"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas thought from Athanasius

"The achievements of the Saviour, resulting from His becoming man, are of such kind and number, that if one should wish to enumerate them, he may be compared to men who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves. For as one cannot take in the whole of the waves with his eyes, for those which are coming on baffle the sense of him that attempts it; so for him that would take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, it is impossible to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, as those which go beyond his thought are more than those he thinks he has taken in.

Better is it, then, not to aim at speaking of the whole, where one cannot do justice even to a part, but, after mentioning one more, to leave the whole for you to marvel at. For all alike are marvellous, and wherever a man turns his glance, he may behold on that side the divinity of the Word, and be struck with exceeding great awe."

Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word. ch 54, 4-5 (free version here, buy here)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We're All Judaizers Now (?)

"So the error of the Judaizers is a very modern error indeed, as well as a very ancient error. It is found in the modern Church wherever men seek salvation by "surrender" instead of by faith, or by their own character instead of by the imputed righteousness of Christ, or by "making Christ master in the life" instead of by trusting in His redeeming blood. In particular, it is found wherever men say "the real essentials" of Christianity are love, justice, mercy and other virtues, as contrasted with the great doctrines of God's Word. These are all just different ways of exalting the merit of man over against the Cross of Christ, they are all of them attacks upon the very heart and core of the Christian religion. And against all of them the mighty polemic of this Epistle to the Galatians is turned."

-J. Gresham Machen (Commentary on Galatians)

[Hat Tip: Nick Batzig]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Athanasius on Sola Scriptura

[The Scriptures] are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.'

...But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful for the Righteousness of Christ

Isaac Watts penned a line that I believe summarizes the gospel in one verse: "The best obedience of my hands / Dares not appear before thy throne; But faith can answer thy demands / By pleading what my Lord has done." This Hymn by Isaac Watts is simply headed: "The value of Christ, and his righteousness.

Phil. 3:7-9.

No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of thy Son.

Now, for the love I bear his name,
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to his cross.

Yes, and I must and will esteem
All things but loss for Jesus' sake:
O may my soul be found in him,
And of his righteousness partake!

The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before thy throne;
But faith can answer thy demands
By pleading what my Lord has done.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Great Prayer

At the end of Morning Prayer, Rite Two, of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is this prayer which I think is a great opening to a day of ministry:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Death is not your Friend

Over the past 6 months, I have seen a lot of death. I've seen people seem to drift off quietly, like into a deep sleep. I've seen seemly endless chest compressions on someone drifting in and out of consciousness, scared and begging not to die. I've seen a man gag as the last breaths will not come into his lungs.

I've also seen many reactions to death. Seeming acceptance, perhaps hiding a denial. I've seen a raging at the world, God, or the random forces of nature. I've seen cheerful demeanor that accompanies words of celebration.

And in these times, I've heard many words about death. And of all the words I've heard, a certain class always makes me cringe. It is not the despair over death. It is not the anger over death. It is the belittling and minimizing of death. “He looks so peaceful.” or “death can be healing.”

Death is not your friend. Death is never good. Death is not peaceful, but the most violent thing that befalls man. Death is the ultimate curse (Gen 2:17). Death is last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death is what we look forward to ending (Rev 21:4).

When we see tears in the eyes of a mourner, my desire is that we will not belittle the reality of death. We ought not try to say that death is good. (inverse of Rom 14:16) We ought not call what is our curse and enemy good. But we can look forward to the end of death. Good may follow, but will never be death. Mourning and anger are not to be corrected when facing death, but truly expressed and addressed with a hope that is not death, but life.

Death is never good.

Death is not your friend.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Robe, not a Cape.

D.G. Hart has a quick bit of logic in favor of ministers donning a plain, simple robe in corporate worship. I think he is right on about ministers:

"Isn’t the nature of their work to get out of the way and let the word and Spirit do the work? And wouldn’t a robe that hid personal idiosyncrasies of sartorial preference and cultural breeding be a good way to remind the pastor that his work is not finally about him, his taste, or his social standing? "


Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Christian Civil Discourse

Professor Carl Trueman has a thought provoking article on civil discourse in America for Christians. If we understand the injunction to "honor your father and mother" as being about honoring those placed in power above us as Larger Catechism Question 128 states:

Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.

If that is our understanding, we should be careful with the names we throw around like "fascist" and "marxist." I'd probably want to dialogue about the application of such a reflection with Trueman, but I think he gets an interesting conversation started:


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Current Reading: Marrow of Modern Divinity

I've started to read this book for fun in my few free moments. (Yes, I read theology for fun in my free time.) The Marrow of Modern Divinity is a classic book by an unknown author that sparked a controversy in Scotland in the 1700's. in this work, a gospel minister talks to a legalist and an antinomian and explains (in question and answer form) why true faith is neither legalistic and merely moralistic, nor is it libertine and unconcerned with right living. so far the chapter on Adam has been very profitable. Buy this book and read it to your spiritual betterment.

And if you don't want to bother with all that reading, you can get a good introduction to the controversy by Sinclair Ferguson in audio form: here

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reflection on Luke 12:32-40

Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
You Must Be Ready

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Of Thieves and Treasure

Today's text offers enough metaphors and images that a passive listener will become easily lost in the quick flow of flocks, purses, thieves, treasure, weddings, masters, servants, banquets, houses and unexpected hours. Within this small section, however, there are a few phrases or images that unsettle us, and will certainly wake us up if we drifted off in the hearing.

“Sell your possessions.”
A master serving servants.
A thief, coming in the night.

There is much that is valuable to us that sends our lives into chaos if they are taken from us. Money, important documents, our reputations, our health, the lives of loved ones. We fear the loss of those things we value, those things we treasure, those things we love.

And Jesus says, “Fear not little flock”

Have you ever noticed how it doesn't seem to work to tell someone to not feel or think something? If I were to say to you “Don't think about purple elephants” what are you thinking about? Probably purple elephants. Merely saying “Don't fear” doesn't stop fear.

But Jesus does not merely tell us “Don't fear” like we say “no worries” and think that answers it. No, Instead our first verse in 32 says “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

But what are the riches that Jesus promises the faithful?

How do you measure the riches of God? Do you look around and say, I know I ought not to fear because I can look around at how God has blessed me with my house, bank statement, car, and even friends and family. Certainly these are things we might be thankful for, but if that is how we know God is good, what happens when those things become unstable? What happens when like in the past two years, many of our houses have been pulled out from under us, our retirement accounts are looking weak or two years has left us in poorer health? Some think that God's treasure and lavish riches are the abundance of tangible things and if that is true if they falter and when the rug comes out from underneath of us, we will turn to God and cry, “thief!”

A fellow chaplain friend of mine commented on interacting with someone years ago that had a shirt on that read “He who dies with the most stuff wins.” The obvious question is: Wins what? You can't take toys with you. The problem of our treasure that fades and rots is not to get more temporary treasure.

And “faith” can be used improperly as a way to attempt to avoid pain or suffering or loss. I cringe whenever I hear someone is going through a rough time or poor health or pain and someone says its because of their faith. That's Bull. Jesus had that question multiple times (with a building that collapsed, with a man born blind) and rejected that answer each time.

Faith here frames pain, suffering and loss. Faith brings us through pain, it does NOT exempt us from pain. Through real loss, faith is valuing the valuable, counting the temporary with its true limited worth, and the eternal with infinite worth. It as not as though we can do without the temporary. Food is here today and rots tomorrow, yet we still need food. Man cannot live on bread alone, but man needs bread. In verse 30, Jesus referring to food and clothing affirms “The Father knows you need them.” What we are challenged with here is: what do we think we gain by valuing the temporary as if were permanent?

The kingdom of God that is talked of here is not merely more perishable stuff. Christ points us towards “treasure in heaven” and “purses that do not grow old.”

You see, it is not just “Don't fear” but Christ replaces our treasure with something different.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister, once preached a sermon whose content has mostly been forgotten except the title. “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” We are not merely told to sell our possessions but to replace them with this new treasure. We spoke of this treasure in our confession of faith, Colossians 1: The riches of the mystery which is Christ (given even to us). Christ GIVES and even more than that, IS the treasure of the kingdom.

How great are the riches, the treasure, we have in Christ? That we were once under the burden of the Law, and Christ fulfilled the Law in our place. That we once were owing the penalty of everlasting death, and Christ paid our penalty. That we were once at war with God, and now Christ has given us peace with God. That Christ was the one, according to Paul, “through whom God created the world” so that we have the riches of creation but especially of creation's renewal in Christ, that is the hope of resurrection. That once we were far off strangers and enemies and now we are the children of God. That we have the benefits of community in the family of God, however dysfunctional that family of God may seem at times.

Does it strike you that we have in Christ: the master sitting us down. Look at verse 37. It is meant to be a shocking image, as if the CEO of your company came and shined your shoes and served you lunch at your table. Christ is taking the posture of a servant, and serving us with this feast of benefits. That is the treasure and the riches we have by faith, which is Christ in us.

So an WE end, we must ask: Is that your treasure? Or do we have our heart and values set on things that will one day vanish. Do we value the temporary with everlasting hope. Then when they fade, it is as if Christ is a thief come in the middle of the night to steal what we value most.

Our selection of Scripture ends in verse 40 with the exhortation “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” It is a promise of end. It is the obvious reality that the temporary has an end. “End” is reality.

So why? Why do we put all our eternal hope in things temporal and temporary? Why do we become despondent when we see those temporary things do what temporary things do? When they disappear, when we get to the end, will Christ be our treasure we are reunited with - the odd master coming and serving and giving what is most valuable to us, his servants? or will he be the thief stealing what we really value most? You don't change what He does, but your faith and hope do change who He is to you in that moment.

So Who will Christ be? The thief of your fading treasure? Or will He be your everlasting treasure?

O Lord,
enable us to sell our possessions and the idols of our hearts
Enter in our resulting void and reveal to us the riches of salvation
And the glory of God shining in the face of Christ.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

White Horse Inn: On Justification

The latest episode of White Horse Inn was on justification. One of the best I've heard from them, they focus on the most important ignored doctrine in churches today:

On Justification and Imputation

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Torrance on Suffering and Incarnation

Lately I've been thinking about the problem of pain, suffering, and evil as related to God. In pastoral matters, it seems that God's sovereignty has a component, but left alone is insufficient when dealing with the topic. Ultimately, the answer to the problem of pain, suffering and evil is the Incarnation (and the Atonement). That lead me back again to Torrance's masterful work on the Incarnation which (despite its few errors) is so wonderful on the Incarnation:

"The agony of Jesus - and how he was constrained until it was accomplished - was that he was the judging God and the judged man at the same time, the electing God and the elected man at the same time, and in this unspeakable tension he remained absolutely faithful as the Son of God and Son of Man." (113)

"[Christ] stooped to shoulder our weakness, astheneia, and to bear it as our high priest, as our shepherd priest before God, so that by his stripes we are healed. The term astheneia on the pages of the New Testament is a profound term speaking of the disease of the body and of the soul, and so his compassion met the double need of the sick and the sinful." (134)

"'From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence'...How does the kingdom of God press in, how does it storm into the hearts of men and women? By the cross. But the cross is the kingdom of God suffering violence, and there we that the weakness of God is stronger than man, so that the preaching of this cross, where the kingdom suffers violence, is the power of God...like Elijah, John had misunderstood the violence of God and was offended at the weakness of Jesus, but in Jesus the still small voice of God has become flesh, and that was more powerful than all the imaginable forces of nature put together and unleashed in their fury" (149-150)

T.F. Torrance. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Gospel of Divine Grace the Only Means of Converting Sinners

The Gospel of Divine Grace the Only Means of Converting Sinners; and Should be Preached Therefore Most Clearly, Fully, and Freely.

a Poem by Ralph Erkine

They ought, who royal grace's heralds be,
To trumpet loud salvation, full and free;
Nor safely can, to humour mortal pride,
In silence evangelic myst'ries hide.

What heav'n is pleas'd to give, dare we refuse;
Or under ground conceal, least men abuse?
Suppress the gospel-flow'r, upon pretence
That some vile spiders may suck poison thence?

Christ is a stumbling-block, shall we neglect
To preach him, lest the blind should break their neck?
That high he's for the fall of many set
As well as for the rise, must prove no let.

No grain of precious truth must be suppress'd,
Though reprobates should to their ruin wrest.
Shall heaven's corruscant lamb be dimm'd, that pays
Its daily tribute down in golden rays?

Because some, blinded with the blazing gleams,
Share not the pleasure of the lightning beams.
Let those be hardned, petrify'd, and harm'd,
The rest are mollify'd and kindly warm'd.

A various favour, flowers in grace's field,
Of life to some, of deat to others yield.
Must then the rose be vail'd, the lily hid,
The fragrant favour stifled? God forbid.

The revelation of the gospel-flow'r,
Is still the organ fram'd of saving pow'r
Most justly then are legal minds condemn'd,
That of the glorious gospel are asham'd:

For this the divine arm, and only this,
The pow'r of God unto salvation is.
For therein is reveal'd, to screen from wrath,
The righteousness of God, from faith to faith!

The happy change in guilty sinners case
They owe to free displays of sov'reign grace;
Whose joyful tidings of amazing love
The ministration of the Spirit prove.

The glorious vent of the gospel-news express,
Of God's free grace, thro' Christ's full righteousness,
Is Heaven's gay chariot, where the Spirit bides,
And in his conqu'ring pow'r triumphant rides.

The gospel-field is still the Spirit's soil,
The golden pipe that bears the holy oil;
The orb where he outshines the radiant sun,
The silver channel where his graces run.

Within the gospel-banks his flowing tide
Of lightning, quickning motions sweetly glide.
Received ye the Spirit, scripture saith,
By legal works, or by the word of faith?
If by the gospel only then let none
Dare to be wiser than the wisest one.

We must, who freely get, as freely give
The vital word that makes the dead to live.
For ev'n to sinners dead within our reach
We in his living name may most successful preach.

The Spirit and the scripture both agree
Jointly (says Christ) to testify of me.
The preacher then will from his text decline,
That scorns to harmonize with this design.

Press moral duties to the last degree;
Why not? but mind, lest we successless be,
No light, no hope, no strength for duties spring,
Where Jesus is not Prophet, Priest, and King.

No light to see the way, unless he teach;
No joyful hope, save in his blood we reach;
No strength, unless his royal arm he stretch
Then from our leading scope how gross we fall,
If, like his name, in ev'ry gospel-call,
We make not him the First, the Last, the All!

Our office is to bear the radiant torch,
Of gospel-light, into the darkened porch
Of human understandings, and display
The joyful dawn of everlasting day;

To draw the golden chariot of free grace,
The darkned shades with shining rays to chase,
'Till Heaven's bright lamp on circling wheels be hurl'd,
With spark'ling grandeur round the dusky world;

And thus to bring, in dying mortals sight,
New life and immortality to light.
We're charg'd to preach the gospel, unconfin'd,
To ev'ry creature of the human kind;

To call, with tenders of salvation free,
All corners of the earth to come and see:
And ev'ry sinner must excuseless make,
By urging rich and poor to come and take:

Ho, ev'ry one that thirsts, is grace's call
Direct to needy sinners great and small;
Not meaning those alone, whose holy thirst
Denominates their souls already blest.

If only those were call'd, then none but saints;
Nor would the gospel suit the sinner's wants.
But here the call does signally import
Sinners and thirsty souls of every sort;

And mainly to their door the message brings,
Who yet are thirsting after empty things;
Who spend their means no living bread to buy,
And pains for that which cannot satisfy.

Such thirsty sinners here invited are,
Who vainly spend their money, thought, and care,
On passing shades, vile lusts and trash, so base
As yeilds the immortal souls no true solace.

The call directs them, as they would be blest,
To choose a purer object of their thirst.
All are invited by the joyful sound
To drink who need, as does the parched ground,
Whose wide-mouth'd clefts speak to the brazen sky
Its passive thirst, without an active cry.

The gospel-preacher then with holy skill
Must offer Christ to whosoever will,
To sinners of all sorts that can be nam'd;
The blind, the lame, the poor, the halt, the maim'd,

Not daring to restrict th' extensive call,
But op'ning wide the net to catch 'em all
No soul must be excluded that will come,
Nor right of access be confined to some,

Though none will come till conscious of their want,
Yet right to come they have by sov'reign grant;
Such right to Christ, his promise, and his grace,
That all are damn'd who hear and don't embrace:

So freely is th' unbounded call dispen'd,
We therein find ev'n sinners unconvinc'd;
Who know not they are naked, blind, and poor,
Counsell'd to by, or beg at Jesus door,
And take the glorious robe, eye-salve, and golden store.

This prize they are oblig'd by faith to win,
Else unbelief would never be their sin.
Yes, gospel-offers but a sham we make,
If ev'ry sinner has not right to take.

Be gospel-heralds fortify'd from this
To trumpet grace, howe'er the serpent hiss.
Did hell's malicious mouth in dreadful shape
'Gainst innocence itself malignant gape;

Then sacred truth's devoted vouchers may
For dire reproach their measures constant lay.
With cruel calumny of old commence'd,
This sect will ev'ry where be spoke against.

While to and fro he runs the earth across
In spite of hell be then our constant strife
To win the glorious Lamb a virgin wife.

* The Accuser of the Brethren (Rev. 12:10)

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Reflection: The Pastor and the Theologian

Problem: An Academic Theologian chaffing under the requirement to be confessionally, theologically orthodox at a Christian Seminary when studying academic subjects.

Problem: A pastor that sentimentalizes his sermons with no regard to theological content.

Attempted Answer in Axiom: Every theologian must be a pastor, and every pastor must be a theologian.

Both of these problems are weeds from the same rotten soil: The loss of the concept of the pastor-theologian. Today, seminaries and Christians will divorce the academy and the church. One can argue that one is academically focused, and therefore should be free from the limits of orthodoxy. Another can argue they are going into ministry and thus are not as concerned with theology as they are with people.

Both of these people have divorced what should not be divorced. Every theologian should be a pastor, and every pastor should be a theologian. The theologian has a responsibility to orthodoxy, not mere learning. The pastor has a responsibility to right teaching, not merely people.

The theologian who is not a pastor is often arrogant, self-directed, and enamored with novelty and notoriety. The pastor who is not a theologian is often intellectually lazy, a poor shepherd of the mind and injurious as often as nurturing to his flock. The academic-only has no regard for the spiritual life of the flock, and kicks at all authority put over them, be it the confines of orthodoxy or the severe judgment that awaits them from God. The pastor-only chaffs at real authority that is given to them, rejecting their authority over the flock and thrives on sentimentality, taking offense at any challenge to the rightness of their feelings.

However, the academic theologian will always be too proud to submit to the authority of Scripture and the church, and the pastor-only will always be too proud to admit their deficiencies in feeding the flock. Both can only be changed by the humiliation and convicting work of the Spirit. May they both be brought to repentance that we might worship God truly with our mind. May we be brought to repentance when we reject correction of our hubris against the limits of orthodoxy and the high call to the office of pastor-elder.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

In Our Own Image

Can we make images of God? Many (heck, most) Christians do. We make images of God for art, worship and teaching. But are we supposed to? The Second Commandment is:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God"

Wes White has a thought-provoking reflection on this problem:

"God cannot be pictured. Such an attempt is a breaking of the second commandment. It is not only wrong to worship images of God, we need to understand that we are forbidden from making images of God."

I think he makes a pretty good case from Scripture. I would be interested in a conversation that engaged this interpretation from Scripture. Most interaction and objection I have seen and I tend to have come from personal preference and feeling, which is not a good objection. And if it is true, I think we need to rethink our piety:


Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Hurtfulness of Not Preaching Christ

The Hurtfulness of Not Preaching Christ, and Distinguishing Duly Between Law and Gospel

a Poem by Ralph Erkine

Hell cares not how crude holiness be preach'd,
If sinner's match with Christ be never reach'd;
Knowing their holiness is but a sham,
Who ne'er are marry'd to the holy Lamb.

Let words have never such a pious shew,
And blaze aloft in rude professor's view,
With sacred aromatics richly spic'd,
If they but drown in silence glorious Christ;

Or, if he may some vacant room supply,
Make him a subject only by the by;
They mar true holiness with tickling chat,
To breed a bastard Pharisaic brat.

They wofully the gospel message-broke,
Make fearful havock of their Master's flock;
Yet please themselves and the blind multitude,
By whom the gospel's little understood.

Rude souls, perhaps, imagine little odds
Between the legal and the gospel roads:
But vainly men attempt to blend the two;
They differ more than Christ and Moses do.

Moses, evangelizing in a shade,
By types the news of light approaching spread;
But from the law of works, by him proclaim'd,
No ray of gospel-grace or mercy gleam'd.

By nature's light the law to all is known,
But lightsome news of gospel-grace to none.
The doing cov'nant now, in part or whole,
Is strong to damn, but weak to save a soul.

It hurts, and cannot help, but as it tends
Through mercy to subserve some gospel-ends.
Law-thunder roughly to the gospel tames,
The gospel mildly to the law reclaims.

The fiery law, as 'tis a covenant,
Schools men to see the gospel-aid they want;
Then gospel-aid does sweetly them incline
Back to the law, as 'tis a rule divine.

Heaven's healing work is oft commenc'd with wounds,
Terror begins what loving-kindness crowns.
Preachers may therefore press the fiery law,
To strike the Christless men with dreadful awe.

Law-threats which for his sins to hell depress.
Yea, damn him for his rotten righteousness;
That while he views the law exceeding broad,
He fain may wed the righteousness of God.

But, ah! to press the law-works as terms of life,
was ne'er the way to court the Lamb a wife.
To urge conditions in the legal frame,
Is to renew the vain old cov'nant game.

The law is good, when lawfully 'tis used,
But most destructive, when it is abused.
They set not duties in the proper sphere,
Who duly law and gospel don't sever;

But under many chains let sinners lie,
As tributaries, or to DO or DIE.
Nor make the law a squaring rule of life,
But in the gospel-throat a bloody knife.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Why I am not Psalms-only acapella

I have been in a few churches that are Psalms-only or acapella (no instruments). While I think the Psalms-only churches may have a leg up on other churches in that their learned worship music is all Scriptural and an aid to learning large chunks of Scripture, I don't believe you can demand from Scripture that everyone conform to that in worship. If I did, I would have to:

1. Ignore Paul's adoption (and implicit support) of early hymns

Any New Testament Greek scholar will tell you the form of Phil 2:5-11 and Col 1:15-20 are in the form of early hymns in the early church, most likely that Paul quotes to affirm their accuracy and help him remind his readers of their truth. The NA27 text arranges it that way. So I would have to get an older Greek text that doesn't do that.

2. Change Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19

These seem to suggest the psalms are in the corpus, rather than the exclusive corpus, of the songs of the church. It has been suggested that these refer to three types of psalms, so to have it make more sense, I would have to change them like so:

Col 3:16- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns psalms and spiritual songs more psalms, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

3. Edit the Psalms

Now that you are singing the Psalms, you will run into a little problem in that they tell you to use instruments and to sing new songs. So to be super true to the word of God, as it seems David was not, I would have to edit these to:

Psalm 150:3-6 -Praise him with trumpet sound; your voice
praise him with lute and harp! your voice
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; your voice
praise him with strings and pipe! your voice
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; your voice
praise him with loud clashing cymbals! your voice
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

Psalm 149:1-4- Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song, psalm
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
2 Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
3 Let them praise his name with dancing, standing still,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! your voice
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.

Thus, I cannot be of the camp that submits that all worship music is to be sung without instruments and only from the Psalms. That said, it wouldn't be a bad idea to sing a Psalm every now and again in worship, especially the whole psalm (not just the praise section) and all the types of psalms (praise, lament, etc).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Law is not of Faith

My friend, pastor Jay Bennett, recently preached a sermon on the text "Gal. 3:11-12, "Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, ‘For the righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’" Which, according to his own summary includes the themes and thesis:
Themes: Law and Gospel, liberty of conscience, justification
Thesis: Confusing the principles of Law and Gospel (Works and Faith) undermines the truth of the gospel.

Take a listen here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Richard Sibbes on Union

I was reading Richard Sibbes and this section jumped out at me. Sibbes almost completely parrots Calvin on this point, but it is interesting how Sibbes frames the importance of Union. The Spirit in uniting us to Christ is spoken of as granting faith, assurance and making the purchased benefits of Christ's ours. For Sibbes, Union seems like another way of speaking of imputation and how imputation is a reality and not merely a legal fiction. I'm not quite sure about Sibbes' full thoughts on imputation and union, comments are welcome:

"But you will say, the liberty of justification is wrought by Christ; we are justified by the obedience of Christ; and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.

Answer: It is true that Christ is our righteousness. But what is that to us unless we have something to put it on? Unless we are united to Christ, what good do we have by Christ, if Christ is not ours? If there is not a spiritual marriage, what benefit do we have by him if we do not have him to pay our debt? For his riches to be ours and our debt to be his, there must first be a union.

Now this union is wrought by the Spirit. It is begun in effectual calling. From this union there comes a change: his righteousness is mine, as if I had obeyed and done it myself; and my debts and sins are his. This is by the Spirit, because the union between Christ and me is by the Spirit. For whatever Christ has done, it is nothing to me till there is a union.

And likewise, freedom is by the Spirit, because the Spirit of God works faith in me not only to unite and knit me to Christ, but to persuade me that Christ is mine, that all his is mine, and that my debts are his...so with this reflexive action [faith], the Spirit brings liberty in justification; just as it is a means of union by which all that is Christ's becomes mine, and mine becomes Christ's."

-Richard Sibbes. Glorious Freedom: The Excellency of the Gospel above the Law. pg 34-35

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What is the Bible About?

Justin Taylor posted a Youtube video that takes a clip from a talk by Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian PCA in New York) to answer that question. [I like the content even if I'm not a fan of all the iconography the compiler used, and thought I would largely repost it because the content is so good]:

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

The Bible’s really not about you—it’s about him.

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Old Hymns

When my wife's grandfather's church started using guitars in their service, he complained that all they sang was 7-11 songs: seven words, sung eleven times. Issac Watts, Gadsby, Wesley and Luther had been replaced by Chris Tomlin, Third Day and Matt Redman. The exchange left a dearth of theological content to the songs the congregation was to sing as worship. Lately, some artists and churches have recognized they have been robbed by contemporary artists that have more musical passion than theological knowledge. Without chucking the guitar, many have begun to bring back the meaningful lyrics of the old hymns to new musical arrangements for guitars and a folksy style. Here are a few of the groups if you tire of being told to "sing to the Lord" without being told why:

Indelible Grace: Based in Nashville Tennessee, Reformed University Fellowship PCA pastor Kevin Twit enlists the few Reformed leaning artists in the Christian Music scene (Derek Webb, Andrew Osenga, Sandra McCracken, Dan Haseltine - of Jars of Clay, etc) to put old hymns to new music. I think this is the best produced of those engaged in this project of new old hymns.

Red Mountain Music: a Church in Alabama started their own goal of putting old hymns to new music. They have especially focused on Gadsby's hymnal and William Cowper's hymns and poems, returning the lament to our hymn catalog.

Sandra McCracken - new old hymns: Two of Sandra's hymns have focused on new old hymns, many of which have ended up on the Indelible Grace albums. (BTW - this is Derek Webb's wife)

Soujourn Music
: a community church influenced by Indelible Grace, I am less familiar with their works.

Matthew Smith: one of the artists involved with Indelible Grace, his solo projects pick up on the theme and include many great selections not on Indelible Grace's albums.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Who Said it?

Guess, without Googling: Which Dead Theologian wrote these comments from Psalm 59 on 1) The uselessness of our own righteousness, 2) the lack of anything good in ourselves to bring to God 3) the role of preaching the law in bringing us to terror?

Commenting on Psalm 53:3
"For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me"

"There are also other men strong, not because of riches, not because of the powers of the body, not because of any temporally pre-eminent power of station, but relying on their righteousness. This sort of strong men must be guarded against, feared, repulsed, not imitated: of men relying, I say, not on body, not on means, not on descent, not on honour; for all such things who would not see to be temporal, fleeting, falling, flying? but relying on their own righteousness.…“Wherefore,” say they, doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners? (Matt 9:11) O ye strong men, to whom a Physician is not needful! This strength to soundness belongeth not, but to insanity. For even than men frenzied nothing can be stronger, more mighty they are than whole men: but by how much greater their powers are, by so much nearer is their death. May God therefore turn away from our imitation these strong men.…The same are therefore the strong men, that assailed Christ, commending their own justice. Hear ye these strong men: when certain men of Jerusalem were speaking, having been sent by them to take Christ, and not daring to take Him (because when he would, then was He taken, that truly was strong): Why therefore, say they, “could ye not take Him?” And they made answer, “No one of men did ever so speak as He.” And these strong men, “Hath by any means any one of the Pharisees believed on Him, or any one of the Scribes, but this people knowing not the Law?” (John 7:45-49). They preferred themselves to the sick multitude, that was running to the Physician: whence but because they were themselves strong? and what is worse, by their strength, all the multitude also they brought over unto themselves, and slew the Physician of all.…"

And on Verse 10:
Behold what is, “My strength, to Thee I will keep:” on myself I will in no ways at all rely. For what good thing have I brought, that thou shouldest have mercy on me, and shouldest justify me? What in me hast Thou found, save sins alone? Of Thine there is nothing else but the nature which Thou hast created: the other things are mine own evil things which Thou hast blotted out. I have not first risen up to Thee, but to awake me Thou hast come: for “His mercy shall come before me.” Before that anything of good I shall do, “His mercy shall come before me.”

And on the Law: "The Conscience is not to be healed, if it be not wounded. Thou preachest and pressest the law, comminations the judgment to come, with much earnestness and importunity. He Which hears, if he be not terrified, if he be not troubled, is not to be comforted."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

John Owen on the Law

One of my favorite works by John Owen is "The Dominion of Sin and Grace." (Buy book here) Here, Owen deftly expounds on the Biblical teaching of the dominion of sin, and the dominion of grace (and also issues of Law and Gospel) that helps Christians understand both the failure and victory in sin we have as believers. I've highlighted my favorite parts.

The ground of this assurance is, that believers are “not under the law, but under grace.” And the force of this reason we may manifest in some few instances:—

First, The law giveth no strength against sin unto them that are under it, but grace doth. Sin will neither be cast nor kept out of its throne, but by a spiritual power and strength in the soul to oppose, conquer, and dethrone it. Where it is not conquered it will reign; and conquered it will not be without a mighty prevailing power: this the law will not, cannot give.

The law is taken two ways:— 1. For the whole revelation of the mind and will of God in the Old Testament. In this sense it had grace in it, and so did give both life, and light, and strength against sin, as the psalmist declares, Ps. xix. 7–9. In this sense it contained not only the law of precepts, but the promise also and the covenant, which was the means of conveying spiritual life and strength unto the church. In this sense it is not here spoken of, nor is anywhere opposed unto grace. 2. For the covenant rule of perfect obedience: “Do this, and live.” In this sense men are said to be “under it,” in opposition unto being “under grace.” They are under its power, rule, conditions, and authority, as a covenant. And in this sense all men are under it who are not instated in the new covenant through faith in Christ Jesus, who sets up in them and over them the rule of grace; for all men must be one way or other under the rule of God, and he rules only by the law or by grace, and none can be under both at the same time.

In this sense the law was never ordained of God to convey grace or spiritual strength unto the souls of men; had it been so, the promise and the gospel had been needless: “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law,” Gal. iii. 21. If it could have given life or strength, it would have produced righteousness, we should have been justified by it. It discovers sin and condemns it, but gives no strength to oppose it. It is not God’s ordinance for the dethroning of sin, nor for the destruction of its dominion.

This law falls under a double consideration, but in neither of them was designed to give power or strength against sin:—

1. As it was given unto mankind in the state of innocency; and it did then absolutely and exactly declare the whole duty of man, whatever God in his wisdom and holiness did require of us. It was God’s ruling of man according to the principle of the righteousness wherein he was created. But it gave no new aids against sin; nor was there any need that so it should do. It was not the ordinance of God to administer new or more grace unto man, but to rule and govern him according to what he had received; and this it continueth to do forever. It claims and continues a rule over all men, according to what they had and what they have; but it never had power to bar the entrance of sin, nor to cast it out when it is once enthroned.

2. As it was renewed and enjoined unto the church of Israel on Mount Sinai, and with them unto all that would join themselves unto the Lord out of the nations of the world. Yet neither was it then, nor as such, designed unto any such end as to destroy or dethrone sin by an administration of spiritual strength and grace. It had some new ends given then unto it, which it had not in its original constitution, the principal whereof was to drive men to the promise, and Christ therein; and this it doth by all the acts and powers of it on the souls of men. As it discovers sin, as it irritates and provokes it by its severity, as it judgeth and condemneth it, as it denounceth a curse on sinners, it drives unto this end; for this was added of grace in the renovation of it, this new end was given unto it. In itself it hath nothing to do with sinners, but to judge, curse, and condemn them.

There is, therefore, no help to be expected against the dominion of sin from the law. It was never ordained of God unto that end; nor doth it contain, nor is it communicative of, the grace necessary unto that end, Rom. viii. 3.

Wherefore, those who are “under the law” are under the dominion of sin. “The law is holy,” but it cannot make them holy who have made themselves unholy; it is “just,” but it cannot make them so, — it cannot justify them whom it doth condemn; it is “good,” but can do them no good, as unto their deliverance from the power of sin. God hath not appointed it unto that end. Sin will never be dethroned by it; it will not give place unto the law, neither in its title nor its power.


Men under the law will attend unto their convictions, and endeavour for a while to shake off the yoke of sin. They will attend unto what the law saith, under whose power they are, and endeavour a compliance therewith; many duties shall be performed, and many evils abstained from, in order to the quitting themselves of sin’s dominion. But, alas! the law cannot enable them hereunto, — it cannot give them life and strength to go through with what their convictions press them unto; therefore, after a while they begin to faint and wax weary in their progress, and at length give quite over. It may be they may break off from some great sins in particular, but shake off the whole dominion of sin they cannot.

It is otherwise with them that are “under grace.” Sin shall not have dominion over them; strength shall be administered unto them to dethrone it.

“Grace” is a word of various acceptations in the Scripture. As we are here said to be under it, and as it is opposed unto the law, it is used or taken for the gospel, as it is the instrument of God for the communication of himself and his grace by Jesus Christ unto those that do believe, with that state of acceptation with himself which they are brought into thereby, Rom. v. 1, 2. Wherefore, to be “under grace” is to have an interest in the gospel covenant and state, with a right unto all the privileges and benefits thereof, to be brought under the administration of grace by Jesus Christ, — to be a true believer.

But the inquiry hereon is, how it follows from hence that sin shall not have dominion over us, that sin cannot extend its territories and rule into that state, and in what sense this is affirmed.

1. Is it that there shall be no sin in them any more? Even this is true in some sense. Sin as unto its condemning power hath no place in this state, Rom. viii. 1. All the sins of them that believe are expiated or done away, as to the guilt of them, in the blood of Christ, Heb. i. 3, 1 John i. 7. This branch of the dominion of sin, which consists in its condemning power, is utterly cast out of this state. But sin as unto its being and operation doth still continue in believers whilst they are in this world; they are all sensible of it. Those who deceive themselves with a contrary apprehension are most of all under the power of it, 1 John i. 8. Wherefore, to be freed from the dominion of sin is not to be freed absolutely from all sin, so as that it should in no sense abide in us any more. This is not to be under grace, but to be in glory.

2. Is it that sin, though it abides, yet it shall not fight or contend for dominion in us? That this is otherwise we have before declared. Scripture and the universal experience of all that believe do testify the contrary; so doth the assurance here given us that it shall not obtain that dominion: for if it did not contend for it, there could be no grace in this promise, — there is none in deliverance from that whereof we are in no danger.

But the assurance here given is built on other considerations; whereof the first is, that the gospel is the means ordained and instrument used by God for the communication of spiritual strength unto them that believe, for the dethroning of sin. It is the “power of God unto salvation,” Rom. i. 16, that whereby and wherein he puts forth his power unto that end. And sin must be really dethroned by the powerful acting of grace in us, and that in a way of duty in ourselves. We are absolved, quitted, freed from the rule of sin, as unto its pretended right and title, by the promise of the gospel; for thereby are we freed and discharged from the rule of the law, wherein all the title of sin unto dominion is founded, for “the strength of sin is the law:” but we are freed from it, as unto its internal power and exercise of its dominion, by internal spiritual grace and strength in its due exercise. Now, this is communicated by the gospel; it gives life and power, with such continual supplies of grace as are able to dethrone sin, and forever to prohibit its return.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I thought I would update my list of Podcasts I listen to on iTunes

My Main Listening diet:

The White Horse Inn (Michael Horton and Friends discuss practical theology)

The Reformed Forum (a group of Reformed pastors interview theologians and talk books/theology)

Morning Prayer. A daily podcast with prayer and Scripture readings based on the Book of Common Prayer Morning Prayer service. Great for a 15 minute ride to work.

Other programs I will listen to on occasion:

(Westminster Seminary California)

Ordinary Means.
(Reformed pastors calling the church back to the Biblical Ordinary means of grace)

Issues etc. (Talk show produced by pastors associated with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod)

Ask Pastor John. A very short podcast series of reader questions that John Piper answers off the cuff.

9 Marks Interviews (Mark Dever)

NPR – Religion
(Stories on Religion from NPR from the week)

(Reformed discussion of theology)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vos on Legalism

"There are still abroad forms of a Christless gospel. There prevails still a subtle form of legalism which would rob the Savior of his crown of glory, earned by the cross, and would make of him a second Moses, offering us the stones of the law instead of the life bread of the gospel."

-Geerhardus Vos. Anthology. pg 181

(Matthew 7:9 - "which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?")

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

God without Christ?

Came across this great quote on Reverand Paul McCain's Website:

He who wants to know God, love God, worship God, and serve God should learn to know Christ aright, should love Christ, should worship Christ, and serve Him. To know, love, worship, or serve God without Christ is impossible.

-Martin Luther

Monday, August 09, 2010

Valley of Vision editor

I had wondered a few times about the compiler of "Valley of Vision," a book of Puritan prayers that has been personally rewarding and our church sometimes uses for worship. Justin Taylor has posted a short biography of the man, Arthur Bennett, that was an evangelist to the homeless and greatly ministered to by the early puritan movement, especially in the piety of prayer.

"Who is Arthur Bennett?"

Friday, August 06, 2010

Sinclair Ferguson on Holiness

I've been trying to listen to more of Sinclair Ferguson's sermons lately, as they have been recommended to me by several people. These I found particularly helpful. Doctrinal, serious in their call to holiness (the topic addressed in these sessions) but also gospel-filled. Take a listen to these from a Ligonier Conference:

Titus 2:11-14 - Our Holiness: The Father's Purpose and the Son's Purchase

John 15 - Our Holiness: Abiding in Christ's Love

Friday, July 23, 2010

Evangelicals and Catholics Together...in Error.

I've been interested lately by the fact that many Modern Evangelicals and Catholics have a similar theology in some regards. I'm not talking about the catholic elements that all Christians share: doctrine of the Trinity, deity of Christ, etc. I have my own idea of it, but I thought I might ask here first:

What doctrine do many/most evangelicals (read: influenced by charismatics and anabaptists) and Catholics hold that Reformed/Lutherans do not hold?


What doctrine do both Evangelicals and Catholics deny that Reformed/Lutherans affirm?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Watching the Lutherans, and Violating the 10th Commandment

Something happened last week that few people in the PCA noticed (at least judging from the blogging world). Everyone, of course, noticed the passing of the Strategic Plan by a slim majority in the PCA. In doing so, it seemed to signal the slight majority looking to cultural cues and has moved away from her sister denomination the OPC, seeing her has a little too confessional and “truly reformed” but still does not embrace the mainline PCUSA. They're the evangelicals, not the liberals, not the fundamentalists (which many wrongly equate with confessionalism). In other words, the PCUSA tried to be culturally relevant and failed, but we can do it and we won't fail, because we're smarter or something.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, however, had a much different Synod. They have theirs less often (once every three years), and so their business is serious when they do. There are two groups, much like the PCA, vying for control. One is the confessionalists (to the Book of Concord) who are largely younger, and the other more relevant people (mostly older) who don't want to be like the Wisconsin Synod that seems too narrow in its confessionalism, and they think they can do the culturally relevant thing but not be like the ELCA, because they're smarter or something.

At the LCMS Synod, something interesting happened. The Confessionalists won. They elected their Synodical President Matt Harrison, they filled the mission agencies with confessionalists, all young ministers, and the party the young people found relevant was the confessionalists and not the culturally relevant guys.

It's just interesting. I hope the Strategic plan is not indicating the the “culturally relevant crowd” is winning in the PCA, but if it does, it will be interesting if a different Reformation denomination becomes more relevant to the emerging generation because they didn't try to be...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"High-Church" Preaching?

“You have a high-church approach to preaching, which is fine, but we're more used to practical preaching.

This was what I was told after outlining my plan to preach that the story of Jacob and Esau was about gracious election in Christ. In this class on preaching, I was told that contrasting the merit-based love of Isaac to the gracious love of God was not wrong, just high minded. It was fine, but depended on the forum. It was a thing of higher thinking, more complex with abstract connections.

I wondered: is that true? Is being theological or Christocentric/Christotelic (preaching with the end biblical theme of Christ) “high-church”? The person knew I was Presbyterian, and so perhaps that is where the comment came from. Most Presbyterians, however, would be quite surprised to hear they were high-church, having descended from non-conformists that thought the Anglican church was too high church. Still, Presbyterianism seems high church compared to typical non-denominational/charismatic worship.

Still, I truly wondered if it was true. Could people other than the highly educated 'get' a theological sermon? Depending on the audience, did one need to keep it simple, give some pithy imperatives and walk the congregation through some super specific hypothetical applications and wrap up with a fun story?

If this is true, Protestantism is false. Theology makes up a good portion of the Scriptures - all of it in some sense, but a good portion in a proper sense. Are Paul's letters to be neglected in preaching? Are they to be translated into fun stories? Is Hebrews a book of shadows for the typical congregant? Protestantism believes in the intelligibility/perspicuity of Scripture. If it is not, we ought to be Gnostics or Catholics, but I repeat myself.

I preached my sermon on election, without ever even saying the word (we allow God to 'choose to love' even if we don't allow him to “elect”). It wasn't the best sermon in world. It wasn't my favorite of the ones I preached. It probably wasn't even the best delivered that day of three. But I was encouraged when one person caught me afterward and asked if I have opportunities to preach somewhere.

“Occasionally,” I replied.

“You should use that one, I needed it.”

Maybe doctrine and the Gospel are practical. Even with the flaws my sermon had, I do believe God rewards preaching the word of Christ, for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) If that's high church preaching, I think I'm in good company with Paul.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bruised Reed

a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
-Matthew 12:20/Isaiah 42:3

"After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks...hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising. There must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who 'was bruised for us' that we may know how much we are bound unto him. Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God's ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious good work with them. It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielfing and intractable are our hearts.

-Richard Sibbs. The Bruised Reed.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Prayers for the Sick

Throughout my time as a Chaplain this summer, I have prayed, multiple times a day, with the sick. Although I do not read my prayers from a prayer book or the Bible, I also don't think my own words are so grand as not to be helped by Scripture and wise holy men's prayers. Here are a few that I read occasionally and use to form my own prayers with patients:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

-2 Corinthians 1:3-5

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in
time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and
relieve thy sick servant N. for whom our prayers are desired.
Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him with
a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations
of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In
thy good time, restore him to health, and enable him to lead
the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant
that finally he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- Prayer for a sick person, Book of Common Prayer.

Strengthen your servant N., O God, to do what he has to doand bear what he has to bear; that, accepting your healing
gifts through the skill of surgeons and nurses, he may be
restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-Prayer before Operation. Book of Common Prayer.

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;
In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace,
and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.


Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your
servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of
your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your
own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the
glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the
mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

-A Commendation at the Time of Death. Book of Common Prayer

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
- Psalm 23

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Proverbs of Ashes

I recently re-read Richard John Neuhaus' little book "As I Lay Dying," a book written in reflection over a period of time where, struggling with cancer, Neuhaus thought he was going to die. We all think a lot about life, and the "good life." Few think, however, about death or a "good death." Such a thing seems contradictory. Death is bad. This world seems very indifferent to death:

Psalm 103:15-16 - As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Neuhaus states:

"Our little story is one of unrequited love for a world that moves on."

The Poet Stephen Crane put it so well:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."
I find a strange comfort that Scripture does not ignore these feelings. Job's horrible comforters who merely offered religious sounding cliches left him saying:

"Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay." (Job 13:12)

Faith doesn't shut us up in asking why. It doesn't even shut us up from confronting God:

"Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my case to His face." (Job 13:15)

Neuhaus has made me re-explore these sentiments. I appreciate his take because he too worked as a chaplain, among those journeying through the shadow of death. Sometimes people shout, sometimes they parrot proverbs of ashes, and sometimes they hope in God, even as they argue their case to his face. I don't think it is the role of the counselor to shut the Jobs of the world up with proverbs of ashes, but to be there to listen to it. If we are, as believers, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) then our conduct should be like the great high priest, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses." (Heb 4:15) Rather, we "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep," (Rom 12:15) just as Christ wept (John 11:35). He was present and He sympathized. Our observations about the crookedness and perversity of the world are valid, they are the reason we need Someone to hope in, and sit next to, while we are slayed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chaplain Resources

As you have probably noticed, I have been quite busy and unable to post much lately. The reason I have been busy is that I am participating in a Summer Chaplaincy program at a Hospital. The experience has been very ecumenical, for good or ill, working at a Methodist Hospital with Baptist and Presbyterian supervisors, serving alongside others of all backgrounds.

I'm a confessional Presbyterian and love the homiletical and theological resources of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. However, so far, most of resources that I actually find useful on a daily basis are Anglican. I thought I might offer what I find helpful to others who may be doing hospital visits or chaplaincy work.

I began caring with me a Book of Common Prayer (BCP) into rooms. Yes, this is the 1979 version that everyone thinks is liberal, but it is actually very helpful, filled with prayers largely based on the services of Thomas Cranmer, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury that nearly made the Church of England Reformed. It contains a large number of prayers for the sick. If one is nervous about what to pray for, reading these prayers before entering the room can help the pastor know what might be good to pray for (healing, skill in nurses and doctors, comfort, salvation, etc.) The BCP also has a service/prayers for the family upon death, which helps if one is struggling for good words at this time. One of the best parts is the Psalter. Many who are sick wish to hear their favorite Psalms (23, 40, 46, etc) and this has a modern language version based on the NRSV, which is 98% the same as the ESV.

I recently picked up a combination Book of Common Prayer and NRSV Bible. If a patient, instead of a Psalm wishes to hear Romans 8 (or Romans 9 if they're Presbyterian), John 10, or something different, you are not scrambling for the Gideon or leaving and coming back with a Bible, or carrying multiple books awkwardly into the room. Again, yes this is the NRSV, but it is largely similar to the ESV except for some gender neutral language that is easy to change back while reading. This is better than lugging around the 1928 and trying to change all the "eths" and "thous" in reading which sounds overly formal and detached at a time that needs to be intimate.

Finally, driving to work can be intimidating each morning. So to help on the drive in, I have started listening to Morning Prayer put out by an Anglican Church in podcast form. It is mostly a reading of an Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel passage with prayer. The Scripture passages help form my prayer language throughout the day.