Faith at Work: Sola Scriptura (Robert Brady)

Tradition is helpful, but even Protestants can be guilty of treating Augustine and Calvin as a magisterium. This week, Dan Doriani encourages readers to have a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura.


The difference between Catholic and Protestant teaching is more subtle than people realize, for Catholics confess that Scripture is inspired, infallible, and authoritative. It is wise to remember, too, that the first Reformers were encouraged to study Scripture by scholarly Catholics: Staupitz told Luther to get his doctorate in biblical studies, Erasmus encouraged Zwingli’s studies, and Faber Staupulensis and Lorenzo Valla inspired others. The difference lies in our views of the sufficiency of Scripture.    

The Catholic position is that Scripture is part of God’s revelation. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) said Scripture “is the true rule and a foundation of faith for Christians.” Notice “a foundation,” not the foundation. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) explained: “The controversy between the heretics [Protestants] and ourselves focuses here on two points: first, when we affirm that the Scripture do not contain the totality of necessary doctrine, for faith as for morals… Apart from the Word of God written, it is necessary to have his non-written Word, that is to say, divine and apostolic traditions.”

So the RCC affirms prima scripture, the primacy of Scripture. Scripture is the primary source for theology, but not the final source. Tradition and church teaching effectively limit Scripture’s authority. If a matter is uncertain in Scripture, and tradition has an authoritative interpretation, then it has the final word…


Head over to Place for Truth to read the rest of the article! 

How to Discourage Your Minister in the New Year (Paul Levy)

I recently had someone come to see me who was struggling in their church. In all honesty it would have been hard to be more depressed by what they had to say. I had very little sympathy with their complaints and told them if they wanted affirmation I was the wrong man to whom they should come. However, on account of their coming to me, I want to give you 6 ways to discourage your minister in the New Year:

1. Attend Worship Services irregularly and be unreliable – Maybe attend 2 out of 4 services, sometimes 3 out of 4, but make sure it’s irregular. Nothing depresses ministers like people not being in church. The other thing to do is, when you’re asked about it, be defensive, clearly show to the person who’s asking that you’re ok and it’s no big deal; the church should be grateful you are there at all. If you’re asked to do something, or are on a rota, try to pull out as late as possible or even just not show up.

2. Grumble, moan and complain. – This is an obvious one but when you speak to people about church make them aware how unhappy you are, how unfriendly folk are, how the church isn’t focussed on you and people like you, that you don’t get much out of the preaching, songs are not good, nobody cares and throw in ‘It’s not just me that feels like this’. Compare and contrast with other churches who do things better, preferably bigger churches that have more resources.

3. Focus on minutiae of church life. – Chairs, coffee, timings of meeting, musicians, service schedules, publicity.

4. Speak to others in the congregation but not the leadership – This way word gets back to the leadership through others, ‘Some people are saying…’ ordinarily this is normally one person but nobody likes to name names so they will instead couch it in the plural.

5. When you come to worship, try to arrive late and leave as soon as possible. – It’s really difficult to catch folk who come late and leave immediately after the service. By doing this you’re not giving people the opportunity to speak into your life but it does allow you to use the ‘No one really speaks to me’ line.

6. Take things personally. – If there’s an invitation that you didn’t get, a notice that was given that was poorly worded, an email that didn’t mention you, a thanks that was given by someone in church leadership that overlooked you, a joke that you didn’t appreciate, someone who didn’t get to speak to you on a particular Sunday – make sure you take these as a personal slight and hold on to it.

On the positive side of this have a watch of Ligon Duncan – How to encourage your Pastor.

Posted January 7, 2018 @ 5:17 AM by Paul Levy

The Church Jesus Attends (Nick Batzig)

A friend of mine was recently speaking to a pastor of a large congregation about how things were going in ministry. This particular pastor proceeded to tell my friend that a prominent public figure was coming to speak at the church he pastored. He then went on to boast about the large turnout that they expected at this event. To this, my friend said, “Oh yeah. Jesus comes to our church every Sunday.” Though some might consider this to be a flippant, cynical or juvenile response, it is, in fact, one of the most under-acknowledged and under-appreciated truths to cherish. In every church where the word of God is faithfully proclaimed, the sacraments are rightly observed and discipline is administered, God has promised to attend His people with His presence. 

The true and living God has promised to manifest His presence when His people gather together to worship Him according to His appointed means of grace on the Lord’s Day. If we really believed that God manifests His presence in a special way in the gathered assembly, we would prepare ourselves accordingly to come into His presence. We would prayerfully desire to come every Lord’s Day in brokenness, humility, thankfulness and joy. We would, in the words of the writer of Hebrews, “draw near with boldness” (Heb. 4:16) as we come to worship Him in “reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul explained that Christ “came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Eph. 2:17). The question is, “When did Jesus go to the church in Ephesus and preach to those who would come to believe the Gospel?” There is only one possible answer. Christ was present in the preaching of the Gospel through the ministers He appointed. When the word is faithfully preached, Christ is preaching. The Apostle Peter explained this when he referred to Gospel ministers as “those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12). The Holy Spirit is none other than “the Spirit of Christ” who spoke in the Old Testament prophets about the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow (1 Peter 1:10-11). It was “by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18) that Jesus went and preached to those who were on the earth “in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20). Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) through whom Christ was preaching by the Holy Spirit. So it is with those men whom Christ has commissioned to preach today. Whenever Gospel ministers are preaching the word of God to the people of God through the Spirit of God, Christ is preaching through them. In a very real sense, in every true church where the word is faithfully proclaimed, the risen and reigning Christ is the minister who is preaching salvation and judgment.

The people of God should love Lord’s Day worship more than anything because of the confident anticipation that they are going to hear from God. The late Professor John Murray gave the following observation about God’s word:

“The Scripture is God speaking–as if we heard the word of God directly from heaven…I suppose that if we were told that at a certain location, on a certain day, at a certain hour a voice was to be heard from heaven–I suppose that if that were plainly certified…I am sure that all that community would be filled with people from hundreds of miles away. They would come from countries. I don’t suppose that the fields would hold them. They would be there out of curiosity, if for no other reason. And yet, in the Scripture we have the voice of God just as surely as if God the Father spoke directly from heaven in an audible voice. And it is more sure (2 Peter 1:19) because it is more permanent…with the Scripture there is a permanent deposit and it is the voice of God with continuousness. And, it is the voice of God just as if we heard God speaking to us directly from heaven.”1

We should also acknowledge that Jesus is present at the table when believers are gathered together in worship to feed on him by faith. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains the corporate nature of the Lord’s Supper in chapter 29.3:

“The Lord Jesus has, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.”

The corporate nature of the Supper is taught in 1 Corinthians when the Apostle came to address matters of the Supper. Paul repeatedly uses the phrase “when you come together,” after explicitly tying the observation of the Super to the weekly assembly on the Lord’s Day. In 1 Corinthians 11:18, he writes, “When you come together as a church…” After that, he repeats the phrase, “when you come together” three times (1 Cor. 11:20, 33 and 34). If there is any question about the meaning of this phrase, Paul again uses it when addressing how we are to conduct ourselves in the worship service (1 Cor. 14:26).

Then in WCF 29.7, we find the doctrine of the real, spiritual presence of Christ at the table when the divines assert the following:

“Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”

There is the promise of the covenant blessing of God attached to the worthy partaking of the sacrament. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). There is also the promise of covenant curses attached to the unworthy partaking of the sacrament in the warnings of 1 Cor. 11:27-32.

Finally, there is the promise of Jesus being present when the church gathers to carry out discipline, according to his word. Murray again explained:

“Many have more respect for the presence of people than the presence of the Savior. And, if numbers are the criteria for our esteem for the presence of God then we miss entirely the comfort of our Lord where he says, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them.'”2

Jesus is highlighting the collective nature of the judicial pronouncement of the elders of his church when he promises to make his presence known in this context. It is with a view of the church collectively conceived (Matt. 18:17)–making a judgment about the spiritual condition of a professing believer who refuses to repent. Jesus is promising his presence to the gathered assembly who are seeking to obediently carry out his ordained process of discipline (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3-5).

Jesus Christ is the King and the only head of the church. He mediates the presence of God to his people when he stands in the midst of the people of God who are gathered together to worship the living God. Jesus acts as the worship leader of the people of God (Heb. 2:12). He stands as the great High Priest of the Church, making the worship, prayers and praises of his people acceptable before the throne of God (Rev. 1:12-20). Whenever the people of God are gathered together to worship God in Spirit and in truth, according to the means that He has appointed for His church, God is present. Why wouldn’t we long to be gathered together with the people of God every Lord’s Day to listen to our great God and Savior speak, to receive his sacrificial service and to acknowledge his rule over us?

 

1. An excerpt from John Murray’s sermon, “Holy Scripture.”

2. An excerpt from Murray’s sermon, “Christ Among His People.”

2017: 10 Posts that You Loved Last Year (Robert Brady)

We looked at the most popular posts from across Alliance websites in 2017. Did you miss one of these last year? Do you want to read one your favorites again? Just click the article title! 


10Calvin’s Life: The Servetus Affair by Jeffrey Stivason

Opponents of John Calvin are quick to blame him for the trial and execution of Michael Servetus. But is that fair? Jeffrey Stivason offers a brief history of the event and Calvin’s involvement. 

9. Marital Love Must Be Sexual by Joel Beeke

This is the last in a series of posts about the Puritan view of marriage. The Puritans emphasized the romantic side of marriage, and considered monogamous sexual union in marriage as holy, necessary, and good. 

8. No Little Women: Know What We’ve Got Before She’s Gone by Grant Van Leuven

Grant wrote this beautiful piece in February, reflecting on femininity and the value of womanhood after the passing of his wife only five months earlier.

7. Game of Dethroning Sexual Sin by Nick Batzig

Should Christians watch a show like Game of Thrones, which is widely-acclaimed yet filled with explicit and debauched sexuality? Nick Batzig offers some insight into this divisive issue. 

6. Words Matter: Recovering Godly Speech in a Culture of Profanity by Jon Payne

“So what does the Bible teach about our words?” Jon Payne asks this question in an age of obscenity. His answer: “God created our mouths to be fountains of blessing, not gutters of cursing.”

5. Mike Pence, “Truth’s Table” and Fencing the Law by Richard Phillips

2017 was a year of conversations (and battles) over sexuality and gender. In this article, Richard Phillips navigates some difficult issues, pointing out both problems in the culture and pitfalls we face in the Church. 

4. A Few Questions About the New CBMW Statement by Aimee Byrd

The Nashville Statement, published in late August, offers what many consider to be an orthodox and biblical understanding of human sexuality. Yet Aimee Byrd has a few reservations, particularly related to the CBMW’s stance on gender roles and the Trinity. 

3. The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box by Richard Phillips

Some think it possible to flirt with liberal doctrines and still maintain orthodox faith in Christ. As the example of Fred Harrell shows, the slope towards heresy may be more slippery than they think. 

2. Sundays are for Babies by Megan Hill

Small children may disrupt your Sunday morning, but this day of rest is for them too! As Megan Hill remarks, “Sundays may mean disrupted naps and delayed meals, but our children are trading earthly provision for something far better for their undying souls.” 

1. Pray for Your Church Leaders by Christina Fox

Church Leaders and their families carry heavy loads, beset on all sides with stress and temptation. Christiana Fox calls us to remember them in our prayers, knowing that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). 


That’s all for now. We look forward to 2018, and to another year of proclaiming biblical truth!

Cultural Myths About Truth and Love (Harry Reeder)

A witness for Christ in any age–and certainly in this present age–requires a prayer-saturated, Christ-centered, Gospel-motivated, Bible-shaped, Spirit-filled and God-glorifying commitment to “speak the truth in love.” But this essential command for effective Gospel ministry to both those not yet saved and those already saved is easier said than done. The prevailing tendency is to sacrifice “speaking the truth” in the name of love, or to thoughtlessly speak the truth without love. We cannot truly love without speaking truth truthfully; and we can’t speak truth truthfully without loving intentionally and thoughtfully. You can “speak the truth” without loving but you can’t “love” without “speaking the truth.” To paraphrase a much more able Gospel minister from another age who confronted this issue with a clear, insightful and captivating observation: “Truth without love is barbarity, but love without truth is cruelty” (Bishop J. C. Ryle).

Because speaking the truth is central to an effective Gospel ministry, there is little doubt that Satan will devise as many reasons possible to discourage Christians from either speaking to those living in the death spiral of sin and idolatry; or to distract them from intentionally, thoughtfully and relentlessly loving sinners drowning in the brokenness of a sin-deceived life.

Furthermore, it is equally obvious that if Satan cannot silence the truth, he will attempt to trap us into speaking the truth without love. If he can’t stop us from loving, he will entice us to quit speaking the truth. He does this in two ways. First, Satan tempts us to minimize truth with meaningless euphemisms that disguise the horrific consequences and the irrationality and blasphemy of sin. Second, and often even more effectively, he will culturally intimidate us into outright silence in the name of love. Our diminished truth speaking or silence actually reveals that we are more interested in people loving us than we are in them knowing truthfully the love of Christ and being brought into the life-changing blessing of loving the Christ who first loved them.

So Satan–with an insatiable desire to reduce love into deeds that are void of truth or to communicate truth through self-righteous arrogance–today employs five deceptive myths:

Five Deceptive Myths

  1. To love someone, we must initially avoid speaking the truth about sin, the idolatry that produces the sin and its consequences for time and eternity. To love simply requires you to manifest Gospel deeds of love. Do not tell them the truth about sin, even though the love of Christ revealed in the Gospel is directly related to the reality of sin, the sinfulness of sin, and the wages of sin– which is death.
  2. To love someone you must accept them; and, to accept them you must accept their behavior. At the very least you must be silent about their sin, the rationale for its idolatry, and the lifestyle arrangements created to embrace that sin and affirm it as culturally acceptable–unless and until they give you permission to speak about it.
  3. To love others acceptably we must not simply speak in terms and vocabulary they understand, but only in the terms and vocabulary they approve and dictate (i.e. deceitful world view euphemisms)–e.g. adultery becomes an “extra-marital affair” or “recreational sex” or “hooking up”; homosexuality becomes “gay” or “an alternative lifestyle” etc.
  4. You have not loved someone acceptably unless they approve and affirm the truth you have spoken and the love you have given.
  5. You have not spoken the truth in love unless those to whom you have spoken are drawn to love you in return.

What is the Result?

In the present age the influence of these myths (when they are individually and/or collectively embraced) are almost always initially revealed by “selective truth speaking”–all of which is done in the name of “sensitivity.” The result is that many contemporary Christians following their leaders will sacrifice truth speaking in the name of love; yet, amazingly, they will boldly address the sins and prevailing issues that the culture agrees are undesirable. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with speaking to cultural sins (cultural sin and justice concerns must both be addressed, after all). However, though many boldly speak the truth on issues found on the list of “Culturally Approved Topics for Denunciation,” there is an astonishing silence about other prevalent issues the Bible clearly identifies as heinous sins. Why the silence? First of all, those who the masses confront are confronted with permission by today’s culture shapers. Many suppose that by speaking to these issues the cultural capital of the church will be enhanced. But in contrast, those sins–corporate, cultural, and individual–which are avoided, are the ones that have been declared off limits because they are on the “Cultural Approved Lifestyle List.” Even more, those issues on the Culturally Approved Lifestyle List are not only declassified as sins but now are to be celebrated, perpetuated and propagated. This brings us to the crux of the question: is “selective truth speaking” an evidence of sensitivity or is it a lack of courage; is it compassion or is it cowardice?

Multitudes of ministers and leaders are imploring Christians to embrace this “selective truth speaking” as an exalted virtue. For example, the present culture expresses concern about refugees, sex trafficking, racism, and other heinous sins and injustices–and rightly so! Churches and pulpits join the culture’s efforts by truth speaking affirming these practices as sins and lovingly instituting ministry initiatives to eradicate these acts of iniquity and minister to the victims. And so we should and must! But by doing so an unassailable fact emerges – leadership is speaking publicly with compassion, courage and conviction. In fact, when pastors speak publicly on these issues, in their sermons and on their podcasts or blogs, people praise them for the very fact that they are being leaders. They should be praised for this.

However, at the same time, many of the voices that speak boldly on these issues are silent in the same public square concerning the agenda of culturally normalizing unfettered sexual eroticism, marital anarchy, and the sanctity of life (among others). In addition to their deafening on these issues – which the culture is now promoting and celebrating – it is now considered unspiritual or unbecoming for the Christian and/or the church to participate in the messiness of bringing the blessings of common grace to the culture by promoting and debating public policies rooted in a Biblically informed public theology for human flourishing.

A Crucial Theological Fact

Often, in all of this, one important theological fact is forgotten. We live in a world that, emphatically, does not desire the love of Christ or the truth of the Gospel. It never has and, apart from the moving of the Holy Spirit; and, it never will. Neither did I, until the grace of God changed my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, who brought me from death unto life. What did He use? He used believers who spoke the truth in love to me. They did so with varying degrees of sophistication, but praise the Lord they were willing to speak the truth and love me. Now I, as a beneficiary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their courageous compassion, must also speak the truth–lovingly–to those who need me to do so (even if they do not approve me doing so – even if they do not want me to do so)–we still must do so as others did so for me and you.

Final Thoughts

We must seek to speak the truth thoughtfully, timely and with words carefully chosen–even while we create an environment of love for effective communication. If a doctor knows you have a terminal condition and loves you he will not be silent. He will thoughtfully tell you the truth. He will likely take you aside in a private room providing an appropriate environment. Then he will tell you the truth in love and he will love you with the truth. Ministers are physicians for the soul. We know sin brings death and we know God’s grace has provided the solution to sin’s guilt and power. We also know that God has commissioned us to speak the truth in an environment of love. We cannot be silent about the truth they need to hear in the name of love any more than the doctor could. Nor would we tell them the truth about sin and God’s grace in Christ without creating a thoughtful environment of love.

Those who have not yet come to Christ need to hear the truth of His Word spoken from those who will love them sacrificially and intentionally. And those who know Christ but have faltered in their walk for Him need us to love them enough to speak the truth. Those around us need us to deliver truth with a love that demonstrates the astonishing and unstoppable love of Christ and Him crucified.

In a world that has grown increasingly hostile to the truth of the Gospel, it would be easy to fall prey to perhaps right-hearted but wrong-headed statements like the one famously attributed to the renowned St. Francis of Assisi: “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” Instead, we must preach the Gospel and we must use words because they are necessary. Why? Because God’s word tells us that “faith comes by hearing.” In a word, we must speak the truth.

Love is essential because it opens the door for truth, affirms the truth and authenticates the truth; but, it is the truth that will “set you free.” We are all born with a desire to be approved. But for believers our approval rating does not come from the world. “Do your best to present yourself unto God…handling accurately the Word of Truth.”

Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, ALHarry completed his doctoral dissertation on “The Biblical Paradigm of Church Revitalization” and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (where he serves as adjunct faculty member). He is the author of From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Churchas well as a number of other published works.

Why We Love New Beginnings (Nick Batzig)

We all love new beginnings. When we enter a new year, most of us tend to think back on the past year–we look back at the accomplishments and failures and wonder if the forthcoming year will yield more progress and a better sense of achievement. When we make New Year’s resolutions, we are reacting to regrets that we have had over the past year’s activities and events. Usually, it is physical or financial failures with which we are most dismayed. It is not altogether wrong for us to have such regrets. There is something good about self-assessment and self-examination. But, more painful than admitting our lack of self-control in diet, exercise and spending is facing up to our lack of self-control and zeal in the realm of spiritual life and devotion.

We all feel the guilt and shame of our sin. We are dismayed by how little we gave ourselves to reading the Scriptures and to prayer. We know that we should have used our God-given gifts to build up His people in a much greater way than we did through the year. We recognize that we could have given more of our time and energy to care for those in our church and reach out with the Gospel to our  neighbors and co-workers. We admit that we could have opened our homes to those we don’t know well in our church and to our neighbors more than we did for the sake of the Gospel. We are frustrated that we repeatedly gave into particular sins, scarred our consciences, and grieved the Holy Spirit by whom we were sealed. All of this remorse weighs heavily on our hearts–and it is right that it does. But is there no hope of restoration and renewal for us as we enter into a New Year? There is hope for us–and more than we could ever imagine–in the Gospel.

As we search the Scriptures we find the glorious truth that Jesus made us part of His new creation through His death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:14). When Christ stepped out of the tomb, He did so as the first-fruits of the New Creation. His bodily resurrection guaranteed the spiritual (John 5:25) and bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-22) of all those united to Him–and secured the ultimate restoration of all things at the end of time (Acts 3:21; 2 Peter 3:12-13). In His resurrection from the dead, Jesus redeemed our calendars. He forgave us all of our sin. He gave us power to die to self and live to righteousness this year and all the years of our lives.

In this sense, every day is New Year’s Day for the believer. All of this is unfolded for us in marvelous typological detail in the record of the Passover and the Exodus. God not only redeemed Israel from the bondage of Egypt–He realigned their calendar at the Exodus (Exodus 12:1) to give them an anticipation of the new creation that He would bring about through the  death of His Son–the true and greater Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:5).

It’s important for us to realize that the institution of the Passover occurred between the 9th  and the 10th plagues. God differentiated between His church and the world. He kept His plagues from falling on His people (Exodus 9:4; 11:7). However, when God pronounced the 10th and most severe plague, He did not differentiate between the church and the world. Members of the Old Covenant church were, thereby, shown that they deserved judgment as much as the Egyptians. We all deserve judgment for our sin and rebellion against God. Our failures are not merely imperfections in our goals or character. They are acts of rebellion against the infinitely holy God who made us. In the tenth plague, God taught Israel that all men–Jew and Gentile–deserve judgment. Phil Ryken explains this so well when he writes:

The Israelites must have been shocked to discover that their lives were in danger. All the previous plagues had left them unscathed because God had made a distinction between his people and Pharaoh’s people. While chaos engulfed their oppressors, the Israelites had watched from the safety of Goshen. From this they learned that they were God’s special people. This may have tempted them to believe that they were more righteous than the Egyptians, indeed, that they could do no wrong. But the truth was that they deserved to die every bit as much as their enemies. Indeed, if God had not provided a means for their salvation, they would have suffered the loss of every last one of their firstborn sons. The Israelites were as guilty as the Egyptians, and in the final plague God taught them about their sin and his salvation.1

The only thing that would make a difference for Israel was the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the doorposts of their homes. Every Israelite who acted in faith according to God’s promise and put the blood on the doorpost was delivered from the judgment of the destroyer, and their first-born sons were spared. This was, of course, because God’s judgment fell on the substitutionary Passover Lamb. In this way, God was pointing His people to the Person and work of Christ.

The Passover Lamb was given to God’s people as an annual reminder of the need that they had to feed on the Lamb by which they were redeemed. All of the instructions about the observance of the feast were given to reflect something of the redemption that we have in Christ. He was roasted under the fire of God’s wrath. He commands us to feed upon His flesh and blood by faith. He is a sufficient meal for the souls of His people. Even the relationship between the substitutionary lamb and the 10th  plague were not incidental. The first-born sons were spared on account of the blood of the Passover Lamb because God would not spare His own first-born–Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:5; Romans 8:32).

All of this was prefaced in the institution of the Passover when God said, “This month shall be  your beginning of months; it shall be  the first month of the year to you.” The redemption that Israel experienced in the blood of the typological Lamb turned the clocks back to the first day of the first month of the first year. It was as if God was taking everything back to creation again. He was taking His people back to the time before there was sin–and was pointing them forward to the day when He would fully and finally make everything new. In the redemption that we have in Christ we have experienced new creation in our souls. In His death on the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus was the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:5) and brought about the greater Exodus (Exodus 9:31).

The true Exodus is experienced in its full import through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. This truth is applicable to the daily lives of believers in the New Covenant. For example, in Colossians 2:20-3:4, the Apostle Paul tells us that we have died with Christ, been raised with Him and that our lives are now hidden with Him in God (Col. 3:1-4). In light of that truth we do not turn to rigid asceticism for godliness (2:20-23); rather, we recognize that we have been made new creatures by virtue of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. We are then told that we are to put off the old and put on the new (Col. 3:5-17). So much of our Christian life, and the power we long for, comes from knowing our position in Christ, namely, that He has made us to be spiritually resurrected beings–part of the new creation.

Many of us see the New Year as an opportunity to do better. We long for a fresh start. Often, this results in wishful or sentimental “New Year’s resolutions.” At the core of our being, we do not need New Year’s resolutions–we need a “New Years Theology;” we need a theology of new creation. We need to know that we have been made new creatures if we are to live in newness of life for Christ. More than anything else in this year ahead, we continually need to hear the voice of the One who cried out, “Behold, I make all things new.” May God grant us the grace to live as those who have been made new creatures and have had our calendars redeemed by the One who lived and died and rose again for us.

1. Philip Graham Ryken Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005) p. 326.

*This is an adaptation of a post that originally appeared on the Christward Collective.

Essential Tools for Preaching Christ (Part 1) (Ryan McGraw)

Owning a home brings blessings and liabilities with it. While a home can be a good investment it requires maintenance. Homeowners generally have two options in maintaining their homes: they can hire someone to do the work, or they need to get the tools that they need to do it themselves. They need to know how to use those tools as well.

Preachers must develop many tools in order to preach Christ biblically and effectively. It is one thing to know what preachers should do and why they should do it. It is another thing to ask how they should preach. Preaching is a public authoritative proclamation of the gospel, through Christ’s ordained ambassadors, through which Christ pleads with sinners to be reconciled to God. Preachers and listeners alike need to understand how this general definition applies to preaching biblical texts. Methods for preaching Christ should include exegesis, redemptive history, systematic theology, and personal devotion. This post gives examples of preaching Christ exegetically and redemptive historically while the posts that follow complete the picture of the preacher’s tools through typology, systematic theology, and personal devotion to Christ.

Preachers should preach Christ exegetically. Exegesis refers to an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. John 1:18 describes Christ as the one who exegetes the Father. As Christ interpreted and declared the Father to his hearers, so preachers must interpret and declare Christ to theirs. Christ said that the Scriptures testified to him (Jn. 5:39). Matthew’s gospel proves repeatedly how Christ’s person, actions, and work fulfilled Scripture. The risen Christ chided his disciples for not believing what the prophets said about Christ’s sufferings and the glory that would follow, expounding what Moses and the prophets said about him (Lk. 24:25:27). All Scripture is God-breathed and it is able to make people wise for salvation in Christ (1 Tim. 3:15) because all Scripture testifies ultimately to Christ. Exegesis is direct a direct means of preaching Christ.

Preachers must preach Christ exegetically from the Old Testament by explaining prophecies and promises about Christ. He is the Seed of the Woman who crushed the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). He is Abraham’s seed in whom all the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16). He is the Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:5; Acts 3:22; 7:37). He is David’s Son and David’s Lord (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:45). He is the shoot from Jesse’s root who would rule as King (Is. 11:2) as well as the “root out of dry ground” (Is. 53:2) who would obey and suffer as Priest (Acts 8:30-36). He is the Priest whom God crowned as King (Zech. 3:8-10, 6:12-13; Heb. 7). Preaching Christ from the Old Testament exegetically means locating specific signposts that point to Christ directly.

Preachers must preach Christ exegetically from the New Testament. While this point might seem obvious, it is important to remember how the New Testament reveals Christ. The gospels reveal Christ’s person and work through theologically charged history. The rest of the New Testament explains, expands, and applies the truths that the gospels reveal about Christ. The New Testament also provides the interpretive grid for finding Christ in the Old Testament. The New Testament authors used the Scriptures Christologically and they teach us how to do so.

Preachers should preach Christ in light of redemptive history as well. Redemptive history reflects the fact that the Bible has a main point in light of which the biblical story unfolds. Preaching Christ redemptive historically relates every text to Christ insofar as Christ’s person and work are the main point of the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Genesis 3:15 serves as a thesis statement for redemptive-history by pitting Christ against Satan and Christ’s people against Satan’s people. The sacrificial system both before and under Moses explains how Christ would gain victory for his people over sin death and Satan. The Exodus becomes a paradigm for redemption in Christ. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles show the progress of redemptive-history up to that stage.

Typology falls under the category of preaching Christ redemptive-historically as well. A type is a kind of picture that foreshadows something else. It may be ideological or personal. The temple is a type of Christ’s body, through which God dwelt among his people (Jn. 2:21). Adam is a type of Christ in his representative character (Rom. 5:14). Melchizedek is a type of Christ’s eternal priesthood (Heb. 7). Types move the story of redemptive-history forward by foreshadowing later and greater realities through lesser historical predecessors (Col. 2:17). Every prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament should direct us to the final Prophet, Priest, and King in the New Testament. Types do not correspond to their antitypes in every respect. Sometimes Christ as antitype excels all types superlatively and sometimes he does so by contrast. Preaching should include redemptive-history to help hearers relate particular passages of Scripture to the broader biblical storyline.

Exegesis and redemptive-history are tools that help us understand Scripture in relation to Christ. Preaching Christ exegetically touches every aspect of Christ’s person and work as well as the Spirit’s work in applying his benefits to us. Preaching Christ redemptive-historically is more general in scope. It illustrates how Christ’s place in God’s plan creates the biblical narrative and gives significance to its parts. If we isolate redemptive-historical preaching from other biblical tools for preaching Christ, then it runs the risk of telling a story that believers are not part of immediately. Knowing Christ (and preaching Christ) involves more than imagining that we are part of Christ’s story. It involves actual participation in Christ, which comes only through personal union with Christ by faith. Yet exegesis needs redemptive-history. Preaching Christ exegetically alone effectively removes Christ from most of the Old Testament. Exegesis without redemptive-history is like reading road signs without knowing where the road is taking us. However, if preachers limit their methods for preaching Christ to exegesis and redemptive-history, then they will still fall short at points of the biblical definitions and aims of preaching established in the previous posts in this series.

Praying for Revival (Michael Haykin )

Prayer has invariably preceded revival. The revitalization of the Baptists in the eighteenth century was no exception. As Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) Fuller emphasized in his Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival (1785) that we began looking at last month:

“Finally, brethren, let us not forget to intermingle prayer with all we do. Our need of God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to do any thing, and every thing, truly good should excite us to this. Without his blessing all means are without efficacy and every effort for revival will be in vain. Constantly and earnestly, therefore, let us approach his throne. Take all occasions especially for closet prayer; here, if anywhere, we shall get fresh strength and maintain a life of communion with God. Our Lord Jesus used frequently to retire into a mountain alone for prayer, he, therefore, that is a follower of Christ, must follow him in this important duty.”1

Now, the year before Fuller wrote these words there had actually begun regular meetings for prayer, which met with one specific object, to pray for revival and revitalization.

The Prayer Call of 1784

The origin of these prayer meetings can be traced back to the year 1784 and to the town of Nottingham in the heart of England, where in June of that year, the pastors of the Baptist churches belonging to the Northamptonshire Association were meeting. Earlier that year a treatise on corporate prayer for revival by the New England divine Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)–An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time (henceforth referred to as the Humble Attempt)–had come into the hands of John Sutcliff (1752-1814), the Baptist pastor of Olney, Buckinghamshire, who was also a close friend of Andrew Fuller. Not widely heeded during the lifetime of its author, the Humble Attempt‘s greatest impact would come after Edwards’ death. Deeply impressed and moved by this treatise, Sutcliff proposed to his fellow pastors that a monthly prayer meeting be established to pray for the outpouring of God’s Spirit not only upon the Baptist churches of England, but also upon all those churches that loved the Lord Jesus. This proposal ran as follows:

“Upon a motion being made to the ministers and messengers of the associate Baptist churches assembled at Nottingham, respecting meetings for prayer, to bewail the low estate of religion, and earnestly implore a revival of our churches, and of the general cause of our Redeemer, and for that end to wrestle with God for the effusion of his Holy Spirit, which alone can produce the blessed effect, it was unanimously RESOLVED, to recommend to all our churches and congregations, the spending of one hour in this important exercise, on the first Monday in every calendar month.

…The grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. At the same time, remember, we trust you will not confine your requests to your own societies [i.e. churches]; or to your own immediate connection [i.e. denomination]; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered, and the spread of the gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests. We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own or other denominations will unite with us, and do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.

Who can tell what the consequences of such an united effort in prayer may be! Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of His Word, which relate to the future success of His gospel. He has said, “I will yet for this be enquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them, I will increase them with men like a flock.” Ezek. xxxvi.37. Surely we have love enough for Zion to set apart one hour at a time, twelve times in a year, to seek her welfare.”2

The focus of this momentous call to prayer was the “revival of our churches, and of the general cause of our Redeemer.” How was this to be achieved? By “the effusion of [God’s] Holy Spirit, which alone can produce [this] blessed effect.” There is, in these words, a distinct recognition that the revival of the denomination lay ultimately in the hands of God the Holy Spirit, and all of their labours without his blessing would come to nought. Yet, those who issued this statement were not Hyper-Calvinists who expected results without the use of means. And thus they encouraged their congregations to gather for prayer once a month for one hour on the first Monday of the month.

The heart of the “Prayer Call” is to be found in the second and third paragraphs above. There the conviction that reversing the downward trend of Calvinistic Baptists could not be accomplished by mere human zeal is mentioned again. It must be effected by an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit: “the grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified.” Without the Spirit all of the church’s best efforts to bring men and women to Christ will fail, all of her noblest attempts to edify God’s people and bring glory to God’s name fall short of success. The Spirit is the true agent of renewal and revival. Thus, there was a desperate need for prayer.

Then, there is the “inclusive” nature of the praying. As the Calvinistic Baptists of this Association came together for prayer, they were urged not to pray solely for their own churches or even for their own denomination, but to embrace in prayer other Baptist churches throughout the length and breadth of England, and even churches of other denominational bodies. Third, there is a definite missionary focus: the readers of this call to prayer are encouraged to pray that there would be a spread of the gospel “to the most distant parts of the habitable globe.” It is important to note that it was out of this group of praying Baptists that William Carey (1761-1834) came, the so-called father of the modern missionary movement. All great missionary ventures are born in the cradle of prayer.

Fourth, there is the Scriptural foundation for the call to pray for revival. Only one text is cited–Ezekiel 36:37–but those who drew up this document were well aware that there are other biblical texts that could be cited. One of Sutcliff’s friends, Thomas Blundel, has this to say with regard to this verse from Ezekiel: “It is chiefly in answer to prayer that God has carried on his cause in the world: he could work without such means; but he does not, neither will he. … He loves that his people should feel interested in his cause, and labour to promote it, though he himself worketh all in all.”3

To be continued.

1. Andrew Fuller, Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, ed. Joseph Belcher (Repr. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), III, 324.

2. [John Sutcliff,] “The Prayer Call of 1784” in John Ryland, Jr., The Nature, Evidences, and Advantages, of Humility (Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association, 1784), 12. For a detailed discussion of this call to prayer and its historical context, see Michael A.G. Haykin, One heart and one soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends and his times (Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1994), 153-171.

3. Thomas Blundel, The River of Life Impeded in his Sermons on Various Subjects (London, 1806), 183, 184.

*This is the fourth post in Dr. Haykin’s series, “Revitalizing an Eighteenth-Century Christian Community.” You can find the previous posts here, here and here

Of Mary’s Virginity and Humility (Phil Ryken)

A seasonal quotation from Sermons of St. Bernard on Advent and Christmas:

“Who is this Virgin so reverently saluted by the angel? and so lowly as to be espoused to a carpenter? Beautiful commingling of virginity with humility! That soul is in no small degree pleasing to God, in whom humility commends virginity, and virginity adorns humility. But how much more worthy of veneration is she, in whom fecundity exalts humility, and child-bearing consecrates virginity.”

“Virginity is a commendable virtue, but humility an indispensable one. The first is of counsel, the latter of precept. Of the one it is said, “He that can take, let him take it.” Of the other, “Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” To the one reward is offered: the other is exacted under a threat. Again, we can be saved without virginity, not without humility. A soul that has to deplore the loss of virginity may still be acceptable to God by humility: without humility, I will venture to say that even the virginity of Mary would not have been pleasing to Him, the Divine Majesty. Upon whom shall my spirit rest, if not on him that is humble and peaceable He says not on the virgin, but on the humble. If, therefore, Mary had not been humble the Spirit would not have rested on her. If the Holy Spirit had not rested on her, she would never have become fruitful; for how without Him could she have conceived of Him? Therefore, as she herself testifies, in order that she might conceive of the Holy Ghost, God the Father “regarded the humility of his handmaid,” rather than her virginity. And if by her virginity she was acceptable to Him, nevertheless, it was by her humility that she conceived Him. Hence it is evident that it was her humility that rendered even her virginity pleasing to God.”1

1. Bernard of Clairvaux (London: R. & T. Washbourne, LTE, 1909) p. 28.

*This post originally appeared at Reformation21 on December 21, 2007. 

Glory of the Newborn King (Caleb Cangelosi)

Of all the hymns written about the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the words of Charles Wesley’s “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” are among the most theologically dense and substantive–because all five stanzas are filled with Scriptural truths about Jesus. Before considering the Christology of this beautiful carol, though, it will help us to recall a little of the fascinating and ironic history behind it. 

Charles Wesley first penned the words of this poem in 1739, a year after his conversion. He originally wrote ten shorter stanzas, without a refrain, and his first two lines were “Hark! How all the welkin rings // Glory to the King of Kings.” Nearly all of us today would ask, “What on earth is a welkin?” A welkin is actually not “on earth” at all. Rather, it is the archaic English word referring to the sky or the celestial sphere where the angels dwell with God. 

Fifteen years after Wesley first wrote his poem, his friend, George Whitefield, changed the first two lines to the wording that we sing today. Wesley was not pleased – according to some sources, because he didn’t think the Bible taught that the angels sang, and perhaps also because in Luke 2:14 the angels give glory to God the Father, not God the Son.

Controversy has surrounded not only the words of this hymn, but the music as well. Wesley had intended his song to be sung in a slow, solemn manner, using a tune like the one for his “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” That would prove not be so. In 1840, 100 years after the words were written, the great composer, Felix Mendelssohn, wrote a piece of music to celebrate the 400thanniversary of Gutenberg’s press. Mendelssohn did not believe that this piece of music was suitable for sacred words. However, the English composer, William Cummings, took Mendelssohn’s music and combined it with Wesley’s words (altered throughout the 18thcentury), and the rest is history. 

We now sing a Christmas hymn whose original author didn’t like a number of the words, and whose original composer didn’t think the music should accompany biblical themes! It is, however, one of the greatest songs in our hymnals. In each stanza, Wesley points us a different aspect of Jesus’ person, telling us about the glory of this newborn babe. It will help us to consider each stanza. 

  1. He is the reconciling King.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With th’angelic host proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Wesley, with Whitefield’s edits, began by calling all the nations to rise and worship triumphantly at the birth of the King of the Jews and the King of the nations. The second through fourth lines are Wesley’s paraphrase of the angelic words in Luke 2:14. The peace of which the angels speak is peace with God for those He has chosen according to His good pleasure. Jesus isn’t merely a King, He is a reconciling King; the Man, Christ Jesus, is the only Mediator between God and man. Our sins separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2), yet in Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself, removing the ground of His alienation from us His people, counting our sins against Jesus rather than against us, and punishing His Son in our place (II Cor. 5:18-21). The angels proclaim peace to the shepherds because Jesus was born to die for the sins of His pepl. He became a man so that He might obey and suffer in our nature. This is cause for joy indeed!

  1. He is Emmanuel, God with Us

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;

Christ the everlasting Lord;

Late in time, behold Him come,

Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail th’incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus our Emmanuel.

Jesus is not merely human, but the everlasting Lord of glory. He has come to this world, miraculously conceived in the womb of a virgin. Twenty-three of his chromosomes came from Mary, and twenty-three came by the sovereign working of God’s power – not from a man. The baby in the manger is truly God, which is why His name is Jesus (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is Yahweh, pleased as man with men to dwell. As Wesley expresses it in another hymn, “Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man.” Matthew tells us that the virginal conception and naming of Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” The glory of the manger isn’t just that the babe is God, but that He is God with us. All that the tabernacle and temple foreshadowed is fulfilled in the Word become flesh (John 1:14; Colossians 2:9). God becomes man without ceasing to be God, so that He might dwell among us without destroying us with His glory. He desired to be with us, to sympathize with our weaknesses, temptations, and griefs as a man to share our humanity, our infirmities (without sin), our sadness, even our death. Thus with the angels we adore Him!

  1. He is the Sun of Righteousness

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die;

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

The one who spent nine months in the darkness of Mary’s womb breaks forth as the Sun of Righteousness of Malachi 4:2. Jesus has come as the Light of the world, shining upon those who walk in darkness (Isaiah 9:1-2). Wesley, a year removed from the dawning of the gospel light in his own heart, declares that the light that breaks through in conversion first broke through when Jesus, covered in afterbirth, made his first cry in Bethlehem. Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7), so that we might be raised up with Him in newness of life, and be born again to a living hope. He who was rich became poor for our sake, so that we through His poverty might be made rich in life, joy, hope, peace, and glory.

  1. He is the Snake-Slaying Seed

Come, Desire of nations, come,

Fix in us Thy humble home;

Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,

Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display Thy saving pow’r,

Ruined nature now restore;

Now in mystic union join

Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

The fourth stanza gives us a clear reference to Genesis 3:15, the first promise of the gospel, ironically addressed to Satan after the fall of man into sin. Jesus is the ultimate seed of the woman, who came to conquer Satan, to crush his head, even as the great deceiver bruises Jesus’ heel. Rather than having in view the cross/resurrection, the place where Jesus conquered Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15), Wesley individualizes the language of Genesis 3 – “bruise in us the serpent’s head.” 

This stanza reflects the teaching of I John 3:8, which speaks to the purpose of the incarnation by declaring, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” The context of that passage is the sin within the life of a Christian (3:8 parallels 3:5, “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins”). 

This stanza is a prayer for Jesus to come and take residence within us, to powerfully fix up His place in us, as it were, to make our heart His home. It asks Jesus to save us not only from the guilt of sin, but from the power and practice of sin – “ruined nature now restore.” Ruined in Adam, we need restoration. And so Wesley cries for Jesus to unite sinners to Himself in mystic union through faith, to dwell in our hearts through faith, so that we might be conformed to His image rather than the image of Satan. 

  1. He is the Second Adam

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,

Stamp Thine image in its place:

Second Adam from above,

Reinstate us in Thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,

Thee, the Life, the inner man:

Oh, to all Thyself impart,

Formed in each believing heart.

Wesley finally turned to Paul’s language from Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15–not to focus on the federal/representative headship of Adam and Jesus (i.e. every single person dying in Adam, and those in Christ being made alive) but on the moral and spiritual kinship we share with our covenant heads. Wesley asked the Lord to efface (i.e. erase and expunge the corruption, rebellion, pride and unbelief) Adam’s likeness within us, and to stamp His own image in its place (Romans 8:29). In Jesus, we regain what was lost in the fall: a relationship with God, and an inner likeness to God in knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:9ff). In conversion we have put off the old man, Adam, and have put on the new man, Jesus, the Second Adam. He is being formed in those who believe (Galatians 4:19), for we are in Him and He is in us by the power of His Holy Spirit. As we behold His glory, we are transformed into His image (II Corinthians 3:18).

And that is ultimately the point of Wesley’s hymn: to show us the glory of the newborn King – a reconciling King; Emmanuel, God with us; the Sun of Righteousness; the Snake-Slaying Seed; and the Second Adam – so that we might believe in Him with all our hearts. May the Lord give us grace to know and love the one of whom we sing.