Friday, March 17, 2017

"Mission is not an optional activity" says Edmund Clowney

I was looking at some of Edmund Clowney's thoughts on the Church. This quote is a good clarifier of the place of evangelism and mission in the life of both the church and Christian families:
Mission is not an optional activity for Christ's disciples. If they are not gatherers, they are scatterers. Some suppose that a church may feature worship and nurture, leaving gathering as a minor role. More often, Christians shrink from affirming such a position, but implement it in practice. Mission is reduced to a few offerings, the visit of several exhausted missionaries on fund-raising junkets, and the labours of an ignored missions committee. Such a church is actively involved in scattering, for the congregation that ignores mission will atrophy and soon find itself shattered by internal dissension. It will inevitably begin to lose its own young people, disillusioned by hearing the gospel trumpet sounded every Sunday for those who never march.
What is true of a congregation is true also of a Christian home. If a family fails to seek to gather friends and neighbours to Christ in hospitality and quiet witness, the children of the family will be scattered. We fail to bring up children in the nurture of the Lord if we fail to involve them in our efforts to gather others to the Saviour.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Key to Forgiving

(This article is based on the first sermon in a four-part series at WPC Belconnen, on “Forgiving Others”)
Forgiveness isn’t easy. Either we’ve wanted it from others, or needed to give it to others. Actually, probably both. And whether it is getting it or giving it, it can be really, really hard. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…” Maybe I gave so much to someone, trusted them with so much, and they just betrayed me and betrayed me again. How could I possibly forgive them? Or maybe they are strangers--well, worse actually—it seems they are more enemies. Because you don’t really know why, but they just decided to have a go at you, abuse you, take out a personal vendetta against you, and you have no idea why. Why should you owe them anything, the least of all forgiveness? I spoke to someone recently who used to work in the tourist industry. And because of what happened during World War II, the people of these particular two nations, they didn’t want to have anything to do with each other, the two groups couldn’t be in the same building at the same time. Whether it is at the personal level, or even at a community level, sometimes forgiving can be really, really hard.
Then we see examples in the Bible, things difficult to imagine if they weren’t actually true. Despite all the envy, hate and murderous intentions of his brothers, Joseph is forgiving toward them, showing kindness and love instead of paying back evil for evil (cf Genesis 50:15-21). Or we see Stephen, in the face of people enraged at him, hurling stones at him to kill him, and just before he dies he says, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) How do they possibly do that kind of thing? How can we? What is the key to us being able to forgive others like that?
In Matthew 18:15-20 there is the well-known instruction of what to when your brother sins against you. In 18:21, Peter understands the implication, that he may need to forgive that brother (even though Jesus didn’t mention the word “forgive”). And Peter’s imagination takes him to the place where that brother keeps sinning against him. Surely there must be a limit to forgiveness then. Surely seven times is plenty enough, maybe even highly virtuous to be so forgiving. I expect to Peter’s great surprise, Jesus tells him, “No, Peter, you have it all wrong. You seem to be thinking of forgiveness just as a procedure, some boxes to tick, maybe a legal process, perhaps some kind of being fair, and showing your righteousness. Actually it is about mercy and kindness, Peter, it is about a perspective, a way of life, that you can’t put a number on.” Well, ok, he doesn’t literally say that. But I think that is the conclusion we can draw from the story Jesus tells in response, which we find in Matthew 18:23-35. (Quick, go read the passage now J) It shows us why it is hard to forgive others, and in so doing, also gives us the key to actually being able to forgive others, even when it feels too hard.
Jesus’ story tells us about a servant who owed the king ten thousand talents. Jesus seems to just pick the biggest number (ten thousand) with the biggest unit (a talent), to make a point. But maybe some other numbers more familiar to us will be helpful. The footnote in my ESV says that one talent was worth about twenty years of wages for a laborer. If we use the Australian minimum wage as a basis ($17.70/hour), and a 38-hour week for 52 weeks, then one year’s wage would be about $35,000. Twenty years would be about $700,000. Multiply that by ten thousand, and you get about $7,000,000,000. How would you like that debt? Or what would you do if someone else, somehow, owed you that much money? We might wonder how someone could rack up such a debt, but that’s not really the point. The amazing thing in the story is that the king actually forgives that $7 billion debt! But then another stunning thing happens, something rudely shocking. That servant who owed $7 billion was owed some money himself, by another fellow servant. But only “a hundred denarii”. Again, the ESV footnote tells us that a denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer. So the same kind of calculation this time gives us, say for an eight-hour day, about $14,000 equivalent. This is a substantial amount to be owed, but hardly significant compared to $7 billion. And yet astoundingly, the servant who had been forgiven $7 billion was unwilling to forgive $14,000. Rightly the king called him a “wicked servant” and delivered him for punishment.
So what does Jesus’ story about financial debts have to do with forgiving others when they offend us or sin against us? As with Jesus’ other parables, the real application is not in the precise circumstances of the situation, but in what the story parallels. In 18:35 it is clear that the king is paralleled to God, and the forgiveness of one servant by another is paralleling forgiveness between people. The key principle in forgiving others is that being forgiven by God should empower us to forgive others. And Jesus’ story presses the point by highlighting the shocking wickedness of one who is unwilling to forgive, despite being forgiven so much by God. And some of the small details really brings this home.
In the story our attention is drawn to both the similarities as well as the vast differences between the accounts of the two servants’ debts. When both servants are confronted concerning what they owe, they respond with the same words, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you”. Well, almost the same words. The first servant says one more thing, “… I will pay you everything” I think this little extra word, combined with the vast difference in the debts owed, highlight something else about the differences between the two servants in the story. The $14,000 debt was significant, but possibly payable. Eventually that second servant could have paid back his fellow servant. It was doable. It was possible. But there was no way the first servant could have paid back $7 billion. And yet he had the audacity to offer to pay back everything. He was deluded. He didn’t really understand the overwhelming situation he was in. And therefore he also didn’t understand the debt he had been forgiven. And he had no comprehension of the mercy he had been shown. And this is our problem, when we have difficulty forgiving others. We have no understanding of the vast debt our sin has created before God, and little comprehension of the mercy we have been shown in God forgiving our sins. Somehow we think it is not really so bad after all, that really it is something we can fix by ourselves. But we can’t. The sin debt is one that only God can fix. We can’t actually avoid the consequences of our sin, but in our pride we can try to avoid believing that we really deserve it, that our debt is really that bad.
One way to realize the enormity of a problem, is by comprehending the cost involved in solving it. When we have difficulty realizing the enormity of our sin debt, we should meditate on what it cost God to solve our problem, and forgive our sin debt. Years after Jesus spoke this story to Peter, Peter wrote these words, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-20) You will probably never owe someone $7 billon. But our greatest debt isn’t a monetary one. And no amount of money is enough to release us from the greatest debt we have. Only Jesus’ precious blood is enough. When Peter asked Jesus about forgiving others, I don’t think he really knew what Jesus knew, that Jesus was going to have to die to free Peter from his sin debt. But all those years later, and Peter understood that, and wrote it down for everyone to understand. The enormity of our sin problem was such was that the only solution was for the Father to give the life of his own Son, and for Jesus to suffer the full wrath of God, in the place of his own people, so that we could be released from our sin debt.
This is where we need to go when we find it hard to forgive our brother from our heart. This is the key to forgiving others. Just like the $14,000, there may indeed be a significant debt of offence against us, but it is still so little compared to what God has already forgiven us in Christ. Out of the humility in understanding we have been forgiven a vast sin debt to God, which we could never have repaid, comes the freedom and joy of being able to love others, to give to others, to forgive others. As with so many things, our pattern and our power, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is what God has done for us in Christ. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:32-5:2)

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

John Calvin on the Power of Music

I came across this quote apparently from Calvin, but uncertain of the original source:
"music has a secret and incredible power to move our hearts. When evil words are accompanied by music, they penetrate more deeply and the poison enters as wine through a funnel into a vat"
So with the power of Google, it seems that this comes originally from Calvin's Preface to the Psalter, in 1543:
"But still there is more: there is scarcely in the world anything which is more able to turn or bend this way and that the morals of men, as Plato prudently considered it. And in fact, we find by experience that it has a sacred and almost incredible power to move hearts in one way or another. Therefore we ought to be even more diligent in regulating it in such a way that it shall be useful to us and in no way pernicious. For this reason the ancient doctors of the Church complain frequently of this, that the people of their times were addicted to dishonest and shameless songs, which not without cause they referred to and called mortal and Satanic poison for corrupting the world. Moreover, in speaking now of music, I understand two parts: namely the letter, or subject and matter; secondly, the song, or the melody. It is true that every bad word (as St. Paul has said) perverts good manner, but when the melody is with it, it pierces the heart much more strongly, and enters into it; in a like manner as through a funnel, the wine is poured into the vessel; so also the venom and the corruption is distilled to the depths of the heart by the melody."

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

John Murray on the Future Resurrection vs the "disembodied state"

It seems it took a controversialist like N T Wright to get evangelicals thinking more about Christ's return and the future new heavens and new earth, rather than just "dying and going to heaven". Great to read this recently by John Murray, I think first published in 1970:
It is well to take account of the concreteness of this hope. Too frequently the expectation that the Christian entertains is defective in this respect. It is the bliss of what he calls “heaven” and may not partake of the definiteness that characterizes the biblical representation. Or his hope may be framed in terms of bliss that awaits the believer when he departs this life and goes to be with Christ in heaven…But if it is the bliss of the disembodied state that is the focal in the hope of a believer, then the perspective of hope has been gravely diverted from the biblical witness. There are two respects, particularly, in which this is true. First, preoccupation with the disembodied state fails to have prime concern for the honour and glory of Christ… Second, the fault mentioned fails to accord to the resurrection the place it occupies in the salvation of the just.
(Found it in the article, "The Advent of Christ" in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 1, pp87f. Reprinted from The English Churchman, August 1970.)

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J C Ryle on Holiness (in this hurrying, bustling world...)

I think I have neglected my younger self for not reading more J C Ryle (1816-1900), even though his book on Holiness is so often recommended. Just read the chapter on "Holiness", with Hebrews 12:14 as the stated text. Speaks about his day, but seems just a relevant today. Here are some excerpts I selected...
"In this hurrying, bustling world, let us stand still for a few minutes and consider the matter of holiness. I believe I might have chosen a subject more popular and pleasant. I am sure I might have found one more easy to handle. But I feel deeply I could not have chosen one more seasonable and more profitable to our souls. It is a solemn thing to hear the Word of God saying, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. xii. 14.)... 
And this I do boldly and confidently say, that true holiness is a great reality. It is something in a man that can be seen, and known, and marked, and felt by all around him. It is light: if it exists, it will show itself. It is salt: if it exists, its savour will be perceived. It is a precious ointment: if it exists, its presence cannot be hid... 
Can holiness save us? Can holiness put away sin—cover iniquities—make satisfaction for transgressions—pay our debt to God? No: not a whit. God forbid that I should ever say so. Holiness can do none of these things... 
We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world... Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more—He breaks its power, (1 Peter i. 2; Rom. viii. 29; Eph. i. 4; Heb. xii. 10.)... We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity... Surely that man must be in an unhealthy state of soul who can think of all that Jesus suffered, and yet cling to those sins for which that suffering was undergone... We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God. Children in this world are generally like their parents. Some, doubtless, are more so, and some less—but it is seldom indeed that you cannot trace a kind of family likeness. And it is much the same with the children of God... 
Whatever we may think fit to say, we must be holy, if we would see the Lord. Where is our Christianity if we are not? We must not merely have a Christian name, and Christian knowledge, we must have a Christian character also... 
I have no desire to make an idol of holiness. I do not wish to dethrone Christ, and put holiness in His place. But I must candidly say, I wish sanctification was more thought of in this day than it seems to be, and I therefore take occasion to press the subject on all believers into whose hands these pages may fall... 
I would say it with all reverence, but say it I must—I sometimes fear if Christ were on earth now, there are not a few who would think His preaching legal; and if Paul were writing his Epistles, there are those who would think he had better not write the latter part of most of them as he did. But let us remember that the Lord Jesus did speak the Sermon on the Mount, and that the Epistle to the Ephesians contains six chapters and not four. I grieve to feel obliged to speak in this way, but I am sure there is a cause... 
Is it not true that we need a higher standard of personal holiness in this day? Where is our patience? Where is our zeal? Where is our love? Where are our works?... 
Would you be holy? Would you become a new creature? Then you must begin with Christ. You will do just nothing at all, and make no progress till you feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him. He is the root and beginning of all holiness, and the way to be holy is to come to Him by faith and be joined to Him. Christ is not wisdom and righteousness only to His people, but sanctification also."

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Friday, June 17, 2016

John Owen on Christ as our Heavenly High Priest

Often as Evangelical Protestants we can struggle in understanding the significance of Christ's resurrection, and more so in his ongoing incarnate life in heaven, at the right hand of God. The atoning death is highly meaningful to us, but Jesus' resurrection and ongoing life can seem merely icing on the cake or some such. The letter to the Hebrews spends significant time dwelling on Christ's ongoing work as our High Priest in heaven. Here are some excerpts from John Owen touching on this matter, taken from Volume 5 of the Goold edition of his commentary on Hebrews...
(p520f) “The perpetuity of the priesthood of Christ, as unchangeably exercised in his own person, is a principal part of the glory of that office. His discharge of this office for the church in his own person, throughout all generations, is the glory of it. 1. Hereon depends the church’s preservation and stability. There is neither a ceasing nor any the least intermission of that care and providence, of that interposition with God on its behalf, which are required thereunto. Our high priest is continually ready to appear and put in for us on all occasions. And his abiding for ever manifests the continuance of the same care and love for us that he ever had. The same love wherewith, as our high priest, he laid down his life for us, doth still continue in him. And every one may with the same confidence go unto him with all their concerns, as poor, diseased, and distempered persons went unto him when he was upon earth ; when he never showed greater displeasure than unto those who forbade any to come unto him, whatever their pretences were. 2. Hereon depend the union and communion of the church with itself in all successive generations. For whereas he is their head and high priest, in whom they all centre as unto their union and communion, and hath all their graces and duties in his hand, to present them unto God, they have a relation unto each other, and a concernment in one another. We that are alive in this generation have communion with all those that died in the faith before us ; as shall be declared, if God will, on chap. xii. 22-24. And they were concerned in us, as we are also in the generations that are to come. For all the prayers of the church from first to last are lodged in the hand of the same high priest, who abides for ever; and he returns the prayers of one generation unto another. We enjoy the fruits of the prayers, obedience, and blood of those that went before us; and if we are faithful in our generation, serving the will of God, those shall enjoy the fruits of ours who shall come after us. Our joint interest in this our abiding priest gives a line of communication unto all believers, in all generations. And, 3. The consolation of the church also depends hereon. Do we meet with troubles, trials, difficulties, temptations, and distresses ? hath not the church done so in former ages ? What do we think of those days wherein prisons, tortures, swords, and flames, were the portion of the church all the world over? But did any of them miscarry ? was any one true believer lost for ever ? and did not the whole church prove victorious in the end? Did not Satan rage and the world gnash their teeth to see themselves conquered and their power broken, by the faith, patience, and suffering, of them whom they hated and despised ? And was it by their own wisdom and courage that they were so preserved ? did they overcome merely by their own blood? or were they delivered by their own power? No;  but all their preservation and success, their deliverance and eternal salvation, depended merely on the care and power of their merciful high priest. It was through his blood, “ the blood of the Lamb,” or the efficacy of his sacrifice, that they “overcame” their adversaries, Rev. xii. 11. By the same blood were “their robes washed, and made white,” chap. vii. 14. From thence had they their righteousness in all their sufferings. And by him had the church its triumphant issue out of all its trials. Now, is he not the same that he ever was, vested with the same office? and hath he not the same qualifications of love, compassion, care, and power, for the discharge of it, as he always had? Whence, then, can any just cause of despondence in any trials or temptations arise? We have the same high priest to take care of us, to assist and help us, as they had, who were all of them finally victorious. 4. This gives perpetual efficacy unto his sacrifice, etc.”
(p528f) “1. He is able to save also EIS TO PANTELES. The word may have a double sense ; for it may respect the perfection of the work or its duration… Take the word in the first sense, and the meaning is, that he will not effect or work out this or that part of our salvation, do one thing or another that belongs unto it, and leave what remains unto ourselves or others ; but “ he is our Rock, and his work is perfect.” Whatever belongs unto our entire, complete salvation, he is able to effect it. The general notion of the most that are called Christians lies directly against this truth. In the latter sense two things may be intended : (1.) That after an entrance is made into this work, and men begin to be made partakers of deliverance thereby, there may great oppositions be made against it, in temptations, trials, sins, and death, before it be brought unto perfection ; but our Lord Christ, as our faithful high priest, fainteth not in his work, but is able to carry us through all these difficulties, and will do so, until it be finished for ever in heaven. (2.) That this salvation is durable, perpetual, eternal, Isa. xlv. 17. “Salvare in seternum;” to procure “salutem seternam.” But “ favores sunt ampliandi,” and there is nothing hinders but that we may take the words in such a comprehensive sense as to include the meaning of both these interpretations. He is able to save completely as to all parts, fully as to all causes, and for ever in duration.”
(p529) “Whatever hinderances and difficulties lie in the way of the salvation of believers, whatever oppositions do rise against it, the Lord Christ is able, by virtue of his sacerdotal office, and in the exercise of it, to carry the work through them all unto eternal perfection.”
(p531) “The salvation of all sincere gospel worshippers is secured by the actings of the Lord Christ in the discharge of his priestly office.”
(p535f) “But herein lieth the life of the church's consolation, that he continues to live a mediatory life in heaven for us also. It is not, I fear, so considered nor so improved as it ought to be. That Christ died for us, all who own the gospel profess in words; though some so explain their faith, or rather their infidelity, as to deny its proper use, and to evacuate its proper. ends. That so he lived for us here in this world, as that his life was some way or other unto our advantage, at least thus far, that he could not have died if he had not lived before, all men will grant, even those by whom the principal end of this life, namely, to fulfil the law for us, is peremptorily denied; but that Christ now lives a life of glory in heaven, that most men think is for himself alone. But the text speaks to the contrary: “He liveth for ever to make intercession for us.” Neither is this the only end of his present mediatory life in heaven, though this only be here expressed. Should I undertake to show the ends of the present mediatory life of Christ for the church, it would be too great and long a decursion from the text. However, the whole of the work of this life of his may be reduced into these three heads : 1. His immediate actings towards the church itself, which respects his prophetical office. 2. His actings for the church in the world, by virtue and power of his kingly office. 3. His actings with God the Father in their behalf, in the discharge of his sacerdotal office.”
(p538f) “The actual intercession of Christ in heaven, as the second act of his sacerdotal office, is a fundamental article of our faith, and a principal foundation of the church s consolation. So is it asserted to be, 1 John ii. 1, 2. And it is expressed by our apostle as that whereby the death of Christ is made effectual unto us, Rom. viii.34; for it compriseth the whole care and all the actings of Christ, as our high priest, with God in the behalf of the church. This, therefore, is the immediate spring of all gracious communications unto us. For hereby doth he act his own care, love, and compassion; and from thence do we receive all mercy, all supplies of grace and consolation needful unto our duties, temptations, and trials. Hereon depends all our encouragement to make our application unto God, to come with boldness of faith unto the throne of grace, Heb. iv. 15, 16, x. 21, 22. Wherefore, whatever apprehensions we may attain of the manner of it, the thing itself is the centre of our faith, hope, and consolation.”
(p541) “The safest conception and apprehension that we can have of the intercession of Christ, as to the manner of it, is his continual appearance for us in the presence of God, by virtue of his office as the “high priest over the house of God,” representing the efficacy of his oblation, accompanied with tender care, love, and desires for the welfare, supply, deliverance, and salvation of the church. Three things, therefore, concur hereunto : [1.] The presentation of his person before the throne of God on our behalf, Heb. ix. 24. This renders it sacerdotal. His appearance in person for us is required thereunto. [2.] The representation of his death, oblation, and sacrifice for us; which gives power, life, and efficacy unto his intercession. Thence he appears “ in the midst of the throne as a Lamb that had been slain,” Rev. v. 6. Both these are required to make his intercession sacerdotal. But, [3.] Both these do not render it prayer or intercession; for intercession is prayer, 1 Tim. ii. 1, Rom. viii. 26. Wherefore there is in it, moreover, a putting up, a requesting, and offering unto God, of his desires and will for the church, attended with care, love, and compassion, Zech. i. 12.”
(p542f) “So great and glorious is the work of saving believers unto the utmost, that it is necessary that the Lord Christ should lead a mediatory life in heaven, for the perfecting and accomplishment of it : “He liveth for ever to make intercession for us.” It is generally acknowledged that sinners could not be saved without the death of Christ ; but that believers could not be saved without the life of Christ following it, is not so much considered. See Rom. v. 10, viii. 34, 35, etc. It is, it may be, thought by some, that when he had declared the name of God, and revealed the whole counsel of his will ; when he had given us the great example of love and holiness in his life ; when he had fulfilled all righteousness, redeemed us by his blood, and made atonement for our sins by the oblation of himself; confirming his truth and acceptation with God in all these things by his resurrection from the dead, wherein he was “ declared to be the Son of God with power;” that he might have now left us to deal for ourselves, and to build our eternal safety on the foundation that he had laid. But, alas! when all this was done, if he had only ascended into his own glory, to enjoy his majesty, honour, and dominion, without continuing his life and office in our behalf, we had been left poor and helpless; so that both we and all our right unto a heavenly inheritance should have been made a prey unto every subtle and powerful adversary. He could, therefore, no otherwise comfort his disciples, when he was leaving this world, but by promising that “he would not leave them orphans” John xiv. 18 ; that is, that he would still continue to act for them, to be their patron, and to exercise the office of a mediator and advocate with the Father for them. Without this he knew they must be orphans ; that is, such as are not able to defend themselves from injuries, nor secure their own right unto their inheritance.”
(p545f) “The intercession of Christ is the great evidence of the continuance of his love and care, his pity and compassion, towards his church. Had he only continued to rule the church as its king and lord, he had manifested his glorious power, his righteousness, and faithfulness. “ The sceptre of his kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness.” But mercy and compassion, love and tenderness, are constantly ascribed unto him as our high priest. See Heb. iv. 15, v. 1, 2. So the great exercise of his sacerdotal office, in laying down his life for us, and expiating our sins by his blood, is still peculiarly ascribed unto his love, Gal ii. 20 ; Eph. v. 2 ; Rev. i. 5. Wherefore these properties of love and compassion belong peculiarly unto the Lord Christ as our high priest. All men, who have any spiritual experience and understanding, will acknowledge how great the concernment of believers is in these things, and how all their consolation in this world depends upon them. He whose soul hath not been refreshed with a due apprehension of the unspeakable love, tenderness, and compassion of Jesus Christ, is a stranger unto the life of faith, and unto all true spiritual consolation. But how shall we know that the Lord Christ is thus tender, loving, and compassionate, that he continueth so to be; or what evidence or testimony have we of it ? It is true he was eminently so when he was upon the earth in the days of his flesh, and when he laid down his life for us. We know not what change may be wrought in nature itself, by his investiture with glory; nor how inconsistent these affections are, which in us cannot be separated from some weakness and sorrow, with his present state and dignity. Nor can any solid satisfaction be received by curious contemplations of the nature of glorified affections. But herein we have an infallible demonstration of it, that he yet continueth in the exercise of that office with respect whereunto all these affections of love, pity, and compassion, are ascribed unto him. As our high priest, DUNATAI SUMPAQHSAI, he is “able to suffer,” to “condole with,” to have “compassion on” his poor tempted ones, Heb. iv. 15. All these affections doth he continually act and exercise in his intercession. From a sense it is of their wants and weaknesses, of their distresses and temptations, of their states and duties, accompanied with inexpressible love and compassion, that he continually intercedes for them. For he doth so, that their sins may be pardoned, their temptations subdued, their sorrows removed, their trials sanctified, and their persons saved; and doing this continually as a high priest, he is in the continual exercise of love, care, pity, and compassion.”

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Monday, June 06, 2016

The Truth shall set you free!

My attention was drawn to these words of Pilate, in speaking to Jesus:
"Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" (John 19:11; NIV)
This is the same man who had said a little earlier to Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38; NIV).

It struck me because of Jesus' own words some time before, in speaking to the Jews:
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free... So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:32,36; NIV).
Jesus also said, "I am the way and the truth and the life." (John 14:6; NIV)

Pilate had no idea who he was talking to, or what he was talking about. Too many people speak too freely about freedom, ignoring--or worse, rejecting--the truth. May we find true freedom in Jesus.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Calvin on Real Christianity

As a young Christian, one of the few books I read cover-to-cover was Calvin's Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. Actually, I'm kind of cheating when I say "cover-to-cover" because it is really an excerpt out of his larger volume, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Nonetheless, the version I read was a separately bound book(let), so I'm sticking to my original claim. Well, I wanted to re-read it, but couldn't find my copy, so had to read from the larger volume (chapters 6 to 10 of Book Three, in the later editions).

Here are a few excerpts from this re-reading... great insights about what real Christianity is...


  • For it is a doctrine not of the tongue but of life. It is not apprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are, but it is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds a seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart.
  • I do not insist that the moral life of a Christian man breathe nothing but the very gospel, yet this ought to be desired, and we must strive toward it. But I do not so strictly demand evangelical perfection that I would not acknowledge as a Christian one who has not yet attained it. For thus all would be excluded from the church, since no one is found who is not far removed from it, while many have advanced a little toward it whom it would nevertheless be unjust to cast away. 
  • And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost.
  • We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. we are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19]
  • For [the philosophers] set up reason alone as the ruling principle in man, and think that it alone should be listened to; to it alone, in short, they entrust the conduct of life. But the Christian philosophy bids reason give way to, submit and subject itself to, the Holy Spirit so that the man himself may no longer live but hear Christ living and reigning within him [Gal. 2:20]. 
  • For, such is the blindness with which we all rush into self-love that each one of us seems to himself to have just cause to be proud of himself and to despise all others in comparison... The very vices that infest us we take pains to hide from others, while we flatter ourselves with the pretense that they are slight and insignificant, and even sometimes embrace them as virtues... If there are faults in others, not content with noting them with severe and sharp reproach, we hatefully exaggerate them... there is no-one who does not cherish within himself some opinion of his own pre-eminence.
  • You will never attain true gentleness except by one path: a heart imbued with lowliness and with reverence for others.
  • But Scripture, to lead us by the hand to this, warns that whatever benefits we obtain from the Lord have been entrusted to us on this condition: that they be applied to the common good of the church. And therefore the lawful use of all benefits consists in a liberal and kindly sharing of them with others.
  • Yet the great part of [men] are most unworthy if they be judged by their own merit. But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love... Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help  him.. Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches [Matt. 5:44]. It is that we remember not to consider men's evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.
  • Now he who merely performs all the duties of love does not fulfill them, even though he overlooks none; but he, rather, fulfills them who does this from a sincere feeling of love.
  • First, they must put themselves in the place of him whom they see in need of their assistance, and pity his ill fortune as if they themselves experienced and bore it, so that they may be impelled by a feeling of mercy and humaneness to go to his aid just as to their own.
  • To covet wealth and honors, to strive for authority, to heap up riches, to gather together all those follies which seem to make for magnificence and pomp, our lust is mad, our desire boundless. On the other hand, wonderful is our fear, wonderful our hatred, of poverty, lowly birth, and humble condition! And we are spurred to rid ourselves of them by every means. Hence we can see how uneasy in mind all those persons are who order their lives according to their own plan. We can see how artfully they strive--to the point of weariness--to obtain the goal of their ambition or avarice, while, on the other hand, avoiding poverty and a lowly condition.
  • For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the heavenly Father's will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children.

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