Wednesday, December 31, 2008

0 From our Elder Brother Jonathan Edwards

Each year (though if I take his suggestions, I should read these each week) I've returned to Jonathan Edwards's Resolutions (Click here for a very nice, inexpensive booklet edition bound with his advice to new believers) for encouragement in my walk before the Lord. I continually marvel at the fact that this man was blessed by the Lord with the maturity and self-awareness that he shows in these resolutions while under twenty years old.

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
  1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

  2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

  3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

  4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

  5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

  6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

  7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

  8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

  9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

  10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

  11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don't hinder.

  12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

  13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

  14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

  15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

  16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

  17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

  18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

  19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

  20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

  21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him. (Resolutions 1 through 21 written in one setting in New Haven in 1722.)

  22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

  23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God's glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

  24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

  25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

  26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

  27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

  28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

  29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

  30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

  31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

  32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, "A faithful man who can find?" may not be partly fulfilled in me.

  33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec.26, 1722.

  34. Resolved, in narration's never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

  35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

  36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

  37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec.22 and 26, 1722.

  38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord's day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

  39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

  40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

  41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

  42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

  43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God's, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12. Jan.12, 1723.

  44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.

  45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan.12 and 13.1723.

  46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

  47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5,1723.

  48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

  49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

  50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

  51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

  52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

  53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

  54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.

  55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

  56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

  57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13 1723.

  58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May27, and July 13, 1723.

  59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July ii, and July 13.

  60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4, and 13, 1723.

  61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

  62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; "knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord." June 25 and July 13, 1723.

  63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan.14' and July '3' 1723.

  64. Resolved, when I find those "groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those "breakings of soul for the longing it hath," of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear', of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

  65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton's 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26, and Aug.10 1723.

  66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

  67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

  68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

  69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

  70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723.

0 Meditation for the Close of a Year, Octavius Winslow

As the year draws to a close, while we are not bound to the calendar, it is helpful to look upon both past and future - and so today I'll simply post Octavius Winslow's selection for December 31 from his Evening Exercises for your reflection.
"Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory." John 17:24

As suffering precedes glory, so glory assuredly follows suffering. Thus was it with our Lord. "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" Our Lord is in glory! The head that once bowed in death, pale and bleeding, is now raised in life, encircled with a glory brighter than ten thousand suns. The humanity that was despised from the lowliness of its birth, that was mocked, and scourged, spit upon, and slain, is now, from its indissoluble union with the Deity, exalted far above principalities and powers, glorified with the glory He had with the Father before the world was. Having purged our sins, He is set down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

To that glory which belongs to Him as the Mediator of the church, each suffering confessor of Christ shall be exalted—the body with the Head, and each part of that body with the whole. A joint-heirship of suffering, it is now a joint-heirship of glory: "We shall be glorified together" with Christ. Still the oneness is manifest, and never so clearly seen as now. Glory bathes it in its light, and eternity impresses it with its seal. It is an undimmed and changeless glory. And Christ acknowledges their right to this oneness in glory. As they were not ashamed of Him among men, He is not now ashamed of them among angels. As they linked themselves to His cross, He leads them to His throne. As they confessed Him before the world, He now confesses them before His Father: "Glorified together." Wondrous words! Elevated to His side—leaning upon His bosom—gazing on His beauty—listening to His voice—entering into His joy—at home, and forever with the Lord. Now is answered in its fullness, the prayer mingled with tears, breathed from the scene of His suffering below—"Father, I will that they also whom You have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory." Welcome the suffering, succeeded by such glory! Welcome the cross, followed by such a crown!

Let us learn to regard our present tutorage as preparatory to our future inheritance. "The heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father." Thus it is with us. But soon we shall attain our majority, and come into possession of our estate. Before long we shall have done with governors and tutors, and need no more the lessons of the school, and the discipline of suffering. Oh, let us live in its near anticipation. To the poor of Christ's flock, how animating the prospect! "Has not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him." What though straitened resources, pinching poverty, or even absolute want, be your present allotment; lift up your heads with joy, for you have a joint-heirship with Christ in a kingdom which your heavenly Father will give. Confide in its security: it is made sure to you by Divine oath; "Wherein God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath." Thus inalienably is it secured. Death, which robs the earthly heir of his inheritance, puts you in possession of yours. Your estate comes not to you robed in mourning, for your Father never dies. No succession awaits you, for your inheritance is yours forever. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time."

With consolations so rich, and with a hope so glorious, let us close the year through which we have traveled, with a feeling of thanksgiving and with a song of praise. We will thank God for all the way He has led us, chequered though it may have been; and we will trust Him for life's future, dark and uncertain though it may appear. We have found Christ enough for all the past—loving, faithful, wise, He is enough for the present; and we are quite sure all that He has been He will again be—"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever." Before another year begins, or closes, we may be with Jesus forever! "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!" Your love will fill our hearts, Your beauty will engage our thoughts, and Your praise will employ our tongues, through eternity.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

1 John Brown of Wamphray on the Imputation of Christ's Active Obedience

I was reading yesterday afternoon an article in the 3rd volume of the Confessional Presbyterian Journal - a most excellent publication that is worth far more than its subscription price of just $18 per annum. See this link for a fantastic deal if you've never subscribed... $50 for all four annual issues, 2004-2008. If you are a student of historical theology, either vocationally or avocationally, you will find a bountiful harvest of sound Reformed/Presbyterian thought in this valuable journal.

As I was reading the above-mentioned article which dealt with differences in the doctrine of justification as taught by the eminent Puritan, John Brown of Wamphray, and the more well-known Richard Baxter. I thought to seek out the primary work of Brown's that the article deals with, namely, his treatise, entitled "The Life of Justification Opened". It's a wonder this hasn't been reprinted in 300 years, but these things happen, unfortunately. I've only found an electronic copy of the work - but that is far better than not having the work in any form at all - the link to that work is here.

At any rate, in glancing through this masterful work, it appears to be a truly foundational treatise on the doctrine of justification as understood by the Puritans of the 17th century. In addition to all the other reading I've got on my gradually lengthening list, I can't see putting this one down. So if I might tarnish an old chestnut with my own alteration, "Lego, ergo blog."

One choice passage I leave you with here, wherein Brown clearly states his position regarding the imputation of ALL of Christ's righteousness:
Secondly, Romans 3:31, Do we then make void the Law through faith? God forbid: yea we establish the Law. Where the Apostle, preoccupying an objection, asserts; that through justification by faith, he did not make void the Law, but rather did establish it; the ground whereof is this, that by the Gospel way of justification, the Law gets full satisfaction, in all points, because Christ not only satisfied for the penalty thereof, which we were guilty of, and did lie under; but did also yield a perfect obedience thereunto; that so He might make up a full and complete surety-righteousness, by the imputation of which unto his own, or the Lord’s reckoning it upon their score, when they receive it by faith, they may be justified. And thus, though sinners, who have broken the Law, and so have forfeited the reward, promised to such as observe it in all points, and are come under the Curse, threatened to transgressors, be not only freed from the Curse, but receive the rich recompense of reward; yet the Law is not made null and void, but is rather established and confirmed in its full force, both as to its commands and sanction. (p. 68, pagination of the online version)
Later, he adds the following important paragraphs:
The Apostle speaks of a righteousness, and of a righteousness imputed, and all righteousness must consist in obedience to the Law, and in full conformity thereto: and seeing it is said to be imputed, and not by our works, it must of necessity follow, that the Apostle is to be understood, as speaking of the surety righteousness of Christ. And if the righteousness of Christ, who gave perfect obedience to the Law, and was constituted Mediator and Surety by the Father, and as such did give full satisfaction both in obeying the Law, and in paying the penalty, be not such an obedience to the Law, as will serve every believer’s turn, where else will the believer find a more adequate righteousness? Shall we think, that his act of faith, which is but one act of obedience to the Law, or an act of obedience to one command of the Law, hath a more perfect and absolute agreeableness to every man’s condition respectively, than the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ! Let such believe this, as can. (pp. 70-71, pagination of online version)
That imputation of righteousness and pardon of sins do inseparably go together,is true; and that the one proves the other, is also clear from these words. But it is not proved, nor can it be proved, that imputed righteousness and remission of sins are the same; seeing it is obvious enough, that righteousness is one thing, and pardon of sins is another distinct thing. No man will say, that a pardoned thief is a righteous man; for that were as much as to say, He was never a thief. It is true, by pardon he is no more obnoxious to the penalty; the obligation to undergo that being now taken away: yet that will not evince that he is a righteous man: and there is still a difference between him, and one that never was chargeable with that guilt: this man, as to this, is indeed a righteous man, but not the other. (p. 71, pagination of the online version)
This is classic imputation - of Christ's passive, and of Christ's active righteousness as delineated by the Reformers. Look here for more discussion of this important doctrine as I make my way through this wonderful treatise in the weeks and months to come.

Monday, December 29, 2008

0 Watson on the Vine and the Branches

Thomas Watson offers an excellent exposition of Christ's "I am the Vine" teaching in John 15, in a sermon in the collection "A Plea for the Godly". He writes:
A branch may be cut off and separated from the vine - but no branch shall ever be separated from Christ, this heavenly Vine. Some tell us that a justified person may fall away finally. Is not Christ a perfect Vine? He is not perfect if a living branch may be plucked off from Him. Has not Christ said of His elect, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!" John 10:28. If any branch is plucked away from Christ, it is either because Christ is not able to keep it—or because He is willing to lose it. He is surely able to keep it, for He is strengthened with the Godhead; and He is not willing to lose it, for why, then, would He have shed His blood for it? So that no branch shall ever be separated from the celestial Vine. You may sooner pluck a star out of the sky—than a true believer from Christ. Indeed, hypocrites who look like branches, fall off—but they were never really in the Vine. They were in Christ by profession, not by union. They were tied on to the vine but not engrafted. An elect branch can no more perish than the root! (p. 405, A Plea for the Godly, Watson, Soli Deo Gloria)
There was no union in truth for those who profess faith and ultimately perish apart from the people of God. No truth can be plainer than this, and Watson nails this doctrine. The vinedressers of the church can tie a graft (a new professor of Christ) to the trunk of the vine - and water the vine, care for it as for the other branches...we, being Gentiles, are those wild branches that are, at the outset, tied to the trunk. That is the step of a new professor being brought to the church and making profession, joining the body in that sense.

Now if the sap of Christ's blood doesn't flow into that graft, it withers and dies, and is cast aside. No life comes to that branch unless it comes from the root, through the trunk and into the branch itself. If that connection is there, if the sap flows, then life comes to the branch and fruit flourishes. However, if that vital connection fails to be made, then there is no hope, and the branch will fail and there is no hope for it. Any vinter knows that if a grape vine is tied, in an attempt to graft it to the living vine, and there is no union of cells that apply the pressure in the root to drive sap up into the grafted-on branch, then they'll never see grapes produced on that graft.

Why any maintain based on John 15 that there is true union with Christ for any but the elect is beyond my ability to understand.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

0 A Family Well Ordered

The title of this post is borrowed from a little work by Cotton Mather, though I'm continuing to refer to Matthew Henry's fine work, Family Religion.

His first two exhortations to fathers in regard to their households were to make a regular practice of reading the Holy Word of God in their families, and to keep up sound doctrine in the home through the practice of catechesis of their children. These two fruitful practices both glorify God and edify the church as a holy seed is raised up to Him, and cannot be too strongly recommended to heads of households as part of their duty before God Almighty.

The third admonition Henry raises involves the fostering of a godly conversation (speaking in the old Puritan way) among the members of the house. This focus on an active setting apart of the home unto holy and godly conduct is a natural companion to the first two admonitions Henry sets before us. He writes,
Keep up family discipline, that so you may have a complete church in your house, though in little. Reason teaches us that 'every man should bear rule in his own house' (Esth. 1:22). And since that as well as other poewr is of God, it ought to be employed for God; and they who so rule must be just, ruling in his fear. Joshua looked further than the acts of religious worship when he made that pious resolution, 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord' (Josh 24:15). For we do not 'serve him in sincerity and truth', which is the service he there speaks of (v. 14) if we and ours serve him only on our knees, and do not take care to serve him in all the instances of a religious conversation. Those only who have clean hands, and a pure heart are accounted 'the generation of them that seek God' (Ps. 24:4,6). And without this those who pretend to 'seek God daily' do but mock him (Isa. 58:2).

The authority God has given you over your children and servants is principally designed for this end, that you may thereby engage them for God and godliness. If you use it only to oblige them to do your will, and so to serve your pride; and to do your business, and so to serve your worldliness, you do not answer the great end of your being invested with it; you must use it for God's honour, by it to engage them as far as you can, to do the will of God, and mind the business of religion. Holy David not only blessed his household, but took care to keep good order in it, as appears by that plan of his family discipline which we have in the 101st Psalm, a psalm which Mr. Fox tells us that blessed martyr Bishop Ridley often read to his family, as the rule by which he resolved to govern it. You are made keepers of the vineyard; be faithful to your trust, and carefully watch over those who are under your charge, knowing that you must give account. (p. 44, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
God's will for us (need we look any further than this?) is clearly spelled out in His Word. All men are to worship Him and serve Him in all things - to seek His glory and honor above all else. As fathers and husbands, the service, glorification and honoring of God starts at home, and involves the whole family - not simply us as individuals. We are to seek Him and serve Him in every vocation we have been endowed with - the specific needs as fathers and husbands in this regard is to lead and guide them in God's ways, through His Word. May the Lord bless you (and me) in this Holy undertaking

Saturday, December 27, 2008

0 In Christ - Forever

Last night in our family worship time we began a study of the epistles of John, taking just the first four verses to discuss. This morning, chapter 17 of John's Gospel was part of my reading - and my thoughts this morning turned to the "in me" and "in you" phrases that are scattered throughout John's writings. What a blessing to be able to discuss this with my family, and to bring them the joy of the Gospel in this particular place in the Word of God.

In Christ's high priestly prayer found in John 17, Christ acts as high priest for the elect people of God, praying for His covenant people, whom the Father has given Him:
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (John 17:6-7, ESV)
These are the ones for whom Christ prays as priest in this chapter - they are secure in Him, and cannot be taken from His hand.
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12, ESV)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-31, ESV)
Those who are Christ's are His securely - for the Father has so secured them that they cannot be removed, by any trial, or any temptation. These know the Lord's voice, as sheep know the voice of their shepherd, and they follow Him. This following is no mere "going in the general direction" but a walking in His steps.

Later in Christ's high priestly prayer, he speaks of those who come after His death, who are equally secure in Him -
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23, ESV)
These who Christ prays for are said to believe in Him, and to "all be one", and as the Father is in Christ, and Christ in the Father, they are said to be in them, for the purpose of showing the World who God is and that Christ the Lord has been sent by the Father. They are said to be "perfectly one".

Now fast forward to John's epistle that will form the basis for our family worship for the coming weeks. In chapter 2, the Apostle writes of those who know the Father - those whom Christ prays for above, and speaks of as being securely His, "one with Him" and with the Father, and also as being "in Him":
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:4-6)
These also, these who know God and have the truth and love of God perfected in them, walk according to His ways - not a perfect resemblance, of course, as John goes on to say - but those who are Christs; the elect of God, those who may be said to be "in Christ" are those who live lives of humble obedience and entrust all to Him. These are by no means sinless individuals, but those who recognize their sin, lament and forsake it, and know, according to John's word, that
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10, ESV)
That is, the elect know who they are, and know also who they are in Christ: forgiven sinners, washed in His blood, cleansed from unrighteousness by His work. They walk lives characterized by grateful obedience and gracious remembrance of what they have received from God. Importantly it is these that the Apostle characterizes as being "in Christ" - and he distinguishes those who are in Him from those who are not.
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:4-6, ESV)
Now, finally - now that we have seen where John's going with this argument - that those who abide in Christ, those who are in Him, secure by the Father's bidding to be His eternally, walk humbly before their God, what of these others who do not, or who "fall away"? John's answer comes starkly in chapter 2:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19, ESV)
They "fell away" not because God's promises failed, not because they were "in" and then became "out" by some failure of His grasp upon them, but because they were never "in Christ". Brothers and sisters, identity as one of God's children is a secure identity - an eternal promise that bears up in fruition of sanctification throughout one's life. Those who are in Christ are eternally so - never, as Christ said, recorded in John's Gospel, can the devil snatch any of those precious lambs from their Shepherd's arms.

If there are those who are in the church, and who sit side by side with us, who up and leave and deny Christ, they are lost not because they were "in" and now are "out". They are lost because they were never in the bond of peace with the Lord. His bonds are held fast by His unassailable strength. As temptation arises, recall this to mind, for it is the ground of Hope - the Lord's promises are secure; resting in them, forsaking the world, and clinging to Christ for ALL of your righteousness, we may know that we are in Him and He in us... we will not walk perfectly, we will not be perfectly free of sin, not on this side of glory. But if our trust is in Him, he will clean us, and walk with us, and preserve us. Be not afraid - but rest in Christ. He has done all to secure those who are in Him.

Friday, December 26, 2008

0 Catechesis and the Privilege of Raising Children in the Fear of God, Part II

Just after posting the previous note, I began reading an article in the Puritan Reformed Journal (a new journal from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, edited by the president, Joel Beeke) about John Murray, and happened upon the following paragraph, which reinforces exactly the same idea.
John Murray was brought up on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Use was made of it in the home, in the church and in the day school. It was an educational process of priceless value. Archibald Alexander, who founded Princeton Theological Seminary where John Murray was later to study and teach, was also brought up on the Shorter Catechism. The invaluable role of catechetical instruction in a young child's life is beautifully captured in Charles Hodge's remarks about this important influence in Alexander's childhood, words that could have equally applied to the young John Murray: 'The principles of moral and religious truth contained in that sublime symbol, when once embedded in the mind, enlarge, sustain, and illuminate it for all time. That God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth is a height of knowledge to which Plato never reached...A series of such precise, accurate, luminous propositions, inscribed on the understanding of a child, is the richest inheritance which can be given to him. They are seeds which need only the vivifying influence of the Spirit of life, to cause them to bring forth the fruits of holiness and glory. Dr. Alexander experienced this benefit to its fullest extent.' ("John Murray and the Godly Life", John J. Murray, Puritan Reformed Journal, volume 1, number 1, 2009, p. 143)
The quotation from Hodge is taken from the autobiography of Archibald Alexander, written by James M. Garrison, entitled "Princeton and Preaching". It was published in 2005 by Banner of Truth, and is available here.

2 Catechesis and the Privilege of Raising Children in the Fear of God

"Let the word of God dwell richly in you," the Apostle tells us in Colossians 3:16. A primary means of obedience to this command is to read the Scriptures daily in our families, as Matthew Henry counsels in his treatise, Family Religion. The daily reading of the Word of God surely brings forth fruit pleasing to the Lord.

Additionally, the Puritans and Reformers counselled the use of good catechisms, which explain and expound the truth of God - not that they replace Scripture, any more than preaching replaces Scripture - but they draw the doctrine of Scripture out by summarizing and collecting teachings from various places, to give memorable expression to God's truth. In our family catechism is an important part of our evenings, and a means for me to rightly teach and train our children in their walk before the Lord. It is so beautiful to see their progress in learning, and beyond remembering the answers to questions posed to them, to see them actively applying what they have learned in other contexts.

Matthew Henry strongly motivates the use of catechesis, and discusses the fruits of it, in the extract from Family Religion below:
This way of instruction by catechising does in a special manner belong to the church in the house; for that is the nursery in which the trees of righteousness are reared, that afterwards are planted in the courts of our God...

The baptism of your children, as it laid a strong and lasting obligation upon them to live in the fear of God, so it brought you under the most powerful engagements imaginable to bring them up in that fear... you are unjust to your God, unkind to your children, and unfaithful to your trust, if having by baptism entered your children in Christ's school, and listed them under his banner, you do not make conscience of training them up in the learning of Christ's scholars, and under the discipline of his soldiers.

Consider what your children are now capable of, even in the days of their childhood. They are capable of receiving impressions now which may abide upon them while they live; they are turned as clay to the seal, and now is the time to apply to them the 'seal of the living God'. They are capable of honouring God now, if they be well taught: and by their joining, as they can, in religious services with so much reverence and application as their age will admit, God is honoured, and you in them present to him 'living sacrifices, holy and acceptable'. The hosannas even of children well taught wil be the perfecting of praise, and highly pleasing to the Lord Jesus.

Consider what your children are designed for, we hope, in this world; they must be a 'seed to serve the Lord', which shall be 'accounted to him for a generation'. They are to bear up the name of Christ in their day, and into their hands must be transmitted that good thing which is committed to us. They are to be praising God on earth, when we are praising him in heaven. Let them then be brought up accordingly, that they may answer the end of their birth and being. ...(p. 36, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
God has given us length of days and closeness of contact with our children in order that we might care for them in, to use Henry's phrase elsewhere, 'the nursery in which trees of righteousness are reared.' They aren't to be thrust out the door to fend for themselves at a young age, but nurtured and cared for, and made strong in the Lord's teaching. We must undertake this from day one, and not be pleased to lose time - but take it, all for God's glory, and take seriously the role we have been given by God as parents. They are indeed God's lambs in our care. Henry next turns to a more direct and serious motivation as he closes the section of this work on catechism:
Consider especially what they are designed for in another world: they are made for eternity. Every child you have has a precious and immortal soul, that must forever either in heaven or hell, according as it is prepared in this present state; and perhaps it must remove to that world of spirits very shortly: and will it not be very sad, if through your carelessness and neglect, your children should learn the ways of sin, and perish eternally in those ways? Give them warning, that, if possible, you may deliver their souls; at least, that you may deliver your own, and may not bring their curse and God's too, their blood and your own too, upon your heads. (p. 36-37, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
Stern warning... but afterward a necessary pastoral word:
I know you cannot give grace to your children, nor is a religious conversation the constant consequence of a religious education; 'the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong' (Eccl. 9:11), but if you make conscience of doing your duty, by keeping up family doctrine; if you teach them the good and the right way, and warn them of by-paths; if you reprove, exhort and encourage them as there is occasion; if you pray with them, and for them, and set them a good example, and at last consult their soul's welfare in the disposal of them, you have done your part, and may comfortably leave the issue and success with God. (p. 37, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
Thanks be to God that the salvation of our children is in His hands. We may freely teach and raise them to trust in His Son and walk in His ways - freely, because we know that the work is the Lord's, and by His Holy Spirit he shall bring forth His fruit. Our duty is to obey, and faithfully carry out His call upon us as parents - the increase is His; and so is the glory.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

0 The Word at Home

If our homes are indeed to be "little churches" - gatherings of God's flock under one roof, dedicated to Christ's service in all things - then we'd best be devoted to the doctrine of truth. It seems an obvious charge to fathers and husbands to maintain sound doctrine in the home - but it isn't necessarily the case. Matthew Henry deals with this topic in the next section of Family Religion, when, introducing the subject, he writes:
It is not enough that you and yours are baptized into the Christian faith, and profess to own the truth as it is in Jesus, but care must be taken, and means used, that you and yours be well acquainted with that truth, and that you grow in that acquaintance, to the honour of Christ and his holy religion, and the improvement of your own minds, and theirs who are under your charge. You must deal with your families as men of knowledge (1 Pet. 3:7) that is, as men who desire to grow in knowledge yourselves, and to communicate your knowledge for the benefit of others, which are the two good properties of those who deserve to be called men of knowledge. (p. 33, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
As I noted in a previous post just yesterday discussing John Flavel, if we are to find any fruit in the work of cultivating our hearts, and caring for them, then the Word of God must be central to our task. It is the only proper instrument for discerning the good from the refuse, dividing bone from marrow, as the Scripture teaches.

Just as we are convicted individually that the Word of God must be part of our daily diet as Christians, so too even moreso for those of us tasked with raising children and guiding families in God's service. How we can be devoted to such folly that the world tells us we have to be interested in as fathers and children... and miss the central part of our family's nourishment and needs! Henry writes:
READ THE SCRIPTURES TO YOUR FAMILIES, in a solemn manner, requiring their attendance on your reading, and their attention to it; and inquiring sometimes whether they understand what you read. I hope you are none of you without Bibles in your houses, store of Bibles, every one a Bible. Thanks be to God, we have them cheap and common in a language that we understand. The book of the law is not such a rarity with us as it was in Josiah's time. We need not fetch this knowledge from afar, nor send from sea to sea, and from river to the ends of the earth, to seek the word of God; no, the Word is near us. When popery reigned in our land, English Bibles were scarce things; a load of hay (it is said) was once given for one torn leaf of a Bible. But now Bibles are everyone's money. You know where to buy them; or if not able to do that, perhaps in this charitable city you may know where to beg them. It is better to be without bread in your houses than without Bibles, for the words of God's mouth are and should be to you more than your necessary food. (pp. 33-34, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
Today, as in Henry's day, there is no excuse to be without the Word of God in one's home. It is such a precious gift to us, that we are free to obtain the Word for a pittance - the investment is the best one can possibly make in any purchase. Henry then points out, though, that to have the Word at your ready is not sufficient... we do not learn by osmosis, but by reading. To have the Word and neglect it is grievous:
But what will it avail you to have Bibles in your houses if you do not use them? To have the great things of God's law and gospel written to you, if you count them as a strange thing? ... It is not now penal to read the Scriptures in your families, as it was in the dawning of the day of reformation from popery, when there were those who were accused and prosecuted mid-prose for reading in a certain great heretical book, called an English Bible...if you or yours perish for lack of this knowledge, as you certainly will if you persist in the neglect of it, you may thank yourselves, the guilt will lie wholly at your own doors. (p. 34, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
Strong words to be sure, but consider it well. We have the blessing of God's Word - what FOLLY it is to neglect it in our families!
Let me, therefore, with all earnestness press it upon you to maket he solemn reading of the Scripture a part of your daily worship in your families. When you speak to God by prayer, be willing to hear him speak to you in his word, that there may be a complete communion between you and God. This will add much to the solemnity of your family worship, and will make the transaction the more awful (awe-ful: TKP) and serious, if it be done in a right manner; which will conduce much to the honour of God, and your own and your family's edification. It will help to make the word of God familiar to yourselves, and to your children and servants, that you may be ready and mighty in the Scriptures, and may from thence be thoroughly furnished for every good word and work. It will likewise furnish you with matter and words for prayer, and so be helpful to you in other parts of the service. (pp. 34-35, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
I can vouch for this statement of Henry's directly. It is amazing what the girls have learned as we have made Scripture reading a part of our exercises of family worship morning and evening. It is fantastic to see what they retain, even at the very young ages, when familiar words come up again as a passage is read again to them - or as passages in the Old Testament are referred to in the new. If you have any doubts about the word "sinking in" through simply reading the Word straight from your Bibles, you can cast them aside. The Word is powerful and lively to cut to the heart even of your youngest children - it is a mighty blessing.

As the new year dawns, perhaps you would consider, if it is not part of your daily practice in your families, to dedicate time and effort to systematic reading of the Scriptures in family worship? It has blessed us in our home - and I trust the Lord will bless you as you undertake to serve Him in this duty as well in yours. He has promised His children blessing as they seek Him and His will - and a choice means to that end is the regular dedication to the reading and study of God's Holy and Powerful Word.

2 Calvin's Institutes in 2009

Princeton Seminary (of all places!) has put together a schedule of readings for going through Calvin's Institutes in 2009, in particular observation of the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth - The schedule is available at this link.

Many of my online friends are planning to read through it in addition to their Scripture and other devotional reading, and I think I'll take the plunge here to finally do what I've begun a couple of times to do - that is, to blog through the Institutes. So, you'll find here under the label "The Institutes" my blog reflections on the text as it's read.

If you've not got a copy of the Institutes, I'd highly recommend it. Two versions, one that I prefer, by Ford Lewis Battles, and the other an older translation by Beveridge, are available at VERY reasonable prices at these links:

Also a couple of very helpful books written concerning the Institutes can be found at the links below - also exceedingly reasonably priced. The first is Ford Lewis Battles's analysis of the Institutes, which contains a VERY helpful discussion of Calvin's organization of the original edition of the Institutes (1536) and the development of that organization from that edition through the last published in his lifetime (1559, the standard version referenced above). The analysis gives a fleshed-out topical outline of the 1559 Edition that Battles translated, and I think this book is well, well worth owning and referring to as you read Calvin's monumental work.

The second link is a recently released compilation of essays concerning the theological menu Calvin presents us with in the Institutes. Again, a marvelous work, and very worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2 The Word of God Our Necessary Instrument for Heartwork

Flavel closes his 'Keeping the Heart' with several means toward the end of keeping, watching and renovating the heart. The first of these is the foremost - the one without which keeping the heart is impossible.
Would you thus keep your hearts as hath been persuaded? Then furnish your hearts richly with the word of God, which is their best preservation against sin.

Keep the word, and the word will keep you: as the first receiving of the word regenerated your hearts, so the keeping of the word within you will preserve your hearts: Col. iii.16 - "Let the word of God dwell richly in you:" Let it dwell, not tarry with you, in its commands, promises, threats; in all that is in you, in your understandings, memories, consciences, affections, and then it will preserve your hearts; Psalm cxix.11 - "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." It is the slipperiness of our hearts in reference to the word, that causes so many slips in our lives. Conscience cannot be urged or awed with forgotten truths; but keep it in the heart, and it will keep both heart and life upright; Psalm xxxvii.31 - "The law of his God is in his heart: none of his steps shall slide;" or if he do, the word will recover the straying heart again; Matt. xxvi.57 - "Then Peter remembered the word of Jesus, and wept bitterly." We never lose our hearts, till they have first lost the efficacious and powerful impression of the word. (Volume 5, page 504-5, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
How can one call to mind the teaching of Scripture amidst our walk and in the face of temptation, if it isn't hidden in the heart? Why do we see, time and again, the Scriptural command to know the Word of God and to keep it - not just to obey it, but to keep it, within? The ability of the human mind to hold onto words is a powerful tool God has granted us to order and guide our lives... we seem to have little problem memorizing contemporary songs, or sayings - why not install the powerful, living and active sword of the Lord in our bosoms? If we have that word in our memory's grasp, we have hope that it will guide and correct us as we are able to recall it.

I see no other means to instilling this Word in our hearts and minds than by daily reading, study and meditation. That is the call to us from Psalm 1, Psalm 119 and Joshua 1, as well as other places wherein meditation, consideration and contemplation of God's Holy and awesome Word is set before us as our duty and our joy. How wonderful it is to know and consider that God Himself has granted us the great gift of His own Word to guide, direct, inspire and correct? We are not left without His wisdom and truth, to some how flail about like Plato's men, trying to find direction? Instead we are handed, by His grace, THE truth and ALL wisdom! It is thus FOLLY to ignore, neglect, and fail to study deeply God's Holy Word. It is not only necessary for our growth and our guidance, but it is good - sweet - and wonderful to our very souls.

Flavel points out to us the value of God's Word for correction and inspection of the heart - a duty he has pressed on us from the beginning of this marvelous treatise - and one for which, he reminds us, we are equipped through the Scriptures. Let us not neglect God's great gift, but instead make it our joy to let the Word of truth dwell richly among and in us. As we remember the gift of Christ... let us not forget the gift of the written Word, or let it lie idle - but store it up as a treasure of innumerable talents of gold in our hearts.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

0 A Fountainhead of Prayer, Nourishment of the Soul

In the closing paragraphs of Flavel's Keeping the Heart (Volume 5, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth) several motives to our active 'keeping of the heart' are offered. What we find in these last pages are honey for the soul - to have sat under the preaching of this pastor of the flock of God must have been true blessing indeed.

One such valuable paragraph is the following motivation to pursue a life of meditative reflection upon our hearts as a normal course of our lives... see if it stills and quiets your heart and sets it upon a course of continual remediation as it has me:
Acquaintance with your own hearts would be a fountain of matter to you in prayer.

A man that is diligent in heart-work and knows the state of his own soul, will have a fountain-fulness of matter to supply him richly in all his addresses to God; his tongue shall not falter and make pause for want of matter; Psal. xlv.1 "My heart is inditing a good matter:" or, as Montanus renders the original, my heart is boiling up good matter, like a living spring, that is still bubbling up fresh water; and then my tongue is as the pen of a ready writer. Others must pump their memories, rack their inventions, and are often at a loss, when they have done all; but if thou have kept, and faithfully studied, thine own heart, it will be with the (as Job speaks in another case) like bottles full of new wine that want vent, which are ready to burst. As holy matter flows plentifully, so more feelingly and sweetly from such a heart. When a heart-experienced Christian is mourning before God over some special heart-corruption, wrestling with God for the supply of some special inward want, he speaks not as other men do that have learned to pray by rote; their confessions and petitions are squeezed out; his drop freely, like pure honey from the comb. It is a happiness to be with or near such a Christian. (Volume 5, page 500, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
This smacked me right upside the head like the proverbial 2x4. In this small paragraph, Flavel has given me a precious jewel, even as I am chastised at the thought that he has placed in my mind. Sadly it is true that words sometimes escape my confessional duties with God. How little, then, must I know my own heart? To prayer, to prayer, o my soul. Flavel has richly blessed the church with his call upon us to mediate seriously upon our hearts, and seek God's rich blessing of heart-knowledge. It is hard work - as we have to face the ugliness therein - but great is the grace of God showered upon the penitent sinner. I commend this passage to you for your thought and consideration; may God bless you in it as He has me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

0 The Pride of Uzziah, the Humility of Isaiah

Phrases stick in the head from youth - and the title, "Pride Goeth Before a Fall" somehow is lodged in there from my first bible, a KJV, from my childhood. In this morning's reading from the M'Cheyne Calendar that I use for daily reading, Uzziah, king of Judah, was struck in the midst of his power:
But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the Lord had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land. (2 Chronicles 26:16-21, ESV)
As the dictum from Solomon in Prov. 16:18 goes, indeed; the prideful heart is ripe for a fall. Pridefulness, it seems to me (knowing plenty about it) gives one a sense of invincibility, that one can do anything with impunity. It happened that Uzziah thought it right at the peak of his power to enter into the temple to usurp the role of God's ordained servants, the priests - and upon his doing so, he was caught and struck by the Lord with the wasting disease universally (and specifically for the Jews) despised - leprosy. He was instantly unclean, and was, as the divine record tells us, unclean to the end of his days. He died unable ever to enter into the temple again, and to be regarded as clean among the people of God. What a fearful thing to have happened... but what a fitting punishment.

As I read this passage this morning, I was (as many are, I'm sure) reminded of the passage from Isaiah 6, wherein this man's reign and death was used by the prophet as a time-stamp of sorts (at least that's the way I've always thought of it). He writes,
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:1-6, ESV)

I wonder whether there's more than a mere time-stamp here, dating this vision of Isaiah's to the year of Uzziah's death. It's interesting to ponder the connections. Uzziah, disgraced head of Judah, is ceremonially unclean, punished with leprosy to the end of his days because of pride.

In this last year of Uzziah's life, Isaiah is given this grand vision of the Lord in His temple, and of His marking out and cleansing by the gracious and monergistic act of God. Isaiah recognizes his uncleanness, and that of his people (and, most intimately connected with that I am sure, the uncleanness deriving from that of his king) before the Lord. He cries out in a cry that should be upon ALL of our lips - "Unclean! (as the lepers were required by the Law to say) Unclean! Woe is me, I am undone, for I am unclean!" The Lord graciously gives him a sign of his cleansing, by the coal from the altar, carried by His servant the seraph - and thenceforth comes the well-remembered request by God, "whom shall I send?" And we know the rest of the story.

More than a simple marker of time, I do think that Isaiah's mention of Uzziah's death sets a proper context for his reaction to his vision of the presence of the Lord. How keenly he felt his own uncleanness, and certainly that sensitivity was aided by the state of affairs in Judah under their disgraced king. I don't want to go farther than is warranted - but the image is certainly striking and has given me pause to meditate on the glorious nature of God's salvation of people touched with and stung by the sin of pride and its effects.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

0 Deceiver of the "Whole World"

An interesting bit in my reading this morning from Revelation 12 -
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev 12:7-9, ESV)
The words bolded here are essentially literally translated in the ESV - "the one who deceives the whole world", though the word "world" here is not 'kosmos' but 'oikomene' - the inhabited world, the world of men. That distinction isn't what I'm posting here about, but rather John's use of the word "whole" in this verse. Satan is said here to be the deceiver not of part, but of the WHOLE. He is said to be the one who causes THE WHOLE WORLD to go astray.

He hasn't done that, clearly... as John demonstrates very plainly in all of his writings.

Many claim Christ's death, and the propitiation of sins obtained thereby, is given for the WHOLE WORLD - each and every human being ever to have been conceived - and this is argued quite commonly on the basis of 1 John 2:2, which says,
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2, ESV)
where again John uses the same word - WHOLE. Now there are other good reasons within 1 John 2:2 itself to reject the notion of universal atonement, without reference to other Scriptures, but the comparison to Revelation 12:9 is interesting. Clearly by comparing these two verses alone, there appears the same problem - one cannot claim universality in either case, and the poor argument used to claim it in the case of 1 John 2:2 simply on the basis of the greek word underlying "whole" would never be used by those who use it if applied to the case of Rev. 12:9.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

0 A Family Devoted to God

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says in its first question and answer, 'The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.' Indeed, this being our individual chief end, it must also be the chief end of all institutions - the marriage and family being the next two institutions of God in number and/or size. As a father and husband, this weighs on me now and again as I look at the shortcomings in my own fulfillment of the grand duty of glorifying and honoring God Almighty. Matthew Henry in an essay entitled 'A church in the house', found in Family Religion writes the following as reflecting the commitment of the head of a household, if he rightly understands his responsibilities before God:
Let all I have in my house, and all I do in it be for the glory of God; I own him to be my great Landlord, and I hold all from under him: to him I promise to pay the rents - the quit-rents - of daily praises and thanksgivings; and to do the services - the easy services - of gospel obedience. Let holiness to the Lord be written upon the house, and all the furniture of it, according to the word which God has spoken (Zech. 14:20-21), that every pot in Jerusalem and Judah 'shall be Holiness to the Lord of hosts'. Let God by his providence dispose of the affairs of my family, and by his grace dispose the affections of all in my family, according to his will, to his own praise. Let me and mine be only, wholly and forever his. (p. 32, Family Religion, Matthew Henry, Christian Heritage Press.
If we truly understand our place before God, can our thoughts as husbands and fathers be any but these? How would our churches break forth in the light of Christ if all of us relinquished the pride of autonomy and dedicated our homes fully to His glory? Let it begin with me and my house.

0 Matthew Henry, "Family Religion"

I was told by a friend of the printing by Christian Heritage books of a collection by Matthew Henry entitled "Family Religion: Principles for raising a godly family."

For those of you raising children (or hoping to), this is a WONDERFUL book, well worth the pittance of its cost at a hair more than $10.

I found greatly edifying counsel in the first chapter as I began reading this book this month, and thought I'd blog a little on the work - so stay tuned.

Friday, December 19, 2008

0 Heart Religion, the Process of Sanctification, and the Connection to Comfort and Joy

"Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
oh, tidings of comfort and joy..."

One hears the tune wafting through the air at this time of year, and in our reading of Flavel yesterday, stern exhortation was given for those who desire comfort and joy in their walk with Christ. To the ear of flesh, the word Flavel gives is folly - for how can one obtain comfort if one understands himself to be a sinner laid low by his entanglements and sorrow over his sin? Aren't sorrow, self-abasement contrary to the very spirit of comfort and joy? Indeed not - for they lie at the heart of it all! From Flavel, then, we read:
...unless the people of God spend more time and pains about their hearts, than generally and ordinarily they do, they are never like to do God much service, or be owners of much comfort in this world.

I may say of that Christian that is remiss and careless in keeping his heart, as Jacob said of Reuben, 'Thou shalt not excel.' It grieves me to see how many Christians there are that go up and down dejected, and complaining, that live at a poor low rate, both of service and comfort; and how can they expect it should be otherwise, as long as they live at such a careless rate? O how little of their time is spent in the closet in searching, humbling, and quickening their hearts?

You say your hearts are dead, and do you wonder they are so, as long as you keep them not with the fountain of life? If your bodies had been dieted as your souls have been, they would have been dead too; never expect better hearts till you take more pains with them; Qui fugit molam, fugit farinam; He that will not have the sweat, must not expect the sweet of religion. (Volume 5, page 495, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
Joy and comfort in the Lord must come IN THE LORD. That is, I cannot understand how one truly comes to a full sense of joy without the understanding of the plenary nature of God's salvific work, our utter unworthiness to be granted an audience with Him, let alone eternal communion with Him, and our utter and complete dependence upon Him for any good whatsoever that comes our way. With that understanding, there is a fulness of joy that is impossible to obtain otherwise. With that perspective in mind, comfort, true comfort and freedom is ours.

This is, to the flesh, paradoxical. How can we open our hearts before our eyes, and see and acknowledge with honest clarity the blackness therein, and the stain of sin in our lives, and feel anything but despair? Again - joy and comfort must come through faith in the promises and assurance in the completeness of Christ's satisfaction on our behalf. As I noted yesterday, progress in sanctification may very well be slow - and seemingly crawl along at times, as we fight the continual battle with our sinful flesh... but that battle is one that is to be filled with joy as we rest in the comfort of the Lord! Our dutiful examination of heart and soul is coupled with the grief of finding sin, and the joy of our Spirit-enabled relinquishing of it, bit by bit. Ultimately all joy must be grounded on the complete atonement of Christ and can never be founded on our progress... that is to put the cart before the horse, and miss the true ground of Christian freedom. What we are becoming in our sanctification is what we already are in our justification.

"...oh Tidings of Comfort and Joy!"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

0 Justification, Sanctification, Glorification and the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ

This morning, as is our usual practice, a long-time friend of mine and I got together online to read Flavel's Keeping the Heart (from volume 5 of the Complete Works of John Flavel, which I cannot recommend highly enough). In this morning's reading, Flavel has one of his great expressions that he is wont to compose. The section of the work in question concerns our willingness to die - as compared to the temptations we have to want to remain here in this life. The case he is taking up is prefaced as follows:
Case 12: How the people of God, in times of sickness, may get their hearts loose from all earthly engagements, and persuade them unto a willingness to die. (Volume 5, page 490, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
In his last point, he argues thus:
If still thou linger, like Lot in Sodom, then lastly, examine all the pleas and pretenses for a longer time on earth. Why art thou unwilling to die? (Volume 5, page 493, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
The third of the objections he explores, is concise, and powerful, and worthy of remembrance, to be posted on a 3x5 card in every bathroom:
Objection 3: I am not yet fully ready, I am not as a bride, completely adorned for the bridegroom.

Solution: Thy justification is complete already, though thy sanctification be not so; and the way to make it so, is to die; for til then it will have its defects and wants. (Volume 5, page 494, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
Pithy, but true. Sanctification is a life-long process, and truly until we have passed through the gates of this earthly life, and been changed through the glorification Paul writes of in Romans 8, we shall not be perfectly adorned. We won't reach it, though we live 1000 years in our flesh. Our salvation, if it depended on this striving, and a reaching of this perfect attainment, would be lost. If our passage through the gates of heaven into eternal communion with Christ was dependent upon the accomplishments we have made here below, then forget about it. We have no hope, if that were true.

But the good news of the Gospel is that Christ Himself died, took on our sins, and passed to us the righteousness of his complete, active and passive righteousness. We live, justified by faith - in a right standing before God through his decree of justification. And, while we yet live, our conformity to that righteousness, which is increasing daily in sanctification through the ministration of the Holy Spirit, will never be complete. Not until that last day, when like the twinkling of an eye "we shall be changed."

The fact of our final perfection is no disincentive to strive daily for the holiness of Christ in our walk before the Lord - but rather an encouragement to continue despite our failings. Those who have tender consciences because of the sin which still entices us should take heart - sanctification is continual - a process of renovation that will continue until we die (and even then, not be perfect until we are perfectly conformed to Christlikeness in our persons through a final immediate act of God described by Paul in Romans 8 as being 'glorified'). Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

0 To Him who is Given Much...

Calvin's third sermon on Job, covering verses 2 to 5 of chapter 1, struck deep this morning. How much has God given me? A loving wife and four wonderful girls. A family to lead and head up to God's glory, and for His service. How weakly do I undertake my responsibilities in this regard at times... how much more must my efforts to serve God well in this vocation be restored, rejuvenated and reinforced...

Calvin addresses particularly those in positions of authority regarding their responsibility for the overall tenor of those individuals or groups under their care. There is no diminishment in Calvin's thought of individual responsibility - certainly anyone who is in a submissive position relative to a particular God-ordained authority figure over them is still responsible for his or her own sin. No question about that - but rarely do we (do I) think sufficiently about the responsibilities accruing to the account of those in authority over those people. In particular, Calvin is discussing the fact that Job sacrificed and prayed for his children, lest any of them be guilty of sin requiring blood covering. Today, sacrifices of animals are passed away, since Christ has made the last and only effectual sacrifice on the cross - still, the souls of those under our care must be on our minds, and the sacrifice of prayer must be part of our particular service to God as those whom he has invested with particular authority.

From the words of Calvin - it is a long extract, but oh, so rich with sound exhortation:
...such as have charge of others, must be watchful, and that when any fault happeneth, they must hold themselves blameworthy before God for the same. And this is well worthy to be marked. For we see how ambition reigneth in the world. If a man have many children, he is glad that he hath so many reasonable creatures to be under him at his commandment. If he have wherewith to find a great household, he liketh well of himself for it. But what? All is but mere ambition, or vainglory! For there is no regard had of the charge that is matched with it. [emphasis mine - TKP] True it is that God doeth men great honor, when he giveth those whom he hath created after his own image, unto them to be their underlings. But yet wherewithall, this honor carrieth a great bond with it: namely that such as have households to govern, must always be watchful. For if an offense be committed against God in any household, he that is the head and master of the house, must think himself blameworthie. (p. 12, Sermons on Job, Banner of Truth)
Again - not as though he had been primarily responsible, as the first actor in the sin - but that in his care for the house he has possibly failed in some regard. Hence, he must be mournful over the sin that has arisen within the house over which he has charge. This is so hard, but hard teachings abound in Scripture - and we whom God has made fathers and husbands should take note, with an appropriate and Biblical balance, of these things.

Calvin continues:
He must mourn before God as if himself were the party that had done the deed; and although he be not consenting unto it, yet must he think thus with himself: 'I have not discharged myself of my duty, albeit that I watch both night and day. Although I exhort as well my children as also my men-servants and my maid-servants to serve God. Yet it is impossible for me to do all that I ought to do. For I see my children offend, I see faults in my men-servants, and maid-servants. Of whom take they it? Although I take pain to instruct them, yet are there many things to be found fault with. For I have not given them such example as I ought. Had I walked in the fear of God as becometh me, they must needs have followed my steps; and so it may be that their stepping aside from the right way, hath been through my default and offense; and therefore I must show them such example as I would have them to follow.' If fathers and masters that have children and servants under their hand, had this regard with them, things would be better ordered than they be. (p. 12-13, Sermons on Job, Banner of Truth)
Indeed... and this raises itself as I see the sins of my own household, particularly as my children get older. It is amazing how quickly God shows us the faults we have by means of their reflection in our kids. Sadly, it comes as a shock at times - and too often later than it should have if I had been more watchful over my own heart.

Calvin continues (what good stuff this is!)
And above all others, princes and magistrates ought to mark this precedent, that it behooveth them to be watchful, and to set good guard upon such as are committed to their charge so as if there be any fault, they must think themselves to blame for it, and if they see any disorders or looseness, they must assure themselves that it is because they themselves have not discharged their duty. Likewise is it with the ministers of God's word. If they perceive that the church behaveth not as it ought to do, so as it have troubles and contrarieties in it, and specially that God's name be blasphemed, it behooveth them to sigh for it, and to bear the burden of it, assuring themselves that God showeth unto them, that they have not discharged themselves as they should have done. And here see why Saint Paul sayeth, that he is brought low because of the faults that were in the Church of Corinth (2 Cor. 12:20). Behold, it was God's will (saith he) to do me shame there. Had Saint Paul consented to whoredom, or to robbery, or to wantonness, or to other such vices of the Corinthians? No, he had labored to rebuke them by all possible means: can it be said that he had showed them the way of riot? No whit at all. But although he had discharged himself to the uttermost towards men, yet notwithstanding he ceased not to feel still, that God meant as it were to disgrace him in part, so as he was fain to bewail the offenses and disorders that happened in the church whereof he had the direction and charge. If Saint Paul, who had such zeal to do his duty, did nevertheless feel himself blameworthy when there befell any misorder in the church: I pray you what will become of us, who are as cold as ice in respect of him? What shall become of them which make no account at all whether God be honored or no; but all is one with them so they may make their own profit and maintain their own state? Then let us mark well that which is said here - that Job sacrificed according to the number of his children and let us likewise take good advice to humble ourselves afore God, and not only to ask him forgiveness when the mischief is come to pass, but also to prevent it as much as is possible. And how? That parents hold their children short: that masters look well about them, so as God be served and honored by them, and their houses well ruled in all pureness, that they may be as it were little churches. (p. 13, Sermons on Job, Banner of Truth)
We have a hard enough time feeling the responsibility and dishonring of God that arises from our OWN sins, let alone those of our houses. We are SOMETIMES willing to own up to the responsibilities directly related to our own actions - but how often are we truly willing to accept the responsibility that we have for the sins of our children? It is of course not a "primary" sort of responsibility, but as Calvin ably notes, there is a responsibility of parents for the conduct of the house... clearly we see this in Paul's writings wherein the households of potential elders are to be considered when evaluating their qualifications. I pray that those of us who are husbands and fathers - and myself primarily - would be granted God-given eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit says to us in God's Holy Word. There is so much for me to learn about walking in His ways. Thanks be to God that He gives us a lifetime to learn from His Word and embrace His truth and take baby step after baby step toward Christlikeness. Thanks most of all for the One Sacrifice for our sins - whereby we may submit ourselves freely to His correction, knowing that Christ bore our punishment.

Friday, December 12, 2008

0 Failing to Seek God's Kingdom First

In my Bible reading this morning, I began the prophecy of Haggai - and the opening paragraph struck me in particular:
In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. (Haggai 1:1-6, ESV)
We're talking a LONG time since the people had begun to return to Israel out of their Babylonian captivity - Calvin, in his commentary, notes a period of twenty years, Jamieson, Fawcett and Brown, 16, etc. The amount of time isn't pertinent, other than the fact that it wasn't merely a period of months, but of many years, wherein the people had quite blatantly disregarded their service to God Almighty, and had lived for themselves, feeding, housing and clothing themselves, with no regard to rebuilding their place of worship, the temple. Haggai's primary mission seems to be rousing the lazy people, who had been given their freedom to re-take the land promised to their fathers, but who seemingly were asleep at the wheel.

This strikes me in part because it is a reminder of the duty of Christians when free - to make full use of that freedom in glorifying God as their first and foremost goal. For the returning exiles, the purpose was clear - to re-establish worship in a rebuilt temple according to God's design for worship. Instead, they worried only about filling their bellies and clothing their bodies and this resulted in a wasting of their blessings. I'm not sure the text indicates profligacy in the people - a dedication to excesses - but it does indicate their lack of proper perspective. God had held them captive by the Babylonians for seventy years... and then by the hand of Cyrus his servant, released them back to the land - this was what many of them had been longing for for their entire lives. Imagine being a captive yourself, having been born in captivity, and having heard of the glories of the temple and the worship of the true and living God from the time you were a wee sapling.... when God graciously returns your people to the Land, can you imagine that you would not immediately seek to return to that worship of old? Yet they didn't.

And, I daresay many of us wouldn't either. It is often easy to criticize the returning exiles for their stupidity - and we SHOULD condemn their laziness and lack of proper priorities - but we must avoid with every ounce of our ability the statement "and we NEVER would do the same thing!" We must take their failure as a lesson and a warning for ourselves in seeking appropriate priorities for our lives. The condemnation of Haggai's prophetic words to them was severe. We must, as our Lord said, "Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness". In doing so, God will be glorified (as our Catechism instructs us to have as our primary aim) all our needs will be fulfilled - and that particularly of our primary need: grace and peace that God alone can supply us.

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