Friday, 17 August 2018

A sign of healthy church

A sign of health (of his church) I still notice is when a single, male college student gets up at the beginning of the service to go sit with the elderly widow sitting by herself where she used to sit with her husband. – p115, Biblical Church Revitalization by Brian Croft

Monday, 6 August 2018

We are too big in ourselves when we do well, and too little in Christ in our failings.

Maintain your liberty in Christ by refusing to look any more to the law for justification, and by refusing to fear its words of condemnation. You are to live, in respect of your practice and obedience, as men who can neither be condemned by the law nor justified by it. It is a hard lesson to live above the law, and yet to walk according to the law. But this is the lesson a Christian has to learn, to walk in the law in respect of duty, but to live above it in respect of comfort, neither expecting favour from the law in respect of his obedience nor fearing harsh treatment from the law in respect of his failings. Let the law come in to remind you of sin if you fall into sin, but you are not to suffer it to arrest you and drag you into the court to be tried and judged for your sins. This would be to make void Christ and grace. Indeed Christians too much live as though they were to expect life by works, and not by grace. We are too big in ourselves when we do well, and too little in Christ in our failings. O that we could learn to be nothing in ourselves in our strength, and to be all in Christ in our weakness! In a word, let us learn to walk in the law as a rule of sanctification, and yet to live upon Christ and the promises in respect of justification.
  - pp219–220, Samuel Bolton (1606–1654) in The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (first published 1645, Puritan Paperback edition by Banner of Truth, 1964)

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Alas, we are all too apt to follow this line

It is the concurrent opinion of all Reformed Churches that Christians are subject to the rule, the direction, and the authority of the moral law, as says Chamier: ‘Believers are free from the curses, not from the obligations, of the law.’ We preach obedience to the law, but not as the Papists do. They preach obedience as a means to justification; we preach justification as a means to obedience. We cry down works in opposition to grace in justification, and we cry up obedience as the fruits of grace in sanctification. He that does not walk in obedience is a stranger yet to Christ; and he that rests in his obedience does not know Christ. Indeed, many are too much like the Jews still. God set up a law as a rule of walking, and they look for justification by it. These poor men are like oxen in the yoke; they draw and toil and spend their strength (for who do more than those who think to earn merit thereby?), and when they have performed their labour, they are fatted up for slaughter. So it is with these: when they have endeavoured hard after their own righteousness, they perish in their just condemnation. These men Luther fitly calls ‘the devil’s martyrs’: they suffer much, and take much pains to go to hell. The apostle tells them what they are to expect: ‘For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse’ (Gal. 3.10), that is, those who are under the works of the law for justification; and the apostle gives the reason, ‘for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’. These men seek life in death, righteousness in sin. And, alas, we are all too apt to follow this line; it is hard to perform all righteousness and rest in none; hard to be in duties in respect of performance, and out of duties in respect of dependence. We are apt to weave a web of righteousness of our own, to spin a thread of our own by which we may climb up to heaven. [[...]]
    Alas, there are multitudes in the world who make a Christ of their own works, and this is their undoing. They look for righteousness and acceptance more in the precept than in the promise, in the law rather than in the Gospel, more in working than in believing; and so they miscarry. There is something of this spirit in us all; otherwise we should not be up and down so much in respect of our comforts and our faith, as is still so often the case. We become cast down with every weakness in ourselves. But we should be all in Christ in weak performance, and nothing in ourselves in strong performances.
  -- p69–70, Samuel Bolton (1606–1654) in The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (first published 1645, Puritan Paperback edition by Banner of Truth, 1964), italics original

You can get a free electronic copy of this book at Monergism.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Christian Unity

The observable and practical love among true Christians that the world has a right to be able to observe in our day certainly should cut without reservation across such lines as languages, nationalities, national frontiers, younger and older, colors of skin, levels of education and economics, accent, line of birth, the class system in any particular locality, dress, short or long hair among whites and African and non-African hairdos among blacks, the wearing of shoes and the non-wearing of shoes, cultural differentiations and the more traditional and less traditional forms of worship. 
  -- p30, The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer (2nd edition, IVP, 2006)

Monday, 11 September 2017

Jesus welcomes sinners because...?

The good news of Jesus is that Jesus welcomes sinners. Sinners like you and me. But when you ask why or how Jesus welcomes sinners, distortions abound. Here are three.

Theological liberalism: Jesus welcomes sinners because no one is really a sinner.
Antinomianism: Jesus welcomes sinners because sin doesn’t really matter.
Legalism: Jesus welcomes sinners because they stopped committing big sins.

But the gospel says: Jesus welcomes sinners despite their sins to make them sin no longer.

Common to all three distortions is to downplay sin. (Yes, legalism above included.) It’s tempting to do so, because we don’t want to deal with the problem we cannot handle. But by downplaying sin, we make Jesus irrelevant and unnecessary. Or do we? Can we? By downplaying funnel web-spider bite, can I make the anti-venom irrelevant and unnecessary? By downplaying poverty, can I make social services and charity organisations irrelevant and unnecessary? Actually, I could, only to the detriment of the spider bite victim (in the case of funnel-web spider bite) and to the detriment of the whole society (in the case of poverty). We are not overplaying the funnel-web spider bite when we urgently apply the anti-venom to someone who’s bitten. We are not overplaying the poverty when we make social services and charity organisations available for those in need. It is simply a loving thing to do. It’s the human thing to do.

Likewise, we must not and dare not downplay sin. When we do so, it is to the detriment of human lives by making Jesus look irrelevant and unnecessary. But Jesus came to rescue us from sin. We all sin. And sin is too big a problem for all of us. We have a real problem, and we need a real solution. Or, rather, a real saviour. And his name is Jesus.

Against theological liberalism, the gospel says, Jesus welcomes sinners, and they are really sinners.
Against antinomianism, the gospel says, Jesus welcomes sinners to make them sin no longer.
Against legalism, the gospel says, Jesus welcomes sinners despite their sins, big or small.

Gospel: Jesus welcomes sinners despite their sins to make them sin no longer. 

(Photo credit: Australian Geographic)

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

How great a mercy this is

Take heed to yourselves, because there are many eyes upon you, and there will be many to observe your falls. [[…]] As you take yourselves for the lights of the churches, you may expect that men’s eyes will be upon you. If other men may sin without observation, so cannot you. And you should thankfully consider how great a mercy this is, that you have so many eyes to watch over you, and so many ready to tell you of your faults; and thus have greater helps than others, at least for restraining you from sin. Though they may do it with a malicious mind, yet you have the advantage of it. God forbid that we should prove so impudent as to do evil in the public view of all, and to sin wilfully while the world is gazing on us! [[…]] Take heed therefore to yourselves, and do your work as those that remember that the world looks on them, and that with the quick-sighted eye of malice, ready to make the worst of all, to find the smallest fault where it is, to aggravate it where they find it, to divulge it and to take advantage of it to their own designs, and to make faults where they cannot find them. How cautiously, then, should we walk before so many ill-minded observers!
    Richard Baxter, TheReformed Pastor, p75–76 (emphasis mine)

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Who are these people?

    Think of some of the greatest biblical figures who ever lived: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, King David, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel, Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. Or what about the great figures of church history: Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon? Or consider the great political and military heroes of world history: Alexander the Great, Constantine the Great, Napoleon, and Winston Churchill. Who are these people, even the greatest saints, compared with Jesus Christ? They are like grain of sand compared with Mount Everest.
    What is Samson's strength compared with that of Jesus, who was raised in power? What is Solomon's wisdom compared with that of the one in whom all the treasures of wisdom are contained? What is Methuselah's age compared with the age of the one who inhabits the places of eternity? What are Paul's visions of heaven compared with the sight of the Lord of heaven? What are Elisha's miracles compared with the incarnation and resurrection of the God-man?
  -- Mark Jones, Knowing Christ, xiii

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Having the peace of God is not enough

Question: "Suppose you have the peace of God. Will not that quiet you?"
Answer: "No, I must have the God of peace; as the peace of God, so the God of peace; that is, I must enjoy that God that gives me the peace; I must have the Cause as well as the effect; I must see from whence my peace comes and enjoy the Fountain of my peace, as well as the streams of my peace."
  -- Jeremiah Burroughs as quoted in Fred Sanders, The Triune God, p33–34

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The problem of antinomianism: separation of God's law from God's person

    At one level the problem is indeed rejection of God's law. But underneath lies a failure to understand grace and ultimately to understand God. True, his love for me is not based on my qualification or my preparation. But it is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ's sake. Nor does he mean to leave us the way he found us, but to transform us into the likeness of his Son. Without that transformation and new conformity of life we do not have any evidence that we were ever his in the first place.
    At root then antinomianism separates God's law from God's person, and grace from the union with Christ in which the law is written in the heart. In doing so it jeopardizes not simply the Decalogue; it dismantles the truth of the gospel.
        -- Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ, p154 (italics original)

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

right doctrine but wrong spirit

'One of my own saddest recollections in pastoral ministry is of being told that during a new members' welcome that included a young husband with "a past," two "pillars of the church," esteemed for the model way in which they fulfilled all church membership responsibilities, were overheard to say, "What's he doing joining the church?" How easy it is to fall into a spirit of conditional grace toward prodigals even when the right doctrinal notes are struck!' - Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ, p73fn35