The Lord Jesus Christ – Wonderfully gracious and compassionate.

You are those who have stayed with me in my trials,” (Luke 22:28)

I remember many years ago as a relatively new Christian reading this verse for the first time and being amazed by it. I’m still amazed when I  read it: staggered that such a verse should be in the Bible at all. Think about it, Jesus tells His disciples they have stayed with Him in His trials. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Isn’t it Jesus that stayed with them! And us!

Think back over the last three years of Jesus’ ministry. The Disciples had been with Jesus and often displayed their foolishness, their proneness to division, their pride and lack of compassion. Added to that, the fact they were often clueless and showed little or no understanding to the amazement of The Lord.

Then immediately after speaking these words to them, Jesus tells Peter that he’s going to betray Him. Even then He tells Peter that He had prayed for him and that his faith would not fail. He even tells Peter when he is restored to strengthen his brothers – the other disciples. Not only was Jesus aware of their past and current failings, but He also knew they would shortly all be running away and that Peter would deny Him three times.

We can be very quick to judge our fellow believers. Sometimes it’s as if we are looking for evidence that a person is not a Christian at all. Well, a Christian would never do that! Or, a real Christian would never say that! Yes, it’s shameful how we can all behave at times, and how judgemental we can be. But The Lord isn’t like that, His compassions they fail not, His mercies are new every morning.

When we fail or deny our Lord, as we surely will in some way or another: When we are restored, strengthen our brothers. Encourage your fellow Christians. Help them to avoid where you fell or help them out of the same mess you were in.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back (James 5:19),
let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20).

This is to be Christ-like.

We haven’t just wandered from the truth, by nature we have run after error and falsehood. Yet at measureless cost, Christ has brought us back. The Lord Christ has saved our souls from an eternal death and through His sacrifice on Calvary has covered a multitude of sins by shedding His precious blood!

In another place Jesus says to the disciples, ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).’ Then there’s that great text in Proverbs 18:24 ‘A man of too many friends comes to ruin,

But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Then here in Hebrew 2:11 ‘both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,’. This is the word of God, be encouraged that though we can be ashamed of Jesus, He, is not ashamed to call us friends and brethren.

Finally here:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

If you are not a Christian this must seem like sentimental slush. Yet if you were to realise the great love God has for sinners the reality of His great love would be a source of wonderment to you.

Awake, my soul, and rise
Amazed, and yonder see
How hangs the mighty Saviour God
Upon a cursed tree!

William Williams, 1717 – 1791.

Let us look to the friend of sinners, the one who died but is risen from the dead to be a living Saviour. The following was my Dads favourite hymn which we sang at his funeral. What will be sung at yours?

I have a friend whose faithful love
Is more than all the world to me,
‘Tis higher than the heights above,
And deeper than the soundless sea:
So old, so new, so strong, so true;
Before the earth received its frame,
He loved me – Blessed be His Name!

He held the highest place above,
Adored by all the sons of flame,
Yet, such His self-denying love,
He laid aside His crown and came
To seek the lost, and, at the cost
Of heavenly rank and earthly fame,
He sought me – Blessed be His Name!

It was a lonely path He trod,
From every human soul apart,
Known only to Himself and God
Was all the grief that filled His heart:
Yet from the track He turned not back
Till where I lay in want and shame
He found me – Blessed be His Name!

Then dawned at last that day of dread
When, desolate but undismayed,
With wearied frame and thorn-crowned head
He, now forsaken and betrayed,
Went up for me to Calvary,
And dying there in grief and shame
He saved me – Blessed be His Name!

Long as I live my song shall tell
The wonders of His matchless love:
And when at last I rise to dwell
In the bright home prepared above,
My joy shall be His face to see,
And bowing then with loud acclaim,
I’ll praise Him – Blessed be His Name!

C. A Tydeman

Two Responses to Suffering (including a Disastrous Brexit)

The Problem of Evil has been classed as ‘The Achilles Heel’ of Christianity. Theologians and philosophers have been discussing and debating this ‘problem’ for centuries. There is a new book out on this: Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It?)’ by Greg Welty and I hope to write a brief review of this in due time. But for now, as I started that book my mind turned to two completely different responses to evil.

This present world (and its evil)

No one lives in this world for long without realising that something is wrong. And if you’ve lived long enough, and sometimes even if you haven’t lived so long, you’ll realise there’s something really really seriously wrong. Christians don’t get a free pass on suffering either. We live in the same world as everyone else. The difference is we know what it is that’s gone wrong. The ingenuity of man is remarkable and works tirelessly to make the world a better place. And that’s a good thing. But some things just can’t be fixed.

Two responses to suffering and evil

Vehemently protest against it if you will but here are two views, or two responses the Bible offers on the evil in the world. We might protest against it but the plain fact of the matter is that God quite purposefully sends some of the evils in the world. No, I don’t know which ones are sent to you and I don’t make a direct correlation between your behaviour or your circumstances and your suffering. Sometimes, maybe most times, there is no outside observable direct correlation. Not one I could confidently make anyway.

The response of the Godly

None of us always respond in an appropriate manner, nevertheless, there are, broadly speaking, two responses that are quite different. Suffering is grievous. It’s unpleasant. It’s painful. It can be long or short. We don’t like it. It’s real and comes in a multitude of ways. The vicissitudes of life are visited on all of us. The Apostle Paul describes the present suffering of believers in this way:

Rom 8:18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
2Co 4:16  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
2Co 4:17  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

It was originally a caricature of a Salvation Army song, but in actuality, it really is ‘pie in the sky when you die’. And what right-thinking person wouldn’t want a slice of that particular pie! You might well mock, as the original composer, that it’s ‘pie in the sky when you die’. Nevertheless, it’s a true hope and expectation. Mock on, for your mocking doesn’t make it any less real. Paul compares the glory that is to come to our present sufferings. He does the calculation. There is no comparison between it and our present situation – whatever that may be. So it also has a present power as well. I have witnessed this power first hand. I am not speaking of hearsay.

Our response to suffering ought to bring us closer to God. Sadly it isn’t always the case, but often it is. It makes us realise our fragility and the need for help. We don’t have the resources but God does provide. This is my testimony and is the testimony of Christians for centuries. But as the people of God even in our darkest times, God is still keeping, guiding, and preparing us for that time when we shall see Him face to face and ‘cast our crowns before Him and fall on our faces at His throne ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.

The response to the suffering of the believer is that it points them to the suffering of Christ and to the evil of their own hearts. ‘Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3).

That is the right response, to consider Him, to consider the redeeming costly work of Christ.

The response of the ungodly

There’s another response. And as everything leads to Brexit these days, you’ll have to forgive me for briefly considering it. What if Brexit is the complete and utter disaster many are predicting? And it may be a disaster. I think we should consider it as a serious possibility that this is the will of God being played out before us. I don’t say it is. I don’t know. I say let’s consider it as a possibility. The Bible tells us in Revelation that God sent terrible judgments on the world. What is the response?

Rev 9:18  By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.
Rev 9:19  For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.
Rev 9:20  The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,
Rev 9:21  nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

And again in Chapter 16:

Rev 16:9  They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
Rev 16:10  The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish
Rev 16:11  and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

They did not repent but instead, their response was to curse God. I don’t see a humble crying out to God in repentance as a response to Brexit – or to President Trump for that matter. I don’t see a National mourning for sin over Trump or Brexit. If it’s as serious as we are led to believe shouldn’t we be calling on God for help and forgiveness? I don’t see it. No, the response is to curse the providence of God. Even though it’s going to be an absolute disaster! There’s an outcry. For a second referendum, for a change of government and blame. But instead of humility or sorrow, it’s anger and resentment.

Your circumstances might be such that all this talk of the EU and Brexit has completely passed you by and is nothing more than an annoying distraction. I went to a funeral last week. There was rejoicing. The deceased was a believer. But there was much sadness too as friends and family keenly felt the departure. Pain and suffering have been described as God’s megaphone. He uses it to get our attention. Has he got yours?

Two ends

Suffering for the unrepentant, the scoffer, and Christ rejecter is but a foretaste of the judgment to come. To the Christian, suffering is but a light affliction compared to glory. But suffering for the ungodly is but a light judgment compared to the awful weight of the final judgment. Their suffering confirms their end.

Thr best response

That all sounds extremely gloomy. It is if your faith is not in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is still calling people to repentance and faith towards His Son The Lord Jesus Christ. Job was tempted by his wife to ‘curse God and die’. Job replied by saying:

“You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10).

Many speak foolishly. In the end, Job said this to God:

… I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).”

God graciously brought Job to see that Job wasn’t God. Job was no more in control of his destiny than we are. We can hardly prevent ourselves from getting a cold. Let alone our eternal destiny!

The Good News is that God is still calling sinners, the ungodly, to Himself that they might know the love of Christ that passes all understanding. As the hymn writer says, ‘Love to loveless shown, that they might lovely be’. Christians, like everyone else, suffer in this life but their ‘song is love unknown’.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

1. My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

2. He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

3. Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!”
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.

4. They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suffering goes,
That He His foes
From thence might free.

5. In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein He lay.

6. Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.

Samuel Crossman, 1624 – 83.

MOS – Worshipping with Calvin

It’s a while since I listened to the Mortification of Spin but this podcast (Worshipping with Calvin MOS podcast) is definitely worth a listen.

Podcast Notes (Follow podcast Link below)

‘Terry Johnson shows up at the Spin’s “totally awesome” worship band practice. Terry is the pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah and has written Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the Reformed Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism.

The crew turns down the instruments, shuts off the spotlights and smoke machine, and listens intently as Terry makes the connection between theology and worship, tracing back to the Reformation period and the solas. He talks about the proper balance of freedom and form, and what the church is supposed to do when gathered on Sundays.

Why should you worship with Calvin? Find out, as you join the conversation.’

http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/podcast/worshipping-with-calvin

 

 

F. F. Bruce – The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable?

The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? by F. F. Bruce. IVP. 6th Edition, 2009.

It’s taken me till now to read this book. And what an excellent book it is. I was very encouraged by reading it. It does have a downside. So let’s get that out of the way first.

The latest reference to any work is 1990. To me, because I’m older, that sounds quite recent – modern even. But when I think it through, that’s 28 years ago! Many of the reference works are much older, even though the research may still stand up. It’s an obvious point of criticism.  I’m sure there are more recent books that build on and enhance the work in this book. A more recent book to recommend is Michael Kruger’s ‘Canon Revisited‘ Nov 2013.

Given that, it’s a great read. It’s very helpful. It isn’t long. Just 141 pages. It has page footnotes which I like, a scripture index, suggested further reading for each chapter, and an index which I also like. If you’ve never read anything on this subject before, this is a great place to start.

In the opening paragraph to his preface (p.7) Bruce writes:

‘Reliable as what?’ asked a discerning reviewer of the first edition of this little work, by way of a comment on the title. His point, I think, was that we should be concerned with the reliability of the New Testament as a witness to God’s self-revelation in Christ rather than with its reliability as a record of historical fact. True; but the two questions are closely related. For, since Christianity claims to be a historical revelation, it is not irrelevant (or irreverent, my comment) to look at its foundation documents from the standpoint of historical criticism’.

He doesn’t shy away from the problems but shows how in terms of their historicity the New Testament documents fair very well. In fact, they fair much better than other ancient texts (ch 2, pp 21-23). He mentions the Chester Beatty (Library) Biblical Papyri. I was able to see some of these on a recent trip to Dublin. I’m not quite sure which ones are referred to in the book but see one of the pictures below I took of the manuscripts.

He takes some time looking at the miracles (ch 5) but points clearly to the resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ.

‘This response of faith does not absolve us from the duty of understanding the special significance of the several miracle-stories and considering each in the light of available knowledge, historical research and otherwise, which can be brought to bear upon it. But these are secondary duties; the primary one is to see the whole question in its proper context as revealed by the significance of the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection of Christ’ (p.82).

The chapter on Lukes Gospel (ch 7) was really excellent. Especially so when it came to the accuracy of places, names, and titles. Very encouraging. An obvious point, which I hadn’t thought about, was how there were many writings out there that Luke was able to use in order to write his Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles.

Luk 1:1  Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,
Luk 1:2  just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,
Luk 1:3  it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Luk 1:4  that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

The most important aspect of the book wasn’t his proof of the NT Documents historicity, which he does admirably, but his confession that it takes a work of the Holy Spirit to make a person alive to Christ. In the final analysis, even if they are accepted as completely reliable, which they are, it’s only the Holy Spirit that can grant repentance and give life. The question Christ asks of us all is ‘Who do you say that I am?’.

Mat 16:13  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
Mat 16:14  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Mat 16:15  He said to them, But who do you say that I am?
Mat 16:16  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Mat 16:17  And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

I should have taken notes or made comments and underlining in the book. I didn’t.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly recommend this book to any believer or unbeliever for that matter. If your church has a library, put this book in it.

Here are the Chapter Titles:

  1. Does it matter?
  2. The New Testament documents: their date and attestation.
  3. The canon of the New Testament.
  4. The Gospels.
  5. The Gospel miracles.
  6. The importance of Paul’s evidence.
  7. The writings of Luke.
  8. More archeological evidence.
  9. The evidence of early Jewish writings.
  10. The evidence of early Gentile writers.

The Worthlessness of Wealth

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 11:4).

Day of Wrath – John Martin

In the day of wrath by which is meant either death, which brings us ultimately to that day, or the day itself which will bring to an end this present evil age. When this age passes we enter an eternal and permanent state. For the day of wrath wealth will have no currency, indeed it’s value will be far less than the most accelerated hyper-inflation ever seen. We could also see wealth as not simply currency but also social worth. Wealth and social standing may gain a person entry into the most prestigious celebrations – even Royalty – but in the day of wrath, any currency will fail to have any influence.

A person may be poor but aspire to wealth and yet have none. They think by aspiring to aristocracy or the wealthy, the industrialist or the successful entrepreneur there will be a way of escape. If only I were wealthy? Not so, for we are told wealth is worthless in the day of wrath. See Revelation 6: 15-17.

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. (V 15)

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (V 16)

For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (v 16)

The Bible nowhere condemns wealth as intrinsically wicked. There’s nothing wrong with earning money or being wealthy. But there’s no virtue with it. It will not earn favour with The Almighty. By the same token, there’s no virtue to being poor either. The politics of envy is popular in our day and is a form of rebellion towards the providence of a generous God. Back in the 1st Century if as a slave you could be free, so be it. So there’s nothing wrong with changing your position or a promotion. But riches and poverty have to be held in relation to God. Yes, that’s easy to say in the West. I know this. Go and read the parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and see where you would rather end up. Riches for that man were worthless. But Lazarus wasn’t saved by being poor but by trusting God, whereas the Rich Man rejected the Word of God.

But righteousness delivers from death. Death is synonymous with wrath ‘for it is given to man once to die and then judgment’ (Heb 9:27). But the text says we are delivered through righteousness. That is, by being righteous. Many understand Christians to be saying ‘we are righteous’ and mean by this ‘look how wonderfully righteous we are’. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth! We aren’t delivered by our own righteousness or by any righteous deeds. We are delivered by what has been called an alien righteousness – that is a righteousness from outside ourselves. We have no internal inherent spark of righteousness. To think otherwise is foolishness. The Bible says quite clearly ‘there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom 3:10)’  The righteousness the text speaks of must come from another. But who, since ‘there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins’ (Ecc 7:20). The Apostle John wept at the thought of no deliverer: ‘and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:4).

So it isn’t just righteousness but a particular righteousness. The righteousness of a person. This person is The Lord Jesus Christ. It is He that delivers from death, destruction, and despair’.

Immortal honors rest on Jesus’ head;
My God, my portion, and my living bread;
In Him I live, upon Him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction, and despair.
(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

And it is only Jesus that is able to deliver from death. Having the righteousness that comes from God isn’t one option that we pick from many – which is often how it’s portrayed even by so-called ministers of religion. The truth is, it’s either the righteousness that God offers or you choose to go it alone. So if you do find yourself in an eternal hell, remember, you’ll be there because that was the choice you made.

Jesus is calling people to Himself. He says ‘come to me and I will give you rest’ (Matt 11:28-30). At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus said ‘Repent and believe the Gospel’ (Mark 1:15). He also said ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ (John 7:37). The Son of God, the one who died and rose, who lives for evermore, the one who has defeated death is the one who calls you to Himself. Do not delay (2 Cor 6:1-2).

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

1. Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore!
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more!

2. Let not conscience let you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you:
‘Tis the Spirit’s glimmering beam.

4. Come ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and mangled by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.

5. Agonizing in the garden,
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies!
On the bloody tree behold Him:
Hear Him cry, before He dies:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Sinner, will this not suffice?

6. Lo! The incarnate God ascending,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture freely;
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, None but Jesus, None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

Bible Reading: Benefits and Warnings

When I say Bible Reading, I mean systemically reading it through in a year. There are quite a few plans available that take you through the OT and NT in a year. Here are three plans you might like to try.

No 1. The Murray M’Cheyne plan. This takes you through the whole Bible and through the Psalms and NT twice. It can be a lot of reading but then you do get Psalms and NT twice. Obtainable from The Banner of Truth to buy (cheap) or free to print off Here.

No 2. This plan is similar, going through the whole Bible once, so slightly less to read. Available Here.

No 3. Finally, there’s Reading it chronologically. Available to print off Here.

The advantage of the Chronological plan is you read events, Psalms and Prophets in ‘real time’. The disadvantage with this plan is you won’t reach the NT till October! So it is a bit lopsided. This is the plan I use, but as a ‘corrective’ I read a separate NT plan as well.

Go Here for more plans.

I accept there are many ways to ‘do’ your private devotions. And there are advantages to some of these methods. For example, some use commentaries or other things like The Geneva Bible notes – which are very good. I’ve never found that way helpful and they will not take you through the whole Bible. It’s my personal conviction that Christians should be primarily reading the Bibles. Ad Fontes if you like.

If I’m reading a book about doctrine or the Bible, I read that in addition to reading The Bible not instead of it. There are hundreds of excellent books out there that will grab our attention, but no matter how good it is, it isn’t The Word of God.

I have found that if I don’t read before I go out, the day and what it brings just takes over and I end up reading it when I’m far from my best, or I have to catch up. I know it isn’t easy with a family and work, but it can (normally) be done – even if, at times, done poorly. You may not agree, but I think better to do it poorly and out of duty than not at all.

Four Brief Benefits then, not necessarily in order of importance:

Benefit One: You get to read it all not just your favourite bits or what’s trending or topical in your particular Church circles. We rightly make much of The Bible and how all our doctrine and practice come from it, but have we read it. All of it. If you are a new Christian then you probably won’t have read through it yet. So let me encourage you to start doing it today.

Benefit Two: This is similar. You are reading what God Himself has decreed to be recorded and preserved. There are lots of things we might like to know that hasn’t been recorded for us but what we have is what God has left for us to read.

Benefit Three: By systematically and regularly reading it you will slowly become familiar with its contents. You will make connections between one Scripture and another. Names and places will begin to stand out and you get a ‘feel’ for the book as a whole.

Benefit Four: As you read pray. Let God’s Word speak to you and guide you. He will bring people, situations, your own failings and the wonder at what God has done for you in Christ before your mind. Thank God and pray.

Benefit Five: I decided to briefly add this one as well. God Himself tells us through His Word of particular benefits. We are warned, informed, encouraged, delighted, sanctified and cleansed! (Eph 5:26)

That’s the benefits. I’m sure there are many more but now for a few warnings.

Warning One: Just because reading it this way works for you – including the benefits – don’t be fooled into thinking God is going to bless you because of it. He might. He might not. It certainly won’t get you into heaven. Only Christ can do that! Take a look at your heart.

Warning Two: It isn’t always going to be great fun. There will be times when it will be a real grind and you’ll only be reading out of habit. The temptation will be to give up because your heart is cold and formal. Welcome to the real world. Press on. Don’t give up. Remember there isn’t just your own sinful heart to contend with, there’s also an enemy that would draw you away from God’s Word.

Warning Three: You find out other Christians aren’t or haven’t read it right through. Pride is always ready to overtake us. Imagine, getting proud for reading The Bible! It happens. However, God has a way of humbling the proud heart.

Warning Four: For whatever reason, there will be times when you will get behind and the task of catching up begins to look impossible. Don’t get overcome with guilt. Either of these options is fine. Option 1. Set some big chunks of time aside and catch up. Maybe a Sunday afternoon. Option 2. Start afresh from where you are and then keep going!

Finally: I might as well warn you now as there’s no way of getting around it, it won’t always be easy, it will take discipline and just sheer doggedness at times to keep going. But those glimpses The Lord will give you of Himself from time to time far out-way the hard work.

I hope you found this helpful and encouraging.

Is this Christmas? Extracting The Legal Pain!

Extracted is the legal pain. These five words in verse two form a single line in this remarkable hymn by Charles Wesley. This is Wesley at his best as someone said. These hymns are not inspired in the same authoritative sense that the Bible is but they can convey profound truth in a wonderful way. Inspired perhaps with a little i. These five words convey two very important Bible truths. Truths that need to be constantly stated because man in sin always assumes and seeks to state the opposite and to deny the truth. So what are these two truths?

1. ‘Extracted is the legal pain’ tells us of a problem. Any punishment is unpleasant and we all recognise that it’s the result of doing something wrong. Overstay in a car park and a demand for payment will arrive in the post. Get caught speeding and you’ll get a fine. These are trite examples but you get the idea. If you get caught breaking the law of God – and make no mistake we have all been caught – payment is required. The Bible calls it sin. And as we continue sinning, that is, as we continue breaking the law of God we are, as it were, earning a wage. The Bible says very plainly that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the reason we continue to sin is because there’s a deeper problem. The problem is that there’s a something wrong with our nature. But we seek to deny it or play it down. What problem? There’s nothing wrong with me, you might say, even though you know full well there is a problem. There’s a deep-seated problem that’s impervious to mere outward reformation. What’s required is a reformation that goes far beyond any outward change. Changes of habit or lifestyle are definitely in vogue and even make good viewing. But these changes will do nothing for us legally before God. In the court of God who can make representation for us when on every hand we are found guilty in thought word and deed. Any earthly representative has the same problem. It’s no accident The Lord Jesus Christ is called our Advocate (1 John 2:1). The problem for us is that we need a nature that is beyond the law. There isn’t one! The law of God condemns all. It slays all! All are guilty and found wanting before a Holy and Righteous God.

2. Although the words speak of punishment in an excruciating manner the legal pain is being extracted from an innocent party. The fact is, the legal pain should really be extracted from me, the guilty sinner, but it’s been extracted from another! Secondly then, to ‘Extract the legal pain’ speaks of Substitutionary Atonement. And this is the heart of The Gospel and why The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world. And it’s why at Christmas we realise why The Christ came. It’s not really about stars, stables and shepherds but about a bloody cross, about agony of soul and of body, about punishment and death. It’s about the cost of Redemption! A cost we sinners cannot ever possibly pay. Not even an eternity will extract the legal pain from us! We need another to do it for us. One that is suitably qualified for the awful task. Although Wesley has captured the horror of breaking the law of God putting the frighteners on you is not necessarily a good evangelistic strategy. But on the other hand, you are a fool if you ignore it because you don’t like being threatened or dislike ‘hellfire preaching’. The truth is, there is a Hell. And there’s only one way to escape it (Heb 2:3). That way is The Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Being ‘right with God’ is a legal declaration that God makes. This is the Justification by faith that is celebrated this 500th Reformation year – and every year. Because of what Christ has accomplished on the Cross, God is able to be just and to justify those that have faith in The Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 3:23-26).

So it’s no wonder the Wise men and the Shepherds rejoiced when the Salvation of God appeared. We Christians ought to be amazed at what God did in sending His Son. And we are amazed at what Christ has done by coming to us when we could not and would not go to Him (Heb 10:5). Salvation truly is of The Lord. Will you trust Him? Is your faith in The Christ? Please have a happy Christmas. But don’t ignore or neglect what it’s really all about.

Series on Ecclesiastes – A Reccomendation

IMG_2896This series on the Book of Ecclesiastes is by Pr Jeremy Rhode. Pr Rhode is a Lutheran minister of Faith Lutheran Church, Capistrano Beach, California. I am not a Lutheran but am finding this series to not only be extremely helpful and challenging but actually quite enthralling. He’s a good speaker. The series are made up of teaching sessions to his church. He says this book is about Solomon – via the Holy Spirit – gripping us by the neck and forcing us to look into the Abyss. You may remember the famous courtroom scene in ‘A Few Good Men’ where Tom Cruise asks for the truth and Jack Nicholson shouts back at him – ‘You can’t handle The Truth’. Well, can you? Christian, you would benefit from hearing this. And if you aren’t a Christian you really really need to hear this!

If there was ever a book needed for our time – the Book of Ecclesiastes is it. It is hard-hitting and does not shy away from telling us how it really is. Ultimately life without Christ is meaningless. Disagree? You need to hear him out.

Some listeners may balk at some of his doctrinal emphases. And you may wish he phrased things a little differently or in the way he makes some of his points. But that aside, I commend this series to anyone that has the courage to face up to reality. There’s a challenge for you! At the time of writing, I am at Lesson 9 of 24.

Follow This Link and see the feeds at the top of the page or download individual lectures.

HT. I came across this series via a recommendation from Chris Roseborough of Fighting for the Faith. Check his stuff out as well. Chris is also a Lutheran minister.

Bildad is Alive & Well

Job's_Comforters_Butts_setThis passage stood out from Job chapter 8.

Job 8:1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:
Job 8:2 “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
Job 8:3 Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
Job 8:4 If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.
Job 8:5 If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
Job 8:6 if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.
Job 8:7 And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.

Then this passage from Zophar:

Job 11:2 “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right?
Job 11:3 Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
Job 11:4 For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.’
Job 11:5 But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you,
Job 11:6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves‘.

Bildad and his two friends Zophar & Eliphaz are as much in the dark as poor Job but they make the assumption that it is because Job has sinned that calamity has fallen upon him. Of course, everything we do and all we are falls short of the Glory of God, so in that sense, we have all sinned. But here, there was no particular sin that brought judgement upon the head of Job. On the contrary, we are introduced in the very first verse of the book to Job as a man that ‘… was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil‘. We further read in chapter 1 ‘And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”. That is the testimony of God about His servant Job. Apart from the book of his name Job is only mentioned in three other places in the Bible, twice in Ezekiel and once in James. Here they are.

Eze 14:14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.
Eze 14:20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.

Jas 5:11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness (patience AV, endurance NASB) of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The three verses testify to the character of Job. On fast forwarding to the last chapter, we read the following.

Job 42:7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job 42:8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

That is pretty serious stuff to have God say his anger burns towards the three friends. Why? Because they have not spoken what is right, unlike Job. Job is told to pray for his friends. Were the three friends included in verse 11 of the final chapter? I think so. The two things they had sought to do when silent are mentioned again at the end – to show sympathy and to comfort. Job still has to live with the death of his children even though blessed with further children. There is restoration but he still needs sympathy and comfort. Maybe Bildad and his friends learnt something as well. And Job had to pray for the ones that had cut him down with words. Something for us to learn.

Job 42:11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

So, returning to the passage in Job 8: 1-7, I thought, ‘I know this man’. Anyone sitting under a graceless and judgmental ministry, that batters instead of builds, that pours judgement instead of the Balm of Gilead will know him too. Bildad (and his friends) is alive and well.

It’s very simple, and simplistic, to think because this, that. Job’s friends were doing the best for him when they wept and sat with him in silence because they could see his suffering was very great. I’m sure Job was grateful that his friends sat with him. Until they opened their mouths that is. Here’s how they are introduced:

Job 2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.
Job 2:12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.
Job 2:13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

If only they had kept quiet. Instead, they add to his suffering by getting it all wrong. Job is a righteous man. He has Gospel Righteousness. And by that I mean he had a righteousness that wasn’t his own. It is from another, given, gifted to Job through faith. Even though Job is a righteous man he says some dumb things like we all do and repents in dust and ashes before God.

May we learn to weep with those that weep. I am reminded again of the ministry of Andrew Davies some years ago at the Aberystwyth Conference. He preached four sessions through the book of Job. Now there was a lot of good things said. But a point Andrew made was this; ‘Don’t beat people with the truth!‘ Not only did they beat Job with the truth, they were wrong. Let us not be like that. Let us, so far as we are able, pour in the Balm of Gilead – the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ. Let us not batter our brothers and sisters in Christ with the law but pour in the oil and the wine of forgiveness and mercy, truth and love, the covenant mercy of a gracious God!

The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin – Foreword by Michael Reeves

IMG_0593The other day I was given a copy of Thomas Goodwin’s book The Heart of Christ, from the Puritan Paperback series from Banner of Truth.

The foreword by Michael Reeves was so moving I wanted to share it. The full title is: The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth.


How can Thomas Goodwin be so forgotten? Once ranked as a theologian alongside Augustine and Athanasius, even hailed as ‘the greatest pulpit exegete of Paul that has ever lived’, he should be a household name. His writings, while not easy, always pay back the reader, for in Goodwin a simply awesome theological intellect was wielded by the tender heart of a pastor.

As it is, Goodwin needs a little re-introduction. He was born in 1600 in the small village of Rollesby in Norfolk. His parents were God-fearing, and at the time the Norfolk Broads were well-soaked in Puritanism, so unsurprisingly he grew up somewhat religious. That all wore off, though, when he went up to Cambridge as a student. There he divided his time between ‘making merry’ and setting out to become a celebrity preacher. He wanted, he later said, to be known as one of ‘the great wits’ of the pulpit, for his ‘master-lust’ was the love of applause.

Then in 1620 – having just been appointed a fellow of Katharine Hall – he heard a funeral sermon that actually moved him, making him deeply concerned for his spiritual state. It started seven grim years of moody introspection as he grubbed around inside himself for signs of grace. Only when he was told to look outwards – not to trust to anything in himself, but to rest on Christ alone – only then was he free. ‘I am come to this pass now,’ he said, ‘that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much to habitual grace for assurance of justification; I tell you Christ is worth all.’

Soon afterwards he took over from Richard Sibbes’ preaching at Holy Trinity Church. It was an appropriate transition, for while in his navel-gazing days his preaching had been mostly about battering consciences, his appreciation of Christ’s free grace now made him a Christ-centred preacher like Sibbes. Sibbes once told him ‘Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus’ – and that is just what Goodwin now did. And, like Sibbes, he became an affable preacher. He wouldn’t use his intellectual abilities to patronise his listeners, but to help them. Still today, reading his sermons, it is as if he takes you by the shoulder and walks with you like a brother.

All the while, Archbishop Laud was pressing clergy towards his own ‘high church’ practices. By 1634, Goodwin had had enough: he resigned his post and left Cambridge to become a Separatist preacher. By the end of the decade he was with other nonconformist exiles in Holland. Then, in 1641, Parliament invited all such nonconformists to return, and soon Goodwin was leading the ‘dissenting brethren’ at the Westminster Assembly. ‘Dissenting’, ‘Separatist’: it would be easy to see Goodwin as prickly and quarrelsome. In actual fact, though, while he was definite in his views on the church, he was quite extraordinarily charitable to those he disagreed with, and managed to command widespread respect across the theological spectrum of the church. Almost uniquely, in an age of constant and often bitter debate, nobody seems to have spoken ill of Goodwin.

If there was a contemporary Goodwin overlapped with more than any other, it was John Owen. In the Puritan heyday of the 1650s, when Owen was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Goodwin was President of Magdalen College. For years they shared a Sunday afternoon pulpit, both were chaplains to Cromwell, together they would co-author the Savoy Declaration. And both had their own sartorial whimsies: Owen was known for his dandy day-wear, his snake-bands and fancy boots; Goodwin, it was giggled, had such a fondness for nightcaps that he is said to have worn whole collections on his head at once.

First and foremost, Goodwin was a pastor at heart. Students at Magdalen College soon found that, should they bump into Goodwin or his nightcaps, they could expect to be asked when they were converted or how they stood with the Lord. And when Charles II returned in 1660 and Goodwin was deprived of his post, it was to pastor a church in London that he went.

The last twenty years of his life he spent pastoring, writing treatises and studying in London (the study sadly interrupted in 1666 when the Great Fire burned more than half of his voluminous library). Then, at eighty years old, he was gripped by a fatal fever. With his dying words he captured what had always been his chief concerns: ‘I am going’, he said,

‘to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion… My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness; I am found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up in God… Now I shall be ever with the Lord’.

The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth was, almost immediately, Goodwin’s most popular work. It is also exemplary of his overall Christ-centredness and his mix of theological rigour and pastoral concern. Published in 1651 alongside Christ Set Forth, the two were written for reasons dear to Goodwin: that is, he felt that many Christians (like himself once) ‘have been too much carried away with the rudiments of Christ in their own hearts, and not after Christ himself’. Indeed, he wrote, ‘the minds of many are so wholly taken up with their own hearts, that (as the Psalmist says of God) Christ “is scarce in all their thoughts.”’ Goodwin wanted us ‘first to look wholly out of our selves unto Christ’, and believed that the reason we don’t is, quite simply, because of the ‘barrenness’ of our knowledge of him. Thus Goodwin would set forth Christ to draw our gaze to him.

Of the two pieces, Christ Set Forth and The Heart of Christ in Heaven, the latter was the cream, he believed, for through it he would present to the church the heart of her great Husband, thus wooing her afresh. His specific aim in this essay is to show through Scripture that in all his heavenly majesty, Christ is not now aloof from believers and unconcerned, but has the strongest affections for them. And knowing this, he said, may

‘hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart, though he is now in his glory, is inclined towards them’.

Goodwin starts with Christ on earth and the beautiful assurances he gave his disciples. In John 13, for example, knowing that he was shortly to return to his Father, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as a token of how he would always be towards them; he told them of how he would go like a loving bridegroom to prepare a place for his bride; after the resurrection, the first thing he calls them is ‘my brothers’; and the last thing they see as he ascends to heaven is his hands raised in blessing.

It is as if he had said, The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, that so we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it… Poor sinners, who are full of the thoughts of their own sins, know not how they shall be able at the latter day to look Christ in the face when they shall first meet with him. But they may relieve their spirits against their care and fear, by Christ’s carriage now towards his disciples, who had so sinned against him. Be not afraid, ‘your sins will he remember no more.’ … And doth he talk thus lovingly of us? Whose heart would not this overcome?

It is moving stuff, and it is strong stuff. In fact, Goodwin presents the kindness and compassion of Christ so strikingly that, when reading him, I find myself continually asking ‘Is Goodwin serious? Can this really be true?’ He argues, for example, that in Christ’s resurrection appearances, because he had dealt with the sin of his disciples on the cross, ‘No sin of theirs troubled him but their unbelief.’ And yet Goodwin is so carefully scriptural that one is forced to conclude that Christ really is more tender and loving than we would otherwise dare to imagine.

Then Goodwin takes us to the heart of his argument: his exposition of Hebrews 4:15, which

‘doth, as it were, take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory – the very scope of these words being manifestly to encourage believers against all that may discourage them, from the consideration of Christ’s heart towards them now in heaven’.

Goodwin shows that in all his glorious holiness in heaven, Christ is not sour towards his people; if anything, his capacious heart beats more strongly than ever with tender love for them. And in particular, two things stir his compassion: our afflictions and – almost unbelievably – our sins.

Having experienced on earth the utmost load of pain, rejection and sorrow, ‘in all points tempted like as we are’ Christ in heaven empathises with our sufferings more fully than the most loving friend. And more: he has compassion on those who are ‘out of the way’ (that is, sinning; Hebrews 5:2). Indeed, says Goodwin,

‘your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’

The focus is upon Christ, but Goodwin was ardently Trinitarian and could not abide the thought of his readers imagining a compassionate Christ appeasing a heartless Father. No, he said, ‘Christ adds not one drop of love to God’s heart’.11 All Christ’s tenderness comes in fact from the Spirit, who stirs him with the very love of the Father. The heart of Christ in heaven is the express image of the heart of his Father.

How we need Goodwin and his message today! If we are to be drawn from jaded, anxious thoughts of God and a love of sin, we need such a knowledge of Christ. If preachers today could change like Goodwin to preach like Goodwin, who knows what might happen? Surely many more would then say as he said ‘Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do’.

Michael Reeves
Oxford
August 2011

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