Thursday, December 31, 2009

6 Top Ten Books Read In 2009

Following the lead of several others whose blogs I frequent, I thought I'd compile a list of the most meaningful books I've read in 2009. Not to say that my opinions are authoritative in any way, but these books are those that struck me most significantly this past year. Note that 1) this list is not in any particular order, and 2) these books aren't all published this year - I've simply read them since January 1, 2009:

1. Craig Biehl, The Infinite Merit of Christ: The Glory of Christ's Obedience in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards

A very worthwhile study of a core issue in the correct understanding of justification - the infinite nature and perfection of Christ's righteousness and, indeed, his merit. This incredibly important doctrine is under attack from many quarters, both within and without Reformed circles. As I have been unashamed to proclaim time and again, the imputation of Christ's righteousness - not the mere payment of penalty but the imputation of a perfect record of heartfelt obedience and service to God in righteous holiness MUST be reckoned to everyone who spends eternity in God's courts. Modern and pre-modern deniers of this doctrine abound.... and Biehl takes the opportunity through exploring Edwards's doctrine of the perfect merit of Christ to re-emphasize the centrality of this imputed, alien righteousness to soteriology. Not to be missed.

2. John Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine

I was very pleased to see this come out. As worthwhile as the classic book by Buchanan is, Dr. Fesko has served the church in a very significant way in putting together a new, clear and Scripturally sound testimony to the classic reformed formulations of justification, contrary to modern retellings and re-imaginings of justification by the Federal Vision crew. Especially important in this context, I think, are the chapters on Justification and the Covenant of Works, Justification and the Work of Christ, and Justification and Union with Christ.

3. Danny Hyde, In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace

Calling us back to the plain and powerful means of Grace that God has instituted for the feeding of the flock, Danny Hyde gives a straightforward rebuttal to the common teaching that images of Jesus Christ are allowable and desirable. The way that Hyde sets the tendency of man to want to use images in order to make God more manageable (and even to rationalize this as a "good teaching instrument") vs. the means God ordained for instructing and feeding the flock - preaching the Word and administering the sacraments - very squarely addresses the contrast we must have in view as we consider the issue of images of Christ. This work was very helpful and edifying.

4. R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession

Scott Clark's Recovering the Reformed Confession addresses several elements in the development of churches that derive from the Reformed Confessional traditions of the UK and the Continent, and points us back to a recovery of the key distinctives of these traditions - to consider what's Reformed about being Reformed today. Clark's is a broader treatment of similar issues to those explored by Hyde in In Living Color - a firm call to the church to return to the simplicity of the God-ordained means of grace, and to the Reformed Confessions that used to define who we are. In the 20th cenutry (and before, as I'm sure Clark would agree) the churches emanating from Reformed roots have seemingly undergone a sad decline, wherein all the things that once served to distinguish the carefully laid out doctrine and practices of the Confessionally Reformed have been gradually diluted from the system. It's as though these churches have rejected the distinction of being a rich, crusty, whole grain artisan bread loaf to adopt, rather, the form of bland convenience-store white bread... all in the name of being 'relevant' and 'attractive' to the general populace. It's time to recover what's been lost, and to explore why it was our ancestors in the faith among the Puritan and Reformed Orthodox took such pains to distinguish themselves and to carefully outline what they believe Scripture teaches. Not to be missed, this book - a needed wakeup call.

5. Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World

It's hard to say enough good about this book - and, perhaps, hard to convince those among the Reformed and conservative evangelical communities that their church lacks a sufficiently strong focus on the regular preaching of the Gospel. Horton drives the ball straight down the middle of the fairway in this book, and pulls no punches in asserting the absolute necessity of the preaching of the Gospel (the announcement of good news for all the people... that Christ satisfied the Law perfectly for His people, that He died, taking upon Himself the punishment due the sins of His people, and was raised in proclamation of the finished nature of his Atonement and the glorious future that awaits the saints of God because of what He has done) to both unbelievers and believers alike. Horton addresses particularly the common perception that what believers in the church is more advice on living the victorious Christian life, instead of the continual reminder that they are desperately in need each day, each moment, of the full pardon from sin that is afforded only by Jesus Christ having died in their place. A critical book, and worth the cost ten times over.

6. Jason Stellman, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet

Stellman takes to task the relatively common statement that all of life is Worship, and makes clear that in fact there is a need to distinguish the sacred acts of the covenant community wherein together they worship the Lord our God from the daily lives of individual Christians in the world of men. Reading this book requires one to take a step back from what is really thrust upon us culturally, I think, as Reformed Christians. The notion that all of life is worship is very tightly ingrained, I think, in part because we so highly value the sovereignty of God in our corner of Christ's Kingdom - and so we want to make sure that we recognize that the Lord is indeed over all things through dedicating everything we do to Him. One of the points Stellman makes in this book is that, no, it's not worship, merely because we have done our work as unto the Lord. The means of grace God has endowed the church with distinguish what goes on as we gather corporately from the lives we live among all men outside those corporate gatherings. Good, thought-provoking material.

7. Matthew Henry, Family Religion: Principles for Raising a Godly Family

From the venerable Matthew Henry, known to most as one of the Puritan commentators par excellence, comes an important collection of four pieces on the family. The first two primarily deal with the role of fathers and parents in raising children according to Deuteronomy 6, raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, through catechism, family worship, etc.; the second two primarily address the place of children in the covenant people of God, and the doctrine of baptism. For any parents of young children - or not-as-yet-parents, this book is an absolutely fantastic resource for consideration of the critical task of building a Christ-centered home.

8. Edward Fisher, with Thomas Boston, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Little needs to be said about The Marrow of Modern Divinity, a work that was not without its controversy in its day, but which is still praised by many as a classic text on covenant theology. I would suggest it for anyone who'd like a solid introduction to the concepts of covenant theology. It is written in something that's reminiscent of Pilgrim's Progress, that is, it takes the form of a dialog among several characters - Nomista, a legalist, Antinomista, you guessed it - an antinomian, Neophytus, a new Christian, and finally Evangelista - the pastor. Through their dialog, the author exposits the covenant of works and the covenant of grace in a lively and edifying manner. Extremely helpful, too, are the extensive notes of Thomas Boston, which serve to expand upon and explain the dialog to the reader. The new reprint by Christian focus is very nice, and should be an attractive buy.

9. William Ames, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism

This was an exciting find - the first of a new series of books edited by R. Scott Clark (see above) entitled Classic Reformed Theology published by Reformation Heritage Books. Ames took an interesting approach in these expositions, which are keyed to the Heidelberg Catechism's Lord's Days. It's one of very little work by Ames that's in modern reprint, and an excellent early flavor of English Puritan thought - and shows the deep connection between Ames and the continental tradition (Ames was one of those English divines invited to sit at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19). This wonderful collection contains brief expositions worthy of studying alongside the Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day by Lord's Day; each week a short section of Scripture which illustrates the theme of that Day's Catechism selection is exposited by way of several short lessons. This would make for excellent family devotional material.

(A second volume in this series, An Exposition of the Apostle's Creed by Caspar Olevianus, is coming soon - and I suspect it might make my top reads of 2010!)

10. Samuel Rutherford, The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

Finally, and last but certainly by no means least, this volume of Rutherford's Letters blew me away this year. I've not technically finished it, but it certainly makes the list. One wonders whatever happened to the art and beauty of letter writing - and why it is that Christians don't seem any longer to talk like this with one another. Rutherford can be penetrating and pastoral, direct and understanding all at the same time. These brief letters (thanks be to God for Banner of Truth's reprinting this much larger collection!) contain some real nuggets of beautiful Christian devotion... it's no wonder that Spurgeon praised them as "the nearest thing to inspiration that can be found in all the writings of men." Wonderful stuff for brief periods of devotional reading, with an easy chair and a good Scottish Ale by your side.


Well, that does it. Easy enough to put together a list of excellent reads - it's been a very good year for Reformed publishing, and I can't wait to see the new titles coming along soon in 2010. May the Lord of Glory bless you as you seek His Face in the coming year. May He keep you in His favor and shine the goodness of His countenance upon you all, dear readers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

0 Caryl: The Central Lessons of Job

In the introductory chapter of Joseph Caryl's Exposition of Job, the author outlines the basic questions answered by the book of Job, and then specifies seven central teachings of the book. The two questions that he argues Job deals with are summarized by Caryl in the following words:
"The main and principal subject of this book is contained (and I may give it to you) in one verse of the 34th Psalm: Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of all. (Ps. 34:19)

Concerning this subject there are two great questions handled and disputed fully and clearly in this book. The first is this, whether it is consistent with the justice and goodness of God to afflict a righteous and sincere person, to strip him naked, to take away all his outward comforts. Or, whether it is consistent with the justice and goodness of God, that it should go ill with those who are good, and that it should go well with those that are evil. This is one great debate, the main question throughout the book. And then secondly, here is another great dispute in reference to the former. Namely, whether we may judge of the righteousness, or unrighteousness, of the sincereity or hypocrisy of any person, by the outward dealings and present dispensations of God towards him. That is a second question here debated." (p. 6, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
As Caryl notes, the "friends" of Job answer the first question negatively and the second positively... and Job maintains, throughout, the opposite answers. In the answering of these questions, and the discussions and debates between Job and his friends, and then later the dialog between Job and the Lord Himself, we find that we may learn several important lessons, according to our expositor. These, briefly, are:
  1. How to handle a cross. When in conflict or affliction, terror or strife, Job teaches us how we are to, with patience and confidence, maintain our composure and dedication to the Lord God by whose decree all situations and circumstances come to pass.
  2. All afflictions are ordered by God's providential hand.
  3. God is sovereign over all things, to the minutest detail. He has power over us, our possessions, our lives, and we must therefore submit to Him in all things.
  4. God afflicts for His purposes only, to accomplish His ends - and sometimes such afflictions are not merely for the purposes of temporal punishment.
  5. Our best conditions - the best of our circumstances must always be taken as uncertain and not in any sense guaranteed. We therefore must learn to hold things lightly and yield all to God's wise counsels.
  6. True faith is invincible. Faith, according to Ephesians 2:8-10, is the gift of God - and is irrevocable. The faith of the elect will stand trial in the evil day.
  7. God NEVER forsakes His own. The elect shall, as noted by Christ in His Good Shepherd discourse, and His High Priestly prayer, never be lost but always retained in the strong hand of God. God is EVER faithful.
  8. God's judgments are ALWAYS just, though they be many times completely secret from us. The fact that we cannot understand God's judgments at times does not imply that He is unreasonable, capricious or otherwise inconsistent with His nature as God. We must be content with the judgments of God and always praise Him for His glorious wisdom and might and right to rule over all. (Adapted from pp. 11-13, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
These are valuable lessons, and if I learn but one of them better than I know them today, I will be glad for the efforts to work my way through Caryl's work. I hope my sharing thoughts and reflections on Caryl's Exposition are edifying and thought-provoking to you. Do feel free, as always, to let me know what you think and what Caryl's thoughts bring forth in your mind as you read this blog series. Blessings to you and yours as 2010 dawns in a few days.

Monday, December 28, 2009

0 Sola5 Radio Regular Daily Programming Stream has Begun

Ever since the cancellation of New Geneva Radio (a teaching, preaching and music ministry of a good friend's church) several years ago, the internet streaming of solid Reformed/Presbyterian teaching has been more or less missing from the internet. We have tried with our latest venture, supported by the Covenant Radio podcast, to address this lack with Sola5 Radio. Our weekly schedule is now loaded at the Sola5 Radio blog, and can be obtained directly here.

We're really pleased to offer this streaming programming, and hope that you'll find it edifying and a good alternative to the over-the-air radio that in most areas of the country and world leaves MUCH to be desired. Our daily plan includes streaming from 7am ET to 9pm ET M-F and on the Lord's Day, and 7am - 5pm ET on Saturday.

From my earlier announcement, here is the basic plan of our programming. We hope that you'll find this edifying and a good alternative to over-the air radio - our desire is for this streaming station to be a constant source of solid instruction and exposition of the Word of God, as well as an outlet for the rebroadcast of sound Reformed programs. We'll be featuring each new Covenant Radio podcast on the Friday after it's recorded, as well as "back-issues" at other times during the week. We're also pleased to offer rebroadcasts of a sister podcast, Christ the Center, which offers edifying discussions of important issues for Reformed Christians, and Dr. Scott Clark's Office Hours podcasts, which feature discussions with professors at Westminster Seminary California. Finally, we also intend to feature rebroadcasts of the White Horse Inn radio program. Our teaching and preaching segments will feature Dr. Joe Morecraft on the History of the Reformation, Dr. Joel Beeke on Genesis and Dr. Alan Cairns on Romans. Interspersed with this will be readings from the Geneva Bible and various classical, Jazz and contemporary Christian pieces. We also plan to include teaching series such as audio from the Ligonier National Conferences, the Banner of Truth Conferences, and other Reformed gatherings. PLEASE DO give us feedback at the Sola5 Radio blog, or here. We hope to serve up an edifying and enjoyable menu, and want to make sure that what we produce is just that.

In order to connect to the online stream, you can go to the Sola5 Radio blog. You can also go directly to to get the stream.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

0 Caryl: The Word of God and its Fruit

I've decided as 2009 winds to a close to begin a study of Joseph Caryl's Exposition of Job, a mammoth 12-volume commentary recently republished in a very well done facsimile of the 17th century original printing (1644-1666) jointly by Dust and Ashes Publications and Reformation Heritage Books.

I have no fantasies about finishing the work in 2010, although stranger things have happened. What I do want to do, however, is work through it as the Lord sees fit, and blog my thoughts and reflections here as I make my way through this highly regarded work. There are some who find Puritan expositions such as this one cumbersome and exorbitantly verbose - but I honestly believe those who have such an opinion of THIS particular work haven't read it. I can sympathize to some extent with those who might take such a view of John Owen's work on Hebrews (which I've decided I shall be tackling next after this major reading project) but again I'd have to question there whether such criticism is worthy of an audience. In the case of Caryl's work, there is certainly an abundance of words - but they are merely, as Spurgeon wrote, evidence of a "full" exposition, and not one in which words are wasted or ill-spent. Caryl has made his exposition of Job a vehicle for teaching many of the great doctrines of our faith - and so I very much look forward to reading this work and recording my thoughts here. It is a masterpiece - perhaps not of brevity and concise commentary - but of Puritan exposition and teaching. (Note: Given that this is a 17th century facsimile, it is written in very old language. I will very lightly update Caryl's words - though when he quotes Scripture I will leave it alone, unless to make the tiniest of spelling changes to help the reader)

In the first chapter, Caryl makes an important point, one which ought to be kept in mind whenever one approaches the Holy Word of God, but perhaps particularly when one is brought to a more difficult book such as Job. He writes,
"That which God speaks concerning the whole work of Creation, we may speak concerning the whole book of Scripture, It is very good. Solomon observes that wheresoever the wisdom of God spake, it spoke of excellent things. (Prov. 8:6) And David, to quicken our endeavours and excite our diligence to the study of the word, prefers it in worth above thousands of gold and silver, and in sweetness above the honey and the honeycomb. And when he ceases to compare, he begins to admire, Wonderful are thy testimonies. And well may that be called Wonderful, which proceeds from the God of all Wonders. All Scripture is given by divine inspiration, (2 Tim. 3:16) or by inspiration from God; and I need not show you the excellency of any part, when I have but pointed at such an statement concerning the whole.

And therefore the whole Scripture, (whether we respect the majesty of the Author, the height or purity of the matter, the depth or perspicuity of the style, the dignity or variety of occurrences; whether we consider the art of compiling, or the strength of argument) disdains the very mention of comparison, with any other human author whatsoever. So, too, are comparisons within - e.g. book with book, chapter with chapter - dangerous. There is not in this great volume of holy counsel any book or chapter, verse or section, of greater power or authority than any other... we may fully match all Scripture together, and say, all must be received with the same devotion and affection." (pp. 3-4, Vol. 1, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
With this said, Caryl points his hearers to the fruit he hopes his exposition of (and indeed their study of) this and all Scripture will bring to them:
"Let me beseech you in the name of Christ, to take care for the carrying on of this work a degree further: I mean to translate the sense of Scripture into your lives, and to expound the Word of God by your works, Interpret it by your feet, and teach it by your fingers; (Prov. 6:13) as Solomon speaks in a different sense). That is, let your working and your walkings be Scripture explications... And therefore let the words of Christ by these verbal explications dwell richly in your understandings in all wisdom; and by a practical application, let it be held forth plentifully in your lives in all holiness. Add commentary to commentary, and exposition to exposition: add the comment of works to this comment of words, and an exposition by your lives to this exposition by our labors." (pp. 2-3, Vol. 1, Joseph Caryl, Exposition of Job)
Should this not be on our hearts and minds as we study Scripture in general? Shall it be mere learning - or shall it produce the fruit of righteousness and devotion to God in us? I know I fall woefully short in this - and thanks be to God that the glorious Gospel is indeed true... that Christ has died, is risen, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father - and that I am now righteous in Him. With that, these words from Caryl are a strong exhortation - and convicting indeed as I seek to glorify my Father in Heaven through a life lived in thanksgiving for what He has done.

May the Word of God dwell richly indeed in us - the body of Christ - that God might be glorified on Earth as He is in Heaven.

0 New Year's Blog Plan

In the coming year, in addition to topical things that come up now and then, I'm planning to blog through Joseph Caryl's masterful Exposition of Job, the 12 volume behemoth that Charles Spurgeon in his Commenting and Commentaries (found in the Banner of Truth's recent reprint of Lectures to My Students) characterized as follows:

Caryl must have inherited the patience of Job to have completed his stupendous task. It would be a mistake to suppose that he is at all prolix or redundant; he is only full. In the course of his expounding he has illustrated a very large portion of the whole Bible with great clearness and power. He is deeply devotional and spiritual. He gives us much, but none too much. Caryl's work can scarcely be superseded or surpassed.

I'm looking forward to this blog journey - as I've already found much meat in the first few chapters of Caryl's first volume.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

0 Sola5 Radio Regular Weekly Schedule begins December 28

We will continue working on the Sola5 Radio stream, featuring some of the programming that we intend to present each week. We at Covenant Radio podcast appreciate your listening to our podcasts, and hope that you'll enjoy what we're doing at Sola5 Radio. Our weekly schedule is now loaded at the Sola5 Radio blog, and can be obtained directly here.

We're really pleased to offer this streaming programming, and hope that you'll find it edifying and a good alternative to the over-the-air radio that in most areas of the country and world leaves MUCH to be desired. Roughly speaking, we'll be streaming from 7am ET to 9pm ET M-F and on the Lord's Day, and 7am - 5pm ET on Saturday.

We'll be featuring each new Covenant Radio podcast on the Friday after it's recorded, as well as "back-issues" at other times during the week. We're also pleased to offer rebroadcasts of a sister podcast, Christ the Center, which offers edifying discussions of important issues for Reformed Christians, and Dr. Scott Clark's Office Hours podcasts, which feature discussions with professors at Westminster Seminary California. Finally, we also intend to feature rebroadcasts of the White Horse Inn radio program. Our teaching and preaching segments will feature Dr. Joe Morecraft on the History of the Reformation, Dr. Joel Beeke on Genesis and Dr. Alan Cairns on Romans. Interspersed with this will be readings from the Geneva Bible and various classical, Jazz and contemporary Christian pieces. We also plan to include teaching series such as audio from the Ligonier National Conferences, the Banner of Truth Conferences, and other Reformed gatherings. PLEASE DO give us feedback at the Sola5 Radio blog, or here. We hope to serve up an edifying and enjoyable menu, and want to make sure that what we produce is just that.

In order to connect to the online stream, you can go to the Sola5 Radio blog. You can also go directly to to get the stream.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

0 Sola 5 Radio is back online this week! Enjoy....

After working out some of the kinks, Sola5 Radio will be streaming, Lord willing, this week, in test mode. This is a venture of the Covenant Radio podcast, and we hope will bless you in our presentation of teaching, music and exposition of the Word. Sola5 Radio has a blog at, where program listings will be presented, and from which the stream is accessible. You can also go directly to to get the stream.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

0 Double Dip Day at Covenant Radio

At Covenant Radio today we're going to have two programs. The first we're recording at 2pm EST with Jim Barr, a representative of BibleWorks, and in it we plan to introduce the software package to the listeners, presenting its history, primary strengths and the niche it has in the Bible software market, etc. Bill and I both use BibleWorks a great deal and have found it to be an excellent resource for pastors and teachers who desire to study the Biblical text from the perspective of the original languages. I will be posting another couple reviews of BibleWorks here at In Principio Deus (label: Bibleworks 8 Reviews) in the coming weeks as I continue to become familiar with its analysis and study capabilities. I believe Bill will be too at his blog, The Parchment.

The second show today will actually be live, commencing at 6pm EST, and will be Part 2 of our discussion with Dr. Michael Horton of his book, The Gospel Driven Life. We are very much looking forward to resuming our conversation on this key element of the Christian faith, and invite any of you who are able to to listen in LIVE, at If you're unable to tune in live, you can, as always grab the podcast, which should be made available tomorrow. The Covenant Radio podcast can be subscribed either at iTunes, Zune, or from this direct address.

If you've not got a copy of this book, get one - it's well worth the extremely low price as a reminder of the greatness and glory of the Gospel message. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

0 Michael Horton on Covenant Radio: The Gospel-Driven Life, part I is Available

For those who didn't catch the broadcast live, the interview Bill Hill and I did tonight on Covenant Radio with Dr. Michael Horton on his new book, The Gospel-Driven Life is now up and available iTunes, Zune, or from this direct address.

This is only Part I of a two-part interview - we could have gone on easily for 2 more hours. As it was, we took an extra half hour of Dr. Horton's time than we had previously arranged, and we're glad he was able and willing to do so. The central issue Horton explores in The Gospel-Driven Life is, as you might guess, The Gospel - the good news of Jesus Christ and His finished work and completed salvation of His people. The message of the Gospel is simple - an announcement - GOOD NEWS - concerning Christ and His atoning work by which sinners are saved. Dr. Horton presents the Gospel clearly in this book, and discusses the desperate need of the church to return to that fountain of grace daily for strength for our journey. We are most certainly looking forward to December 17, 6pm EST when we'll pick up the conversation again, and invite any of you who are able to to listen in LIVE, at

Again, though the horse is dead, I'll beat it again: If you've not got a copy of this book, get one - it's well worth the extremely low price as a reminder of the greatness and glory of the Gospel message. You'll be glad you did.


Late news:

Apparently the Gospel message that Horton presents in this book is insufficiently wise (or something?) for some internet pundits. The claim at the linked blog post is that Horton does not understand the Gospel (because he puts it simply, I suppose, in terms of the finished work of Christ for His people!) Despite what is claimed in that blog post, and fully to the contrary, Horton has, in The Gospel-Driven Life, given one of the soundest and clearest definitions of the Gospel, and a clarion call to the church to rely upon the Gospel for in it, and in it ALONE does she find her salvation. Fools stumble upon this point - but then so did the works-oriented Jews of Christ's day:
Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,as it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." (Rom 9:32-33 ESV)

but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24 ESV)
See two good comments addressing this silly controversy of Horton's clear understanding of the Gospel:

at Old Life Theological Society
at De Regnis Duobus

0 Tonight, LIVE on Covenant Radio, 6pm EST, December 3: Michael Horton and The Gospel-Driven Life

At Covenant Radio tonight, starting at 6pm EST, 3pm PST, we will be doing a special LIVE broadcast of our interview with Dr. Michael Horton on his book, The Gospel-Driven Life. (To join the live chat and get the live audio stream, go to The chatroom will open at about 5:45pm EST)

As I have noted already in this blog, this book is a fantastic analysis of the impact of the gospel on our lives and the problems inherent in viewing the gospel as merely the initiation of the Christian life, as is common today. Horton urges us daily to be mindful of the gospel as THE central truth of our daily walk, and indeed the totality of our lives from beginning to end - and warns against the erroneous conceptions of the gospel that are prevalent in today's church. Bill and I are very much looking forward to our discussion with Dr. Horton, and invite you to join us LIVE tonight at 6pm EST.

Also, stay tuned on this blog for more discussion of issues Horton brings up in The Gospel-Driven Life. Again, for those interested in joining in on the live chat and discussion, please see this link: If you're unable to tune in live, you can, as always grab the podcast, which should be made available tomorrow. The Covenant Radio podcast can be subscribed either at iTunes, Zune, or from this direct address.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

0 Acts-style Evangelism

1. Proclaim the judgment of God on all mankind.
2. Proclaim the Gospel truth, which is that Christ has fulfilled the Scriptures.
3. Baptize the many who, convicted of their sin and of the truth of the Gospel, cry out in belief, throwing themselves upon God's mercy in Christ.

(adapted from p. 93 of Dr. Michael Horton's excellent work, The Gospel-Driven Life)

Why can't we do it that simply? If the Word of God is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe, why can't its simple proclamation (in the whole counsel thereof) be sufficient for us? God cannot be marketed. The Truth simply must be proclaimed, and the results left to God.

Hear more at this blog, or at Covenant Radio this Thursday as we interview Dr. Horton on the program. You can subscribe to the podcast here.

0 Having Been Brought from Death to Life

From today's reading:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14 ESV)
The message is simple enough: live as one who has been brought from death to life. Do we really hear this for what it says, though?

It's easy enough to read passages like this and think to onesself, "Sure, I am supposed to stay clear of wickedness - and as long as I'm free from sins of adultery, murder, etc., I'm good before God in this respect." However, the Lord has much more for us than that simplistic and prideful result. What does God mean when He says, through Paul, to live as those who have been brought from death to life?

As I read these words this morning, I spent a little time pondering this question, and realizing that as much as I might know that merely eschewing the truly gross sins of our age is not all God intends for us here, I slip into that mindset quite easily. What I believe we're to find in Christ is true freedom from sin, great and small... freedom truly to rest in our identity as those raised with Christ to the heavenlies, raised with Him in His resurrection, and DEAD to sin. If all we do is satisfy ourselves with avoiding the deadly seven, we're not really experiencing the freedom that we would otherwise experience. Sin in any degree must become something we are prepared at all costs to root out and cast into the fire. It has to become distasteful - rather than becoming something we like to dabble in while simultaneously excusing ourselves for it with a blithe "God understands I'm not perfect yet." Am I calling for us to be spending every second of every day morbidly inspecting ourselves for vestiges of sin? No - but if we truly begin to comprehend the magnitude of the offensiveness of sin in God's eyes, we will - I believe Scripture affirms this - naturally come to a sufficient hatred of sin that even the little things will become distasteful enough to us to cast aside.

We are to live as those whose death penalty has been commuted - whose place at the gallows has been taken by another who did not deserve the punishment we richly deserved. Knowing the righteousness with which God views us in Christ cannot - MAY IT NEVER BE, Paul says - lead to licentiousness. Rather - it must lead us to adopt a new perspective towards God's commandments and towards sin. God's commandments must become ever more lovely to our eyes, and sin ever more distasteful and ugly. We must be driven to our knees in repentance - daily repentance, as Luther cried at the dawn of the Reformation - and driven to seek a righteous path; not to earn salvation, but to joyfully revel in the salvation we have and to please our Heavenly Father who granted us Christ's righteousness and the faith to embrace it for ourselves, relinquishing all worldliness and seeking godliness in everything. From death to life. That is what journey we have been through, and what journey we are on till Christ comes again or takes us home. Let us go forth, therefore, in joy and the peace of the Lord.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

0 When Persecution Arises, Pray for Boldness Rather than Deliverance

From today's reading, in Acts 4 -

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and sthe rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants5 to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31, ESV)
This passage is one that oftentimes I'll go to when discussing the fact of God's foreordination of all things, including the evil acts of men... however, today, what struck me was something that Dr. Richard Bacon reminded us of on Covenant Radio when we interviewed him last week. That is, that our normal response to persecution (however great or small) is to pray to God for deliverance from persecution, relief from the taunts, threats and violent actions of the persecutors, or something similar. However, when the Apostles faced imprisonment and possible death, when they were threatened concerning speaking the name of Christ, they did not pray for such relief. Rather, knowing what they had to do, they prayed for boldness.

Would that we had the spirit of these in the early church when facing persecution - violent or otherwise. Rather than shrinking back and wishing eyebrows weren't raised when we claim God's Word as truth, or Christ as the only way, why not pray for holy boldness to continue speaking truthfully? We know what is true - we know what is good - we know what is our duty. Perhaps we ought to consider more carefully how we ought to pray when faced with the derision of the world and the mocking glances of unbelievers. Let us look to those who have gone before us in order to find out a better way.

Friday, November 27, 2009

0 Upcoming on Covenant Radio: The Gospel-Driven Life

In preparing for our interview of Dr. Michael Horton on December 3 on Covenant Radio, I've been reading the book that we'll be discussing, The Gospel-Driven Life. (See some sample pages here) The book is a refreshing look at necessary correctives to the erroneous priorities the church in America (and elsewhere, but the target in this book is the church in the United States) has adopted in recent history. I'm certain the upcoming show will be an enjoyable and edifying discussion of this important issue... how the truth of the gospel must be recovered in the church, both for her health and for God's glory.

In the second chapter, entitled "The Real Crisis", this gem of a paragraph succinctly summarizes the view of God that we in America seem to have adopted corporately. As I read this chapter, I continually found myself shaking my head and saying, silently and reluctantly, "yup. That's where we are." Here's Horton's characterization of this crisis we face today:
"First, more like Mr. Rogers than the judge of all the earth, the sentimental deity of many Americans is incapable of wrath. Since he exists for us and our happiness, this heavenly friend may be disappointed and sad when we hurt ourselves, but he never sees sin as an offence primarily against himself and his perfect justice. Second, we may make mistakes - pretty bad ones, from time to time - but it would be wrong to call ourselves sinners, much less to imagine that we are captive to sin, helpless to do anything to will or work our way out of the mess. So, third, God brings us basically good people into a kingdom without judgment, since there is no law that could condemn and no gospel that could justify. And finally, for this sort of religious therapy you don't need a vicarious, atoning sacrifice if you are basically a nice person; what you really need is a good example." (p. 38, Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life)
And thus, here we are. Since God is love, the argument goes, we know deep down He really would just rather love us all and ignore what things we do wrong, if anything we do is really wrong at all, because things will turn out better if He does that. We can't call anything sin, because, well, some people disagree on what is sin and what is not, and who are we to call them wrong? Maybe we're wrong. Therefore sin is an outmoded and outdated concept, and we should really just be nice folks and not step on anyone else's toes. God understands.

This is the god that is often part of our civil discourse and our civil proclamations. This is not the Holy One of Israel - not the one who sent His Son to the Cross to atone for the sins of His people, facing the wrath that they rightly deserved. A view of God that does not include His righteous anger and wrath against sin is a view that fails the test of Biblical correctness - however politically correct it may be.

Horton has written this book in the style and with the scholarly care and vision that we've come to expect - and I think this book serves as an excellent followup to the equally important Christless Christianity. (See sample pages of "Christless Christianity" by clicking here) We certainly look forward to hosting Dr. Horton on Covenant Radio next week, and want to invite you to listen in when the podcast is released soon thereafter.

0 The Restoration of All Things

From this morning's reading:
18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:18-21 ESV)
Peter's sermon at Solomon's Portico in Acts 3 includes the curious phrase - "the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of the holy prophets long ago" - which indicates something very important about the coming of Christ after His first advent. There are those today - full preterists, a tiny subset of those who consider themselves Reformed - who argue that the 2nd coming foretold in Scripture occurred in 70AD when the Temple was destroyed. No doubt that event was a judgment on those who rejected doubt that much prophecy was fulfilled in that event. How anyone can seriously regard "the restoration of all things" as having been fulfilled in that event is far beyond me.

The context of this statement promising the 'restoring all things' is the context of Old Testament prophecy, which is clear, and can readily be admitted without giving over the argument to the full preterist. The restoration of which the prophets speak is hardly exhausted in the first advent. An example of these is the prophetic words of Isaiah in chapters 65 and 66 of his prophecy... one can only read those passages as fulfilled (especially considering their repetition in 2 Peter and in Revelation) if one has presupposed that all Old Testament prophecy must somehow be fulfilled already in the age of the early church.

Christ, in Acts 3, is said not to return until the time for the restoration of all things is here. The fact that that time of restoration has obviously not yet come should be quite apparent to anyone willing to look at the world in which we live today, at post-Resurrection history from 33 AD to today, and tpo actually look at what Scripture says about that time, rather than trying to satisfy preconceived ideas by fitting Scripture into the mold defined by those preconceived ideas. Christ is still promised to be returning - at the time of restoration of all things, at which all will be put right. God's promises are yea and amen - He is faithful to fulfill ALL that He has promised.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

0 Baptism and unbaptism?

From this mornings reading in the plan I'm following:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Romans 2:17-29 ESV)
The warnings here from Paul in Romans 2 are surely not merely for the Jew who rested in his circumcision as salvation... let's hear what Paul is saying to the church. A couple of messages I think the Apostle is giving us:

1.Be careful in judging the law-breaking of others, or of thinking of yourself as a guide for the blind - those who need a leading hand. When you know what is right and proper, it is easy to become judgmental about those whom you deem to be less mature in the ways of the Lord, and see yourself as an instructor for them. How easy this trap is to fall into! And, listening to the Apostle, how dreadful is the state of us who go here. When I am tempted to think ill of those professing Christians who struggle with heart (and other) sins - or of the world as the world sits in the swamp of sin the world exists in. My thoughts ought not to go (whether judged rightly or wrongly) to a comparison of their actions with God's Law, but to my own heart and my own actions. Am I guilty of the very thing that I accuse them of? Am I blind to my own violations of God's precepts? Much more profitable are those thoughts than my own judgments of others - and how much harder. It's terribly tempting to draw my eyes off myself and place them on others whom I can tread down in order to feel better about my own failings.

2. Baptism. How often is baptism trusted in - or the 'day of conversion' held up as the thing to trust when one is challenged through circumstances, doubts or otherwise, to think about his or her standing before God? Of what use is baptism if one has no concern about daily repentance and living with a view to serving the Lord each day and walking with Him? Baptism can be every bit as much an outward and useless ceremony as circumcision could be to the Jew of Christ's day and before. Where do we falsely trust in "things" while rejecting the only source and ground of trust? How do I make my baptism unbaptism by walking awry? We must always renew our repentant hearts, and cling to Christ and His Cross alone for salvation - and never place our faith and trust in acts and ceremonies. The temptation to place faith in walking the aisle or being baptized is strong... it's always easy to take the objective mark as the thing to which to cling - and that is a dangerous temptation indeed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

0 Wisdom calls... Who is Answering?

I started a new Bible reading plan today, and today among the passages I read was Proverbs 1, in which the following text appears:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice;

at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

"How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?"

Proverbs 1:20-22 ESV)

Does Wisdom cry aloud today? Certainly it seems to me that today's streets are filled with folly every bit as much, or more, than the streets were in Solomon's day. "How long?"

Whether it's the ridiculous and perverted antics of people on stage at the American Music Awards, or films that people pay $10 that glorify extramarital sex and rebellious living, the world is full of inane behavior and idiotic thought. The question for us, though, is ... where do we fall prey to unwise thinking and sketchy behavior?

Where do we allow culture to drive the church? Where do we blindly accept patterns of dress, standards of humor and interpersonal communication that the world presses on us? Where do we fail in trusting God, so that we are more concerned about how the world views our plain living than we are about living according to God's priorities? Where do we lose heart in standing firm on our beliefs, and on the infallibility and inerrancy of the God-breathed Word?

My reading in Proverbs 1 this morning gave me pause, again, to think anew about ways in which I fail in wisdom and its pursuit. I am encouraged though - for God promises wisdom to those who ask Him, the source of all Wisdom, for it:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5 ESV)

Blessings on all of you this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

0 Introducing Sola5 Radio: Live Reformed Programming

Covenant Radio is planning to set up a live streamed 24/7 Reformed internet radio station, entitled Sola5 Radio. Bill Hill, with whom I co-host CR's weekly programs, is taking charge of this venture, and we are pleased to announce the startup testing this week. At first, programming will be played from roughly 7am EST to 3 or 4pm EST. During the week of November 23, the plan is to go from 6am to 5pm EST. Monday the 23rd's planned schedule is:

All times Eastern

6-8 AM: Bible Reading and Music
8-9 AM: Old Testament Study: The Book of Genesis by Dr. Joel Beeke
9-11 AM: Music
11-12 Noon: Systematic Theology Lectures: Reformed Theology 101 by Greg Cumbee
12-1 PM: Music
1-2 PM: New Testament Study: Book of Romans by Dr. Alan Cairns
2-3 PM: Music
3-4 PM: Church History Lectures: History of the Reformation by Dr. Joe Morecraft
4-5 PM: Music

The rest of the week will look similar.

Starting 11/30/09, Lord willing, we will have a full 24 hour programming set each day, including rebroadcasts of Covenant Radio programs, more teaching and exposition, music and more. Please send any suggestions to us using the form at the Sola5 Radio blog.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

0 Deeper and Deeper

I think sometimes we often sanitize (I'll speak for myself here - *I* often sanitize) the history of the kings of Judah by counting them off: "good king, bad king, bad king, good king, bad king"... and think of "good" vs. "bad" as those who "did what was right in the Lord's eyes" and even "tore down the high places", vs. those who "did NOT do what was right in the eyes of the Lord" and "did NOT tear down the high places". Then there are the middling kings like Azariah (2 Kings 14) and his son Amaziah (2 Kings 15) who "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away." (2 Kings 15:3-4) In any case, I tend to read these histories in sanitized terms wherein what was bad about these kings was that they didn't stop the people from worshipping other gods.

This picture falls apart in 2 Kings 16, when we come to Ahaz - and gets even worse by the time of Manasseh in 2 Kings 18.

Ahaz, by contrast to some of his ancestors in the kingly line, is said positively to have adopted the practices of the people whom the Lord had driven out before the people of Israel, even to the point of having sacrificed his son. (2 Kings 16:3) As if this weren't wickedness enough, the story is related of his pleas to Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrian king to rescue him from the Syrians, and the subsequent visit with the Assyrian in Damascus upon the defeat of the Syrians. (2 Kings 16:5-11) Upon this visit, Ahaz, apparently wowed by the splendor of the pagan altar at Damascus, instructs Uriah the priest to build a copy at Jerusalem. Ahaz then returns, and shoves the holy altar of God aside, and replaces it with the pagan altar, which Ahaz then proceeded to use for his own sacrificing. The rest of the chapter is then full of descriptions of Ahaz's own desecration of the holy things of God that Israel had been instructed in the Torah to build for the Lord's service.

This despicable man reigned in Judah for about two decades - was succeeded by Hezekiah, and then the even more beastly Manasseh who held pagan worship in the Temple of God, as we read in chapter 21 of 2 Kings.

I had forgotten about how wicked Ahaz's practices were, wherein the holy temple was effectively desecrated by the replacement of those things that God had commanded by instruments of pagan worship. I had forgotten because I think I had sanitized the Judahic kings' practices with the words "bad kings" and "walking in the way of the kings of Israel" rather than thinking of their practices as truly wicked and despicable.

I then take pause to take a look at my own heart... wherein have I replaced the things of God, and thoughts of him with useless things of this world? Let us not look at Judah's sins as though they alone are guilty of setting God aside.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1 Knox on Family Worship

Nathan Bingham posted the following wonderful piece at his blog. Here are John Knox's thoughts on Family Worship - thoughts that echo a commitment to the Word and an evaluation of the responsibility of fathers to lead their houses well, particularly as it relates to making the home Christ- and Word-centered.

John Knox writes:

Dear brethren, if you look for a life to come, of necessity it is that you exercise yourselves in the book of the Lord your God. Let no day slip or want some comfort received from the mouth of God.

Open your ears, and he will speak even pleasant things to your heart. Close not your eyes, but diligently let them behold what portion of substance is left to you within your Father’s testament. Let your tongues learn to praise the gracious goodness of him, whose mere mercy has called you from darkness to life. Neither yet may you do this so quietly that you admit no witness. No, Brethren, you are ordained of God to rule your own houses in his true fear, and according to his word.

Within your houses, I say, in some cases, you are bishops and kings; your wife, children, servants, and family are your bishopric and charge. Of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently you have instructed them in God’s true knowledge, how you have studied to plant virtue in them, and [to] repress vice. And therefore I say, you must make them partakers in reading, exhorting, and in making common prayers, which I would in every house were used once a day at least.

But above all things, dear brethren, study to practice in life that which the Lord commands, and then be you assured that you shall never hear nor read the same without fruit. And this much for the exercises within your homes.

Taken from a letter he wrote in 1557 before he left Scotland for exile in Geneva.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

0 Importance of Family Catechesis

Wes Bredenhof, pastor in the Canadian Reformed Churches, and blogger at Yinkahdinay posted an important reminder concerning the use of catechisms in bringing up our children in the training and admonition of the Lord. We are in a day in which the going assumption is that it is the church's responsibility to teach our children religion, and that parents are to get out of the way. I'm not merely speaking here about those who believe their children "need to find their own religion" or "don't want to coerce my kids into any particular belief system" that pervades the secularist society.... I'm talking even about good evangelical parents who desire their children to follow in their footsteps. The primary teacher of religion is taken to be the church, and, contrary to the clear commands in Deuteronomy 6, all teaching of any substance is given over to the Sunday School teacher and their flannelgraphs.

The Synod of Dort, and the Westminster Assembly, too, for that matter, were very clear on the identity of the shoulders upon which the responsibility for training children in the faith lie: those of the parents, and of the father as head of the home. Wes's comments on the Synod of Dort's declarations are timely and appreciated.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

0 Flavel: The Peace of A Clear Conscience

A friend and I have been reading through the Works of John Flavel for a couple of years, despite his still living in Ithaca, NY and our having moved out to Iowa 6 years ago. Thanks be to God for technology that lets us mull over the writings we're reading as though we were at the breakfast table together.

Today's reading included a discussion of the fact that if one desires to be rid of distracting fears and annoyances, one should, as Flavel puts it,
"be careful to maintain the purity of his conscience, and integrity of his ways, in the whole course of his conversation in this world." (p. 304, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)

At the outset, Flavel writes that fears that we have can often arise out of our own disobedient carriage:
"Look, as fear follows guilt and guile, so peace and quietness follow righteousness and sincerity, Prov. xxviii.1, The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." (p. 304, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)
Courage for the Christian and suppression of fears comes most readily to those who have no rational reason for worries and doubt - the degree to which we carry ourselves in uprightness, Flavel argues, is deeply connected to the degree to which we will be free of needless, worldly fears. When conscience is clear, we will be naturally much more restful. From what comes a clear conscience? We must first know that in Christ we are held close and justified - righteous by faith, a la Romans 5:1 -

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We must know this, that we are righteous in the eyes of God by the washing with the blood of Christ and the cleansing of our sin - else we cannot possibly have any peace. With this peace, we can pursue lives of integrity without fear because we know that we are righteous in Him, and free to walk, albeit erringly, in an endeavor to glorify Him in our lives. We needn't be fearful of a misstep that is deserving of God's wrath (as all missteps are). We rather are free to serve and love Him as he gives us grace upon grace. As Flavel later quotes, speaking of Paul's comfort and freedom from slavish fears,
"Christians have always found it a spring of courage and comfort, 2 Cor. i.12, 'For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our sonsciences, that in simplicity, and godly sincereity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.' Their hearts did not reproach them with by-ends in religion: their consciences witnessed that they made not religion a cloak to cover any fleshly design, but were sincere in what they professed: and this enabled them to rejoice in the midst of sufferings." (p. 305, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)
Flavel offers some helpful suggestions for keeping our consciences clear and avoiding sin that can do damage to our confidence in the Lord and give rise to fears, doubts, and torment of soul. I have found this list, which both encourages and challenges, to be extremely helpful as I stumble along in my inconsistencies. Walking in Christ, knowing I am safe in him, these words are very helpful, for ultimately as a child of God I must and do long to please my Father. Here is this list, in brief, with which I close today.
"1. Over-awe your hearts every day, and in every place, with the eye of God. This walking as before God will keep you upright, Gen. xvii.1. If you so speak and live as those that know God sees you, such will be your uprightness, that you will not care if all the world see you too...

2. Do no action, undertake no design, that you dare not preface with prayer; this is the rule, Phil. iv. 6. Touch not that you dare not pray for a blessing upon; if you dare not pray, dare not to engage; if you cannot spend your prayers before, be confident: shame and guilt will follow after.

3. Be more afraid of grieving God, or wounding conscience, than of displeasing or losing all the friends you have in the world besides...

4. What counsel you would give another, that give yourselves when the case shall be your own...David's judgment was very upright when he judged himself in a remote parable.

5. Be willing to bear the faithful reproofs of your faults from men, as the reproving voice of God; for they are no less when duly administered... it is said of Sir Anthony Cope, that he shamed none so much as himself in his family-prayers, and desired the ministers of his acquaintance not to favor his faults; but tell me, said he, and spare not.

6. Be mindful daily of your dying day, and your great audit-day, and do all with respect to them." (p. 306, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

0 Rev. Jason J. Stellman on Covenant Radio -Thursday, October 29, 7:30pm EDT

"The one luxury the church does not have is to apologize for her archaic, idiosyncratic, otherworldly and countercultural characteristics and attempt to dilute her saltiness (wherein her true worth and beauty lie). Yet the heavenly flavor of orthodox ecclesiology is in danger of being lost by a contemporary ministry that wants to domesticate our faith and subject it to the fickle bar of public opinion. Such pandering is a shameless mixture of the ethos of heaven and the ethic of earth, the foolishness of God and the wisdom of men. To peddle our priceless religion using the techniques of the market will result in the ghettoization of God's people into the very niches that covenant theology disallows." (pp. 38-39, Jason J. Stellman, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet)

The above words were written by the next guest on Covenant Radio, which podcast will be recorded Thursday, October 29. Bill Hill and I have the distinct privilege of interviewing Rev. Stellman (blogger at De Regnis Duobus: Cult, Culture and the Christian's Dual Citizenship) concerning his recent book, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet. Rev. Stellman, in this book, has put forth a strong critique of modern Christianity and the confusing blend of the preferences of the world with the practice of the church that it promotes. He pulls no punches, and sets forth an attractive, convicting and convincing argument for the maintenance of our distinctiveness as Christian pilgrims in the world, as we are simultaneously in the world but steadfastly refusing to be of the world.

Please also consider going to Covenant Radio to grab the podcast as soon as it's made available - you can subscribe to get regular deliveries of our programs via RSS or iTunes. I'm sure you'll enjoy it and our other programs - and if the book we're promoting this week is of interest, make sure and grab a copy, available here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

0 Faith and Love Forever Joined

Paul Bayne's excellent exposition of Ephesians continues to bless with its concise formulations of truth - in treating the Apostle's transition from praise to thanksgiving in Ephesians 1:15, Bayne writes this:
"The use of this doctrine [that 'faith and love are never disjoined, but go each in hand one with the other.'] is, to shew how unjustly they slander us as teaching a faith alone without other graces, when we hold, according to the Scripture, that there can be no true faith without love, nor love without true faith; for the first is but a dead carcase, this latter is but blind devotion, neither is pleasing to God. Indeed, we teach that faith justifieth us alone without other graces, not in regard of their presence, but in regard of their co-working with faith to this effect of our justification. It is one thing to say the eye is in the head without other senses, and another thing to say the eye doth see alone, no other sense seeing with it." [p. 88, Paul Bayne, Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Tentmaker Publications]
The Scriptures are plain that faith alone is the instrument by which Christ's righteousness is apprehended - by which we are justified. The presence of other grace-gifts of God is not denied when one argues that we are justified by faith alone. What IS denied is that any other grace has anything to do with the standing of a person before God as righteous or unrighteous. Our works contribute nothing. Our holy attitudes contribute nothing. Our obedience in thought word and deed, in other words, contribute nothing to our standing before God as righteous - for our works are as filthy rags. We are justified in that our trust is in God's promises in Christ and we relinquish all self claims whatsoever - and believe ON Him for salvation. This faith, too, is a gift -we deny that anyone ever conjures up faith to believe on his own, by his own abilities.

Scripture is equally plain that God blesses those He blesses with faith, with other graces as well - perseverance and sanctification, to name two - each of which are found in the justified believer, but NEITHER of which play any role whatsoever in that believer's status as justified. It is slanderous to argue, as some have, that we teach a justification by a faith that has no accompanying graces - that a bare assent is sufficient unto justification.

Interestingly enough, it seems that Paul Bayne in 1618 (when the comments on the first chapter of Ephesians were published) was facing similar opposition to new legalists who wish to join faith and works on the part of the believer in procuring justification.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

0 Upcoming at Covenant Radio

For those who might both read my blog and listen to the Covenant Radio broadcast, you are probably already aware that I've joined my good friend Bill Hill as a co-host of that program, wherein we seek to discuss recent books and topics from the perspective of a Reformed Worldview, and with a common confessional foundation that we both share in the Westminster Standards. Currently we broadcast live at (normally) 7:30 EDT, but we also record the broadcast and podcast it via iTunes. If you've not subscribed, you can find subscription info in the right-hand sidebar at this site.

For those that read my blog but don't subscribe to the Covenant Radio podcast, I'd encourage you to do so. It's a great pleasure to join Bill in hosting CR, and I am pleased to say that we have some very good programs coming up - including one this Thursday evening with Dr. Ken Talbot, who will be discussing his recent book, Confirming Our Faith: A Reformed Covenantal Theology of the Sacraments.

This book is near and dear to my heart, as it is written in response, in part, to the grievous sacramental errors of the Federal Vision movement. I'm very much looking forward to our discussion on Thursday.

Also upcoming on Covenant Radio are the following broadcasts and our interviewees:
These are but a few of the upcoming broadcasts. Later this year, we'll have Michael Horton on the program to discuss his new book, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World, on December 3, 2009 - and then in January, we very much look forward to talking with Joel Beeke on January 7, 2009 on the subject of Christian Piety. Keep an eye on this blog for upcoming program announcements and discussion of topics from our shows on Covenant Radio.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

0 More Word Studies in Bibleworks 8.0

As I continue to acclimate myself to BibleWorks 8.0 and its search and study capabilities, I'm finding out more and more how powerful and intuitive the interface is. The speed with which things can be done might be somewhat daunting in fact - but taking it in after a couple of weeks I have to retain my initial enthusiasm for this software. It is truly a time saver for working on original text study. You can purchase Bibleworks 8.0 directly from the company here, or at outlets such as Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore, at this link.

Among the very helpful capabilities that BW8 includes is the ability via the Resources window to find all references to the verse currently displayed in the Browse window in every unlocked resource. This can be particularly helpful when studying verse-by-verse for teaching (as I am) or preaching - it also seems to be a convenient springboard for comparing lexical entries as I often do.

If the Analysis window/tab is open in the right-hand pane of the standard BW8 layout, then as you browse the text that you're studying, the contents of the pane will update to reflect the verse (or word) that you are hovering over. For the lexicons, this means that every word entry in the given lexicon that makes reference to the verse (in the screen below, Ephesians 4:18) has a line on which you can click to bring up the lexicon window at that entry. At the top of each section in the Resources window that corresponds to a lexicon is the lexical entry for the word your mouse happens to be over at the moment.

I find this feature - the line-by-line recording of every word referenced in a lexicon for the given verse to be VERY helpful as I go about studying a verse. Not only do the lexicons show up in the Analysis window, though, but so does every indexed and unlocked resource - including reference grammars, and the Early Church Fathers collection. Everything that has a reference to the verse you've got highlighted can be accessed from this window! An example below is shown from the Early Church Fathers, wherein I've chosen to pull up a reference given to Chrysostom's homily on Ephesians 4:17-19:

Returning to the lexicon entries - in this example, I'm working with the BDAG lexicon as my standard Analysis window version, which does not come standard with BW8, but which I received as a gift from a friend once he found out I had BW8. (I'll make another posting on the integration of BDAG with the rest of the lexicons in BW8 - but suffice it to say the integration is thoroughly seamless, and the addition of BDAG to the array of lexicons is WELL worth the additional price).

Again, I'm looking at Ephesians 4:18, and have opened the analysis tab, and have highlighted the participle ἐσκοτωμένοι. This form appears only once in the NA27 text, so the search window shows only the one instance.

As I did in a previous review - but this feature is really useful so I highlight it again here - in order to check the usage of the root verb σκοτoω, I clicked in the Analysis window on the root verb, which effectively gives me a search on all forms of the verb in the NA27 + LXX text (the combined analyzed text is very nice - for searching automatically on both the NT and the LXX):

With this I can see the 9 verses wherein the word σκοτoω appears in its various forms (8, as it turns out) in the NA27 and the LXX. Further, for more detail, I can grab the lexical entry for σκοτoω in the pop-up Lexicon Window by highlighting it and clicking on it:

In the lexicon text window (and in the Analysis window, for the lexicon that is displayed - another excellent user-customizable feature) the Scripture references are highlighted - and are clickable to bring up the text. However, what I've found more useful (or differently useful?) is the tooltip that comes up when you mouse over the reference in the Lexicon text. This makes a study of the contextual usage of the word the lexicon entry covers very easy to do rapidly. The tool tips simply pop up with the Scripture reference you've chosen to display (my choice, ESV for the english and BGT, the Greek NA27+LXX compilation BW put together) shown for your easy consultation. See below for an example:

As it turns out, the example above highlights an interesting textual variant - σκοτιζω appears in the Byzantine (essentially the Majority text) textform at Ephesians 4:18, while the verb σκοτoω is found at this place in the critical NA27 text. So, that prompted another study which was easy to do, comparing these words and their presence in the Scriptures. One can easily change the search version that BibleWorks references by clicking on any word in the desired version in the Browse window (or by clicking on the left-most button on the bottom of the BibleWorks window to change manually to whatever version is desired). Then, if I repeat the steps above I can find the lemma in the Byzantine text for σκοτιζω - and compare it to that for σκοτoω, finding a couple instances in the New Testamenet where the Byzantine text and NA27 text differ on this point.

Again, the presence of the tooltips for showing verse-by-verse context of each lexicon entry, the easy switching of search versions from one to another make for a profitable time spent in the Word. It's hard to characterize this tool as anything but powerful and easy to use, and effective for researching in the original Biblical texts. It is cliche to say, but the possibilities are truly endless. Again, if these reviews are helpful to you and your interest is piqued, you can purchase Bibleworks 8.0 directly from the company here, or at outlets such as Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore, at this link.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

0 The Prophets of Baal and Lukewarmness

In this morning's reading I came to 1 Kings 18, a familiar chapter, at least in the latter half. In the midst of the chapter, we find this text:
17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, "Is it you, you troubler of Israel?" 18 And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." (1 Kings 18:17-19 ESV)
What follows, as you may recall, is the confrontation of Elijah and the prohphets of Baal, where Elijah brings heaps of derision upon the false god Baal to whom the prophets of Baal made pleas to their god to no avail. My focus in contemplating this chapter this morning was not on that episode, however, but on these verses. Ahab, one of the more plainly wicked kings of Israel, is brought to meet Elijah, whose arrival Ahab's house manager Obadiah (not to be confused with the prophet) had announced. "Troubler of Israel" is the moniker with which Ahab addresses Elijah - and Elijah rejects that label in no uncertain terms, turning the tables on the wicked king. How this reminds me of our own times today.

Who is regarded as the troublemaker? Who does the church (writ large) view as the ones who are most troublesome? Is it not the one who follows in Elijah's footsteps and plainly speaks and expounds the Word of the Lord, the full counsel of God? When denominations go downhill as many have who is it that, in the end, is made out to be the bad guy? Who is it that is called "pharisaical" and "persnickety"? Is it not the one who rejects the morphing of the church into the world and the appeasement of worldly opinions, the taking up of humanistic perspectives, and the adoption of practices borrowed from secular entertainment? "Oh, you troublemaker - can't you see we need to change with the times?" "Don't you realize that the Pharisees were just like you, insisting on a strict reading of Scripture?"

As Solomon wrote so frequently in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.

Following this passage, we find in 1 Kings 18:20-21,
20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:20-21 ESV)
In thinking over this and reading the next few verses of 1 Kings 18, I am reminded of Christ's words to the luke-warm church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-18.
15 "'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:15-18 ESV)
"If God be God, then zealously cling to and follow Him and heed His Word!" If you do not believe that, then eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die - and stop pretending a commitment to the God of Scripture! DThe message from Elijah and from Christ is the same. Toss the world aside with its opinions, perspectives and practices, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to be conformed to His image. Cast off the shackles of expectation that the world places on you, and live simply in His grace, committed fully to His ways and eschewing the priorities the world demands that we uphold. The world looks often at Scripture as a source of bondage, and wholesale commitment to the Lord and His commands as imprisonment and suppression of self.

In Truth, it IS suppression of self. Self-denial is the destruction of the fleshly desires that we carry in us thanks to the first Adam. True liberation of self, unto a holy and Christlike walk, however, is far from bondage - it is freedom, and the only freedom we need or ought to desire or pursue. I'm quite content to be seen as a 'troubler of Israel' if commitment to that true freedom brings such comments.

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