grace of God! It is not in accordance with human pride. It is not a doctrine that we should ever have evolved. But when it is revealed in God's Word, the hearts of the redeemed cry, Amen. Sinners saved by grace love to ascribe not some but all of the praise to God.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

True Patriotism from John Newton

Dear friend,

Allow me to say, that it excites both my wonder and concern, that a Christian minister such as yourself, should think it worth his while to attempt political reforms. When I look around upon the present state of the nation, such an attempt appears to me, to be no less vain and foolish, than it would be to paint the cabin—while the ship is sinking! Or to decorate the parlor—while the house is on fire!

When our Lord Jesus was upon earth, He refused to get involved in disputes or politics, "Friend, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?" Luke 12:14. "My kingdom is not of this world! If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight!" John 18:36. God's children belong to a kingdom which is not of this world; they are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, and a part of their Scriptural character is, that they are the "quiet in the land." Psalm 35:19.

Satan has many contrivances to amuse people, and to divert their thoughts from their real danger!

My dear sir, my prayer to God for you is—that He may induce you to employ the talents He has given you, in pointing out sin as the great cause and source of every existing evil; and to engage those who love and fear Him, (instead of wasting time in political speculations, for which very few of them are competent,) to sigh and cry for our abounding abominations, and to stand in the breach, by prayer, that God's wrath may yet be averted, and our national mercies prolonged! This, I think, is true patriotism—the best way in which people in private life may serve their country.

I consider the ungodly as saws and hammers in the hand of the Lord. So far as they are His instruments, they will succeed—but not an inch further! Their wrath shall praise Him, and be subservient to His designs!

If our lot is so cast that we can exercise our ministry free from stripes, fines, imprisonments, and death—it is more than the gospel has promised to us! If Christians were quiet when under the cruel governments of Nero and other wicked persecutors, when they were hunted down like wild beasts—then we ought to be not only quiet but very thankfulnow! It was then accounted an honor to suffer for Christ and the 'offence of the cross'!

Those are to be greatly pitied, who boast of their 'liberty'—and yet they do not consider that they are in the most deplorable bondage as the slaves of sin and Satan, under the curse of God's law and His eternal wrath! Oh! for a voice to reach their hearts, that they may know their true and dreadful state—and seek deliverance from their horrific thraldom! May you and I labor to direct them to the one thing, which is absolutely needful, and abundantly sufficient.

If I had the wisdom or influence to soothe the angry passions of mankind—I would gladly employ them! But I am a stranger and a pilgrim here in this world. My charter, my rights and my treasures, are all in heaven—and there my heart ought to be. In a very short time, I may be removed (and perhaps suddenly) into the unseen and eternal world—where all that now causes so much bustle upon earth—will be of no more importance to me—than the events which took place among the antediluvians!

In the hour, when death shall open the door into eternity—many things which now assume an 'air of importance', will be found as light and unsubstantial as a child's dream!

How crucial then, is it for me—to be found watching, with my lamp burning, diligently engaged in my proper calling! For the Lord has not called me to set governments right—but to preach the gospel, to proclaim the glory of His name, and to endeavor to win souls! "Let the dead bury their own dead—but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!" Luke 9:60. Happy is that servant, whom his Master finds so doing, when He returns!

As you have forced me to respond—both duty and love have obliged me to be faithful and free in giving you my thoughts.

I recommend you to the care and blessing of the great Shepherd and Savior; and remain for His sake, your affectionate friend and brother,
John Newton

Calvinistic Congregationalists Reformed?

Spencer Snow has written Are Calvinistic Congregationalists To Be Counted Among The Reformed? as a response to William H. Smith's Can Baptists Be Reformed? Is This a Contradiction in Terms?

Snow writes,

Rather than restrictively placing the label “Reformed” upon only those who subscribe to the doctrines of the Westminster Standards, it seems more better and more accurate to place the tag upon the broad group of Confessional Calvinistic Protestants who hold to truths contained within the Westminster Standards/Three Forms of Unity, the Savoy Declaration, and the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.  Those who relegate the title “Reformed” to only those of this group who practice infant baptism, infant church membership, and Presbyterian polity prove too much. 

Read the rest. I think Snow makes some sense here.

The Case For Infant Baptism

While I can affirm the validity of both paedobaptism and credobaptism, this post will reflect my understanding, albeit briefly, of infant baptism (paedobaptism).

Here is a summary from the WCF on baptism.

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ,[1] not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church;[2] but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace,[3] of his ingrafting into Christ,[4] of regeneration,[5] of remission of sins,[6] and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.[7] Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.[8]

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.[9]

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.[10]

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ,[11] but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.[12]

V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance,[13] yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it:[14] or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.[15]

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered;[16] yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time.[17]

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.[18]

Now, fire away. 

Church Membership and Baptism. Three Views.

The Gospel Coalition had three pastors present their views on Baptism as it relates to becoming a church member. The preface the three part series this way:
How do baptism and church membership relate? What are the biblical bounds? Baptists debate, "Must one be baptized as a believer in order to join a local church?" Meanwhile, Presbyterians and other paedobaptists consider, "Should one who'd refuse to let his children be baptized be permitted to join?"
See what you think. Read more at each link.
As a Baptist church, we believe that baptism is a matter of obedience. Jesus instructed his followers to baptize disciples (Matt 28:19), so we baptize those who have become disciples because we want to obey Jesus. We also believe that only believers are united to the body of Christ by faith (cf. Gal 3:26-28), so only believers should be welcomed as members into the visible expression of the body of Christ, the local church. If someone is not repenting of all known sin, trusting Christ for salvation, and submitting to all his commands and teaching, we don't welcome him or her into church membership. Since we view baptism as a matter of obedience, we understand unbaptized people to be disobedient on this point.
All of this entails, of course, that those who wish to become members must at least be willing and ready to present unbaptized children for baptism. Any who refuse to do so are in violation of what we are convinced is the express command of our Lord. Church discipline always begins with gentle admonition and instruction, usually in private, leading hopefully to repentance. However, it would be unwise to admit into full communion believers who are already in principle unwilling to change their mind on the matter.
I'm a very happy baptist---though you don't need to capitalize the baptist for me. But especially in our increasingly post-Christian milieu, it is becoming more and more clear that there are so many other theological issues more central and important than the mode and timing of baptism. I am happy to let the vestiges of Christendom go, and see formal church membership as significant enough to put up with some mistaken views of baptism (provided that the leadership is securely believer baptist), so as not to exclude from local church membership converted brothers and sisters in Jesus who are plainly members of the universal church.

The Freedom of the Will

Baptist pastor Walter Chantry has a great little essay on The Myth of the Free Will. He outlines the subject as:

I. The Myth of Circumstantial Freedom

II. The Myth of Ethical Freedom

II. The Myth of Spiritual Freedom

I like this section of point II especially, though it is all good.

But freedom of the will is cited as an important factor in making MORAL decisions. Man's will is said to be free to choose between good and evil. But again we must ask, from what is it free? And what is man's  will free to choose? 

The will of man is his power to choose between alternatives. Your will does decide your actions from a number of options. You have the faculty to direct your own thoughts, words, and deeds. Your decisions are not formed by an outside force, but from within yourself. No man is compelled to act contrary to his will, nor forced to say what he does not wish. Your will guides your actions. 

Yet this does not mean that the power to decide is free from all influence. You make choices based on your understanding, your feelings, your likes and dislikes, and your appetites. In other words, your will is not free from yourself! 

Your choices are determined by your own basic character. The will is not independent of your nature, but the slave of it. Your choices do not shape your character, but your character guides your choices. The will is quite partial to what you know, feel, love, and desire. You always choose on the basis of your disposition, according to the condition of your heart. 

It is just for this reason that your will is NOT free to do good. Your will is the servant of your heart, and  your heart is evil. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that EVERY imagination of the thoughts of his heart was ONLY evil CONTINUALLY“ (Gen 6:5). “There is NONE that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom 3:12). No power forces man to sin contrary to his will, but the descendants of Adam are so evil that they always choose the evil. 

Your decisions are molded by your understanding, and the Bible says of all men, “And their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom 1:21). Man can only be righteous when he desires to have fellowship with God, but, “There is NONE that seeketh after God” (Rom 3:11). Your appetites crave sin, and thus you cannot choose God. To choose good is contrary to human nature. If you chose to obey God, it would be the result of external compulsion. But you are free to choose, and hence your choice is enslaved to your own evil nature.

Read more here.