December 31, 2009

Jesus' Character Displayed

"In considering the association of Jesus with the people at large, we are struck at once with the fact that though pure and sinless, he did not shrink from contact with the most sinful and the most despised. He was in this respect the very opposite of the Pharisees. Their name signifies separatists. Fundamental in their conception of a pious life was the idea of scrupulously avoiding any social intercourse, or even the slightest contact, with persons who habitually violated the ceremonial law, as well as with those guilty of gross immorality. This was the idea of personal purity materialized, and pushed to an utter extreme. Accordingly, the Pharisees found it hard to believe that one could be a prophet, a teacher come from God, who would consent to eat at the table of a publican, or would allow his feet to be washed with the tears of a fallen woman.

"Jesus often found it necessary to explain and vindicate his course in this respect; and it was for this purpose that on one occasion he gave the three beautiful parables which tell of joy at the recovery of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. Contact with vile people is proper or improper according to our aim and the probable results. It must be avoided or carefully limited if of such a character as would probably assimilate us to them. But the thoughtful and consistent followers of Jesus have been moved by his example and teachings to far more of kindly effort to redeem the vile than ever existed in the world beyond the influence of Christianity; and to do still more in this direction would only be acting according to his spirit.

"Jeremy Taylor has said that Jesus moved among the despised of humanity like sunshine, which falls among foul things without being itself defiled. To imitate this in our measure must be an attainment full of blessedness for us and rich in blessing to others. Jesus was very weary with months of earnest teaching as he sat that day beside Jacob's well; yet he aroused himself to speak most kindly with one who came to draw water, and that a woman who was living sinfully with a man not her husband. His conversation with her is a suggestive model of skill in the introduction of religion into private conversation - one of the finest of all accomplishments for Christian men and women. The delicate tact with which he aroused her conscience and thus turned her thoughts away from the mere satisfaction of bodily thirst to the water of eternal life, is among the most wonderful touches in his consummate teaching."

December 30, 2009

Whate'er My God Ordains is Right

Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708)

Whate'er my God ordains is right:

His holy will abideth;

I will be still whate'er He doth,

And follow where He guideth.

He is my God, though dark my road,

He holds me that I shall not fall;

Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

Whate'er my God or-dains is right:

He never will deceive me;

He leads me by the proper path;

I know He will not leave me.

I take, content, what He hath sent;

His hand can turn my griefs away,

And patiently I wait His day.

Whate'er my God ordains is right:

Though now this cup, in drink-ing,

May bitter seem to my faint heart,

I take it all unshrinking.

My God is true; each morn anew

Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,

And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate'er my God ordains is right:

Here shall my stand be taken;

Though sorrow, need or death be mine,

Yet I am not forsaken.

My Father's care is round me there;

He holds me that I shall not fall;

And so to Him I leave it all.

HT:21st Century Puritanism

December 29, 2009

Leon Morris on the Person of Christ

I have been helped immensely by the writings of the late Leon Morris. Here is a 1960 article he wrote about Jesus. He lays a foundation of sober thinking of our situation before launching into the riches of the person of Christ.

"The Bible makes it abundantly clear that as we live out our lives we are not engaging in some light-hearted parlour game, with no particular importance. Our actions have eternal significance. What we are in the next life is determined by what we are in this life. Since all men are sinners (Rom. 3.23) the prospect is very bad."

HT: Church Society

December 28, 2009

The Belgic Confession of Faith (1561): Concerning the Word of God

Article 3: Of the written Word of God.

We confess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith. And that afterwards God, from a special care, which he has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing; and he himself wrote with his own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.

Article 4: Canonical Books of the Holy Scripture.

We believe that the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely, the Old and New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged. These are thus named in the Church of God. The books of the Old Testament are, the five books of Moses, namely: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the books of Joshua, Ruth, Judges, the two books of Samuel, the two of the Kings, two books of the Chronicles, commonly called Paralipomenon, the first of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, the Psalms of David, the three books of Solomon, namely, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; the four great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel; and the twelve lesser prophets, namely, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Those of the New Testament are the four evangelists, namely: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul, namely: one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, one to Philemon, and one to the Hebrews; the seven epistles of the other apostles, namely, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.

Article 5: From whence the Holy Scriptures derive their dignity and authority.

We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling.

Article 6: The difference between the canonical and apocryphal books.

We distinguish those sacred books from the apocryphal, namely: the third book of Esdras, the books of Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Syrach, Baruch, the appendix to the book of Esther, the Song of the three Children in the Furnace, the history of Susannah, of Bell and the Dragon, the prayer of Manasses, and the two books of the Maccabees. All of which the Church may read and take instruction from, so far as they agree with the canonical books; but they are far from having such power and efficacy, as that we may from their testimony confirm any point of faith, or of the Christian religion; much less detract from the authority of the other sacred books.

Article 7: The sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, to be the only rule of faith.

We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith. For, since it is forbidden, to add unto or take away anything from the word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear, that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects. Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house.

December 27, 2009

Christian Classics on Google Books

If you can't afford a kindle but would like to have some digital books available for reading in any browser, try Google Books.

Here's the library I've compiled so far, with an eye towards reading them over my lunch hours. I'm not sure how the library link will work, so I'm going to wing it and then try it out on another laptop.

(PS - Looks like the link works fine so I'll leave it in place.)

Not all the Blood of Beasts

Not all the Blood of Beasts
by Isaac Watts

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine
While like a penitent I stand
And there confess my sin.

My soul looks back to see
The burden Thou didst bear
When hanging on the cursed tree
And knows her guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice
And sing His bleeding love.

HT: 21st Century Puritanism

December 26, 2009

Thoughts on Scripture and the Style of Catechisms

I was reading through one of Horatius Bonar's books this morning in Google Books. It is his republication of ancient Scottish catechisms. He said something in the preface that caught my eye, simply as food for thought about catechisms in general.

Bonar wrote:

If the Bible has proved itself unsuitable to any age or nation, it must have proved itself destitute of that which is one of the special characteristics of a revelation, universal adaptation. Flexible yet not mutable ; capable of expansion yet not of compromise ; possessing every variety of note, yet never uttering an uncertain sound ; speaking to the Apostolic age, speaking also to the age of the Reformation; teaching the first century, yet teaching the nineteenth with equal explicitness ; such is the Bible.

Nor is this adaptation secured at the expense of accuracy, or by means of allegory. On the contrary, the more that its minute accuracy and literality are assumed, the more complete is its adaptation found to be. It is the EVERLASTING word ; not the word of this age or that age, of this nation or that nation ; but of all; not the word that suits one national character but not another, that does with barbarism but not with refinement, that falls in with one temperament but not with another ; that speaks to the Jew but not to the Greek, to the Athenian but not to the Roman, to the Persian but not to the Scot, to the Genevese but not to the Parisian, to the Teuton but not to the Celt; but truly the word which finds passage for itself into every ear, which wakes up a response in every soul; suiting all men, all ages, all minds, all nations ; the only book which can bear translation into every language, and which, the more literally it is taken, is found the more suitable to all.

And as is the Bible, so are those works which most largely embody it; which are most thoroughly penetrated by its truths ; which come nearest it in spirit and in diction. Such we believe our Reformation standards to be ; not the Scottish only, but the English, the Helvetian, the Belgian, the Bohemian, the Gallican, and others of that era. Being human compositions, arranged after human manner, clothed in human phraseology, and compiled to meet the exigencies and errors of a particular age, they do not partake of the largeness and manifold fitness or expressiveness which belong to the divine volume ; yet they have less of the provisional and ephemeral than uninspired compilations usually have. We meet with expressions once and again, which we should be disposed to part with, especially when we get upon sacramentarian ground ; for the dregs of the baptismal and eucharistic opus operatum of Popery are visible in many a Reformed document; but, discounting some small expressions, we accept these old creeds as still true and still suitable ; more universal in their teaching than some modern progressionists like to allow. We can still safely say to our children as our fathers did to theirs,

" Go, reid the buik, repeit the storyis auld."

Our Scottish catechisms, though grey with the antiquity of three centuries, are not yet out of date. They still read well, both as to style and substance ; it would be hard to amend them, or to substitute something better in their place. Like some of our old church bells, they have retained for centuries their sweetness and amplitude of tone unimpaired. It may be questioned whether the church gained anything by the exchange of the Reformation standards for those of the seventeenth century. The scholastic mould in which the latter are cast has somewhat trenched upon the ease and breadth which mark the former ; and the skilful metaphysics employed at Westminster in giving lawyer-like precision to each statement, have imparted a local and temporary aspect to the new which did .not belong to the more ancient standards. Or, enlarging the remark, we may say that there is something about the theology of the Reformation which renders it less likely to become obsolete than the theology of the covenant. The simpler formulae of the older age are quite as explicit as those of the later ; while by the adoption of the biblical in preference to the scholastic mode of expression, they have secured for themselves a buoyancy which will bear them up when the others go down. The old age of that generation is likely to be greener than that of their posterity.

December 24, 2009

A Walk Through Philippians - #6

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, ESV)

After several weeks on the shelf, we resume our walk through Philippians. Speaking of "walking", recent travels have given me an appreciation for a wide variety of walking styles. Having visited both Chicago and San Francisco on business this fall, I can heartily testify that walking in the city is much different than walking in the rural midwest. Given my bent towards a slower pace of life, perhaps a more fitting title for this series would be "ambling around Philippians", or "moseying in Philippians". In a tip of the hat to our Aussie readers, perhaps "walkabout Philippians"? I can appreciate the rapid pace of life in the big cities through a brief visit but I wouldn't trade my slower-moving life for a bajillion dollars. And with that, on to the text.

Paul seeks a three-fold blessing for the Philippians in his prayer. First, overoverover flowing love that continues to overflow more and more. We looked at this part of his prayer earlier in the series. The blessing of overflowing love is no small gift of God. How many blessings would arise out of the generosity of abundant love? They cannot be numbered. Surely this is the pinnacle of blessings, and they have their beloved friend Paul pleading their case before the Almighty. And yet...

Isn't it interesting that Paul pleads for more than love? He alloys overabundant, overflowing love with both knowledge and discernment. While love is the greatest virtue, it does not stand best by itself. Love needs the sound and sure footing of knowledge and discernment in order to stand strongly in the face of a wicked world. Due to the twisting of reality by sin even the highest form of love must be bolstered and supported.

In today's world it is common to think of love as simply an internal emotion, a warm feeling that you have inside. Sin has so twisted us that love is no longer seen as an outward-directed commitment to do good to others but rather it has been turned in upon itself, becoming the driving force fueling a quest for feelings and emotions experienced by and for our self. But this is not love. It is a sin-soaked lie. Feelings take wings and fly away. We are as fickle as the wind if our lives are founded on feelings. One minute we enthusiastically pursue a goal, focusing our entire life around it. The next minute it has become a curse to be replaced as quickly as possible with something that makes us feel better.

Paul is not seeking to bless the Philippians with a warm fuzzy feeling. He desires that they abound in and overflow with active love informed by real knowledge and full insight. In doing so, they will live blameless, holy lives that redound to the praise and glory of God. Love like this is action-packed, just as God's love for the world is. And it does not simply make good in the lives of the Philippians. They are able, through use of knowledge and judgment, to perform the greatest acts of love for their fellow man.

How fitting it is that Christians earnestly pursue active, abounding, overflowing love in accordance with knowledge and insight. In so doing, they earnestly demonstrate the infinite love of the Savior for a lost world. Dear brother and sister, here is real fuel for your prayer fire. It is a rich and precious vein of ore to return to time and time again on behalf of your brothers and sisters. Mine riches for the household of faith and ask God in Christ for His treble blessing of love, knowledge, and insight on their behalf.

How fitting indeed that the God who demonstrated infinite love would have us abound in love mixed wholly with understanding and wisdom. What great light shines daily in the kingdom of darkness that is this brokenness when we understand what our lives are to be about and know how to pursue it.

December 12, 2009

Jesus, the Savior of Hopeless People

A man named Jairus came to Jesus, begging him to help his dying daughter. Before they could get to his home, she passed away. In a hopeless situation, Jesus reassures Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe."