Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Should we care about politics?

Someone passed me the following apt quotation regarding indifference towards politics and other matters. Of course we must be careful to avoid either extreme.

When St. Paul says, “Come out and be separate,” he did not mean that Christians ought to take no interest in anything on earth except religion. To neglect science, art, literature, and politics – to read nothing which is not directly spiritual - to know nothing about what is going on among mankind, and never to look at a newspaper - to care nothing about the government of one’s country, and to be utterly indifferent as to the persons who guide its counsels and make its laws - all this may seem very right and proper in the eyes of some people. But I take leave to think that it is an idle, selfish, neglect of duty. St. Paul knew the value of good government, as one of the main helps to our “living a quiet and peaceable life in godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:2). St Paul was not ashamed to read heathen writers, and to quote their words in his speeches and writings. St. Paul did not think it beneath him to show an acquaintance with the laws and customs and callings of the world, in the illustrations he gave from them. Christians who plume themselves on their ignorance of secular things are precisely the Christians who bring religion into contempt.

JC Ryle - Practical Religion - p.291/2

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bread Upon the Waters

Awaiting me on the table of the train the other week was a discarded newspaper. Nothing unusual about that. This one had a Bible text written on it. Was this a wayside text giving the gospel to anyone who would follow it up? But the reference didn't sound familiar. I looked Jeremiah 32:15 up and it was an unusual verse to see referred to. Did they even get the verse/chapter number right? No doubt someone wrote it there more for their own memory rather than the encouragement of others. What did they make of it? What did I make of it? Nothing happens as mere coincidence. What could be learned? 

In this verse, Jeremiah is acting in hope even though it seems pointless and meaningless to buy a field.  It would be destroyed and dispossessed. It was an act of faith and obedience.  It is like casting your bread on the waters and finding it after many days. It is like Abraham going out by faith not knowing where he was going but believing in God's direction and covenant promise. The promise is that this will be fruitful in the future. The evidences would be preserved and the land restored and inhabited once more. The evidences preserved in the earthen vessel are as much the promises of God as the deeds to the land.

I think that the encouragement is that serving God in our generation may seem to be hard and bear little fruit. Those whose labour is in the Word and doctrine seem to toil all night but take nothing. The Word is circulated, tracts distributed, good material published with little apparent effect. But God's Word will not return to Him void, it will accomplish the purpose He has determined for it. He will bring fruit from it, perhaps after many days. We must fix our eyes upon the horizon. The future is as bright as the promises of God. They sow in tears but there will be a joyful reaping. The harvest is said to be certain according to the promise.

Humphrey Hardwicke preached a sermon on sowing in tears and reaping in joy. He said that
as the husbandman [farmer] in times of dearth and scarcity is much more diligent and plentiful in manuring his land, carefull to provide precious seed, and incessant for the repelling of famine, and procuring of plenty; so must Gods people, they must be up and doing, put their shoulder to the work, their hand to the plough, think nothing too much that they are able to do; hey must labour plough, sow part with all as precious seed, lay it down in the dust.
He continues on a similar theme: 
It remains now only, that I call upon every one that would not be counted an enemy, but a friend of Sion, to be up and doing, to be much and active in pious and precious endeavour for the perfecting our Sion's deliverance, and the establishing of our Jerusalem in peace and truth. Now is time for... every one in his place and station, to few precious seed. What considering man then would suffer sloth or negligence, ease or self respects, to hinder him from being an instrument of so great good, as may come to the Church and State. Many of you are, all of you may be, under God, the cause of much good to many generations: Be therefore of St. Paul's mind, suffer nothing to deprive you of the glory of such rejoicing, and the testimony of a good conscience.
Matthew Henry says about Jeremiah 32:15:
though Jerusalem was now besieged, and the whole country was likely to be laid waste, yet the time should come when houses, and fields, and vineyards should be again possessed in this land, v. 15. As God appointed Jeremiah to confirm his predictions of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by his own practice in living unmarried, so he now appointed him to confirm his predictions of the future restoration of Jerusalem by his own practice in purchasing this field. Note, It concerns ministers to make it to appear in their whole conversation that they do themselves believe that which they preach to others; and that they may do so, and impress it the more deeply upon their hearers, they must many a time deny themselves, as Jeremiah did in both these instances. God having promised that this land should again come into the possession of his people, Jeremiah will, on behalf of his heirs, put in for a share. Note, It is good to manage even our worldly affairs in faith, and to do common business with an eye to the providence and promise of God. Lucius Florus relates it as a great instance of the bravery of the Roman citizens that in the time of the second Punic war, when Hannibal besieged Rome and was very near making himself master of it, a field on which part of his army lay, being offered to sale at that time, was immediately purchased, in a firm belief that the Roman valour would raise the siege, lib. ii. cap. 6. And have not we much more reason to venture our all upon the word of God, and to embark in Zion’s interests, which will undoubtedly be the prevailing interests at last? Non si male nunc et olim sic erit—Though now we suffer, we shall not suffer always.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Gleaning in Boaz's Fields

...there are so many useful and powerful sermons we hear but I just wanted to pick out one that I've heard that is very practical and experimental. Particularly as to how Scripture makes Christ precious and brings Him near. Put it at the top of your "to listen" list. 


Thursday, November 12, 2015

A 400th Birthday

Today marks the 400th birthday of Richard Baxter. I know his systematic theology was a very modern mish-mash of much error. His practical writings, however, are hard to beat for comprehensive, searching - very practical teaching. He doesn't leave stones unturned when he considers our thought life, the use of the tongue, domestic relation and much more. The Practical Works are thousands of pages long, but worth any time you can spend in them.

If you haven't tried him before and want somewhere simple to start - perhaps try here.

When I was a student, I found Baxter's directions about how to spend the day with God so useful that I simplified the language. It's here.

As he put it himself - "let the holy scriptures ever have the pre-eminence, and, next to them, those solid, lively, heavenly treatises which best expound and apply the scriptures, and next, credible histories, especially of the Church . . . but take heed of false teachers who would corrupt your understandings."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Free Offer

Yesterday was the second day of the FP Theological Conference. Unfortunately, I was only able to take some summary notes of a paper by Rev. Allan MacColl on The Free Offer. This is my paraphrased summary and not verbatim so it gives a flavour and any mistakes are mine. I hope it is printed and if so this may whet your appetite.

He began by noting that although the language of the free offer is part of the fixed doctrinal constitution of presbyterian churches it is still controverted. That is in Westminster Confession 7:3
Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
He emphasised the Father's gift in this offer. [See also Larger Catechism 32, 63, 67 and 68]

The paper was divided as follows:

1. Outline of positions on the issue

2. Biblical grounds for the orthodox position

3. Objections raised against the orthodox position

1. Outline of positions on the issue

A definition of the free offer was given along the following lines (paraphrased).

The assertion that God in bringing good news through preaching invites all who hear to accept without reservation.

The offer is free since there is nothing in the sinner to merit or deserve it and no requirement for God to give it.

Thomas Boston defined different kinds of faith in his View of the Covenant of Grace. These include  the faith of Christ's sufficiency, the faith of the gospel offer, faith of our right to Christ etc

Historically this is only a controversy within Calvinism. Arminians do not have this controversy. Yet they have difficulty in relation to the genuine freeness of the offer. Is it divine free grace or human free will?

There are various views as follows

1. No offer can be given to the unconverted. Promises are for the elect only.

2. Offer is based on a universal atonement

3. Westminster position i.e. there is a free offer but not it is not based on a Universal Atonement

4. A free offer but with qualified extent

This issue at stake is the basic issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. How can a dead sinner be addressed in terms of responsibility? Must we limit any offer to the elect only?

1. No offer to sinners

Very few Calvinists hold to this position. Mainly 18thc English dissenters and some Dutch. Some believer that the offer was a privilege given to Israel uniquely as a covenanted people. They separate if off as an Old Testament or Jewish privilege. Yet if only Jews were to be exhorted to believe - how could the gentiles be gathered in? How could they lay hold of a salvation not offered to them?

The most extreme view within this overall position is that it is not the duty of the non-elect to believe.
Yet God can command duty from the non-elect e.g. God's moral law.  Arminians say God does not command what creatures cannot perform. These Hyper calvinists say that God cannot command what  they cannot perform. The hyper-calvinist view leads to the conclusion that the more wicked a man becomes the less responsible he is. 

He quoted John Bonar's sermon that said that God can blame and punish man for what they cannot fulfil. He can demand it. God cannot demand anything other than spiritual service.

God has in fact decreed and ordained what He requires.

He referred to Luke 11:13 and quoted Shedd to the effect that as the atonement offered indiscriminately so the Spirit also is offered.

An anti-duty faith position tends to reflect a particular view of the Church i.e. gathered congregation in which the only preaching is about marks of grace.

2. Offer based on universal atonement

This is the Arrminian and Amyraldian view based on a spurious universal atonement. Scripture, however, makes Christ's intercession and atonement coextensive.

This universalist view has no definite salvation to offer.

3. Orthodox view of the Free Offer
The doctrine of the free offer has survived mainly unscathed down through the centuries in Scotland.  The Marrow controversy only served to strengthen adherence to it. The main oppenent of the Marrow was called Hadow - he said that every man's duty was to believe but yet the offer should only go to the elect. It was emphasised that the Marrow does not advance universal atonement.

4. Qualified extent

He referred to 20thc views such as Herman Hoeksema. He argued that offer means to present not invite. The offer is not well meant but mere command. There are dangerous consequences for those lacking assurance. These have no access to an offered saviour until doubts are resolved.

2. Biblical grounds for Orthodox position
Is 45:22

Is 55:1, 7

Matthew 11: 28

John 6:37

John 7:37

Revelation 3:20

Revelation 22:17

These texts show that the wicked and unrighteous are addressed with a conditional promise offer of pardon.

Christ's ambassadors commanded to preach the gospel Matthew 28:28. There are no distinctions who to offer to.  The nature of gospel requires this offer. They are to persuade men to personal acceptance of the offer.

The irony is that those who deny the offer only came to Christ through it whatever may be their understanding of how it happened.

Optative verses

These are expressive of desire in terms of what pleases God. Deuteronomy 5:29; 33:29; Matthew 23:27. There is a lot of Anthropopathism and anthropomorphic language in them. Nevertheless they contain something of what is pleasing to God and consistent with His nature as One who hates sin. Ezekiel 33:11. The decree of God is not in view here but rather His preceptive will.

It is inaccurate to say that God desires the salvation of all men and there are not two contradictory wills in God. Turretin is helpful in that he says it is inconsistent to say that God could intend the salvation of those whom He has reprobated. But He still acts seriously in calling them to receive the offer. God delights in the eternal life of a sinner and therefore demands that he turn.

Preachers must preach the gospel with love and an earnest desire for hearers to be saved. They will not be more compassionate than Christ when they do. The Holy Spirit causes this love to their neighbour.

3. Objections
Some wish to find a basis for the offer or grounds of the offer in the atonement. This has produced baleful consequences. It is trying to square a theological circle. There was much controversy in the Victorian United Presbyterian Church on this. We are not to base the offer on the sufficiency of atonement but we can offer it as altogether suitable and infinite.

Matt 5:43-48. God's general love for all men can provide a motive although not grounds for the offer.

Primary purpose special love of god to elect

William Cunnigham said that we must keep our warrant for preaching the offer and God's warrant for giving it strictly separate.

We should base the offer solely on the command of the Word not inferences such as the atonement or nature of God.

He referred to the Warrants and Motives to believe in the Sum of Saving Knowledge
1. God's hearty invitation,
2. His earnest request to be reconciled,
3. His command, charging all to believe,
4. Much assurance of life given to believers, etc.,
He also referred to John Colquhoun's excellent book on saving faith and its definition.

Objection that bible passages do not apply to all men is probably the most powerful objection.
But this leads to emphasising a certain degree of conviction in order to embrace these passages e.g. as a convinced sinner. It is easy for subtle form of self-righteousness to enter. It must be a hope based on the promises not our condition or feelings. We must not limit the offer to exclude any. We must press on sinners their responsibility for what they do with the offer. God has ordained means they are to use them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Occasions of grace

If you have read much of the Puritans on the subject of sin and temptation you will be aware that often they speak of avoiding occasions of sin. These may be circumstances, things, people or something else that may tend to incite or entice a person to sin. They may be difficult to discern and identify. But it is absolutely necessary to avoid them. John Owen wrote that "occasions and opportunities for temptation are innumerable". But also that "temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before". Achan found that the sight of the gold and continued looking at it was an occasion to his sin (Joshua 7:21). Probably the most obvious instruction against occasions of sin is the Saviour's instruction in Matthew 5:29.

Thomas Brooks wrote that one of Satan's devices against believers is "making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin". Brooks gives various considerations as remedies:

A. Certain scriptures expressly command us to avoid occasions of sin and the least appearance of evil
B. There is no conquest over sin unless the soul turns from the occasions of sin
C. Saints now glorified have turned from the occasions of sin as from hell itself
D. To avoid the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace

John Preston also emphasised that avoiding occasions of sin is a mark of grace. Just like we should never put an occasion to fall in the way of anyone else we should avoid it for ourselves (Romans 14:13). Perhaps the classic case of avoiding occasions of sin is Joseph in the house of Potiphar not willing to be in the presence of Potiphar's wife much less listen to her words. Jonathan Edwards has a powerful sermon on this. One of the things that he says is "we ought to treat God as a dear friend. We ought to act towards him, as those that have a sincere love and unfeigned regard to him; and so ought to watch and be careful against all occasions of that which is contrary to his honour and glory".

But this post is entitled occasions of grace. And it is Edwards who lends the instruction on this also.
endeavour to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement. We are to avoid being in the way of temptation with respect to our carnal appetites. Job made a covenant with his eyes (see Job 31:1), but we ought to take all opportunities to lay ourselves in the way of enticement with respect to our gracious inclinations. Thus, you should be often with God in prayer, and then you will be in the way of having your heart drawn forth to Him...[He then speaks about the Lord's Supper]…Live in the practice of these inclinations. If you long after God and Jesus Christ,  then often go to God and Christ and converse with them.
This is very helpful. You can have the double spiritual effect of helping to reduce your occasions to temptation and sin by increasing your occasions to grace. The sermon on Song of Solomon 5:1 is difficult to come by online but is reprinted in various books. I took these words from a daily devotional drawn from Edwards. Below is the manuscript of Edwards' sermon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

the upper springs, and the nether springs

This piece from Jonathan Edwards is very refreshing and illuminating.

Judges 1:12-15. Concerning Othniel and Caleb’s daughter. 

Othniel in this story is a type of Christ. As Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, obtained Caleb’s daughter, his first cousin, to wife, by war, and the victory he obtained over Caleb’s enemies, and taking a city from them to be a possession for Caleb and his heirs; so Christ, who, as nearly related to both God and us, is fit to be a Mediator between God and us, has obtained the church, God’s daughter, by war with God’s enemies, and the victory he has obtained over them, and by his redeeming a city, the spiritual Jerusalem, or Zion, out of their hands, to be a possession for God and his heirs. Achsah, Othniel’s wife, moves her husband to ask of her father a blessing, and an inheritance. So it is by the intercession of Christ that the church obtains of God the blessings and the inheritance she needs. She complains to her father that she inherited a south, i. e. a dry, desert land; she asks of him springs of water, and Caleb granted her request; he gave her freely and abundantly; he gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs. And if men, being evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more shall our heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him! When Caleb’s daughter inhabited a south land, and dwelt in the quenched places of the wilderness, she asked springs of water, both the upper and the nether springs. So, when the souls of God’s people are in a droughty, pining, languishing condition, it is not a new thing for them to go to their heavenly Father through the mediation of Christ, for all such supplies as they need; he will give them springs of water like the upper and the nether springs. Godliness hath the promise of the things of this life, and that which is to come. God will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from those that walk uprightly. Achsah improved that time to move her husband to intercede for her, when she came to him; which should teach us, when we are brought especially nigh to Christ, and have specially seasons of communion with him, to be careful then to improve our interest in him, and to seek his intercession for us with the Father for such blessings as we need.

But this probably has a special respect to some particular seasons of God’s blessings on the church, and the accomplishing a glorious alteration in the state of things for her sake; and particularly two seasons.

1. That glorious change that was made at and after Christ’s first coming. The church before that did as it were inhabit a south land, was held under weak and beggarly elements, was under the ministration of death, the letter, and not the spirit. But when Christ came nigh to the church, he took her nature upon him; he came and dwelt with us, and received his church into a much greater nearness to himself; and through his mediation was obtained of God a far more glorious dispensation, springs of water in abundance, a ministration of the Spirit, the Spirit was abundantly poured out upon her, and her inheritance was greatly enlarged. Instead of being confined only to the land of Canaan, she had the Roman empire given with all its wealth and glory, and so had the nether springs, as well as the upper.
2. That glorious change that will be accomplished in favour of the church at the fall of antichrist. Now the church of Christ does as it were inherit a dry land, and has so done for a long time dry both upon spiritual and temporal accounts; both as to the upper and nether springs, and is much straitened in her inheritance. But the days will soon come wherein Christ will come in a spiritual sense, and the church shall forsake worldly vanities, and her own righteousness, and shall come to Christ, and then God will gloriously enlarge her inheritance, and will bestow both spiritual and temporal blessings upon her in abundance.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Increasing spiritual focus: a postscript

There may be further help from a precept, promise and prayer related to distraction.

"attend upon the Lord without distraction" 1 Corinthians 7:35

Precept: Proverbs 4:23 "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life"

Promise: Proverbs 16:1, 3 "The preparation of the heart in man...is from the Lord...commit thy ways to him, and thy thoughts shall be established" 

Prayer: Psalm 86:11 "unite my heart to fear thy name"

Friday, June 12, 2015

Increasing your focus - there's an app for that

Now available on all smart phone platforms: iPhone, Android, Windows, Blackberry. No install necessary. The app eliminates distractions, allowing you to focus on the important task in hand...It's called the off/flight mode button...or else use the settings to drastically control the type of notifications that come through.

Seriously, distraction is a major problem when we have constant interruptions from our devices. It's not simply the cause of many accidents - on a more everyday level constant alerts train our mind to expect distraction and therefore to have weaker capacity to focus.

Spiritually this is a real issue. Distracted spiritual living is every bit as dangerous as distracted driving. We can switch off completely on sabbath, at personal devotions, family worship and hopefully even at family meal times. Yet if we are trained to expect constantly something to seek our attention - our ability to focus, read and think deeply, meditate, pray will all be diminished. Memorisation and storing in the long term memory are also impacted. It is likely that we become less self-reflective.

The great danger is that we're losing a focus upon our eternal home not just our immediate environment. We need to create more times when we disconnect from such distractions in order to focus more on what is important.

Perhaps the verse we need to memorise most is 1 Corinthians 7:35 "that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction". Richard Steele wrote a whole book "A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in the Worship of God" using this verse as a launchpad. This book may be more needed now than in any age. Another verse would be: "O God, my heart is fixed" (Psalm 108:1 see also Psalm 57:7). "Consider Him" (Hebrews 12:3).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

a longer look at 1 Corinthians 11

#10 in the top ten most accessed posts on this blog is a post Long hair and feminity. A new article on www.fpchurch.org.uk Long hair for women and short hair for men! explores this issue in even greater depth and hopefully will be read and found helpful by far greater numbers. 
Does Scripture speak on the issue of hair length? That is the question. If the Bible is silent or non-committal on the subject, then we may be so too. But if God’s Word has spoken on the matter, then we must contend earnestly for this part of the Christian faith, along with every other part of revealed religion.
What did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 11? How important is this issue? Does the Church have any responsibility in this area or is it just a matter of individual conscience? Some people that think head covering is a very clear in this passage don't think hair length has the same importance. They don't think that much should be made of the issue. But is this Paul's approach? 

five stones

Notes excerpted from a sermon by Rev William Maclean.

Psalm 9:13-14

The title of Psalm 9 means 'the death of the champion'. It is thought by some to have been composed by David to celebrate his defeat of Goliath, the champion of the Philistines.

David had five stones in his scrip (pouch) going out to meet Goliath. The New Testament David faced Satan and in doing so, had these five stones from His Father: the (1) love, (2) oath, (3) promise, (4) anointing and (5) commandment of the Father.

(1) Love of the Father: 'This is my beloved Son'. 
(2) Oath: 'Of the order of Melchisedec, thou art a priest for ever'. 
(3) Promise: 'behold my servant whom I uphold '. 
(4) Anointed by the Father in the human nature with the Holy Spirit 'without measure'. 
(5) Commandment: 'This commandment I have received from my Father'.

The Lord's people also have five stones out of the brook of the covenant. These are for going forward whatever their distress or however they may be tried and tempted in connection with their duties. They may have been professing Him for thirty or forty or fifty years. They had to eat bitter herbs (with the Passover) and the Lord's people will get their own bitter herbs in way or another. We can say that there are five stones they can pick up from the scrip of their profession: 

(1) 'Fear thou not for I am with thee'. 
(2) 'Be not dismayed for I am thy God'. 
(3) 'I will strengthen thee'. 
(4) 'I will help thee'. 
(5) 'Yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness' .

Rev Wm Maclean, Gisborne communion Morning Thursday 11 April 1968

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Terms of communion and unity

This concludes some cursory comments on the subject of terms of communion and visible unity. It is a matter of emphasis elsewhere in the New Testament besides what we have noted already.  "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).

Where unity is broken by open and persistent disobedience to God's Word there is a necessity to suspend communion. "If any man obey not our word by this epistle" (2 Thessalonians 3:14). "Who concerning the truth have erred" (2 Timothy 2:18). "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof from such turn away" (2 Timothy 3:5).  "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Paul commands us to "withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly." That withdrawal relates to church communion. Yet the man is a brother, a professing Christian. He is walking disorderly and breaking unity however gracious his state may be. He must be withdrawn from. "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). Again he is to be treated as a brother but to publicly "note" such a man must mean church censure. "Now, I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Romans 16:17)

In the context of discussing the Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul speaks of divisions of practice and doctrine. It cannot be right that "when ye come together in the Church, I hear that division exist among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18). Yet he goes on to say in verse 19 that "there must be also factions among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." There must be a distinction made between those that accord to the truth and those that do not. In other words terms of communion are necessary in order to uphold unity and order. "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Philippians 1:27)

"Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing" (Philippians 3:16). There is to be a unity of mind in the truth which is to be shown in Church communion.  "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus; that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5) 

Some other helpful articles may be found here and here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #3

Acts 15:22-23 "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia"
  • Unity can be established by settling questions using the God ordained means of church courts
  • Voting is a scriptural and necessary element of this
  • Individual church members ("the whole church") are to assure themselves that the decrees of church courts are in accord with Scripture
v24 "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment"
  • unbiblical terms of communion are not only unsettling but also subverting and destructive to the Church
v28 "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things"
  • when Church courts settle questions based upon the Word of God it can be said to be the mind of the Holy Spirit
  • Church courts possess only ministerial authority i.e. limited by the authority of Scripture to declare the revealed will of God contained in Scripture
  • Terms of communion are necessary things
  • Terms of church communion are a burden meant to be demanding and not light
  • the burden must be no heavier but also no lighter than the Word of God requires (Revelation 2:24)
  • Prohibition and discipline as well as teaching is required in order to attain unity and order
v29 "That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
  • Terms of communion may restrain certain elements of everyday life as directed by Scripture. It is not exceeding the bounds of Scripture or Church authority to restrain certain aspects of our conduct
  • Terms of communion will involve separation from idolatry
  • Terms of communion may involve things indifferent or not expressly sinful in themselves but which would breach the bond of love and peace through stumbling and offending others. Romans 14 speaks of receiving those weak in the faith, not scandalising them and preventing them from having communion with us on the basis of something that we believe to be indifferent in itself.
  • Terms of communion will involve avoiding the appearance of evil 
  • Terms of communion may involve temporary application of permanent principles
v30-31 "So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation".
  • decisions of Church courts should bring encouragement to believers. It is encouraging when matters are clearly settled rather than left as open questions
Acts 16:4-5 "And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily".
  • the decisions of church courts are binding and can be described as decrees to be kept
  • the authority of church courts can extend over national and regional boundaries
  • Uniformity in terms of communion is necessary for unity
  • Such terms are to be taught and preached
  • This leads to increasing in numbers
  • It is not divisive to assert and maintain scriptural terms of communion
  • Terms of communion are necessary "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" Action is required where there is disobedience to the Word of God.

One put down and another set up - #Election2015

The result of the UK General Election has taken many by surprise. Political pundits made confident forecasts. Politicians made strong assertions. The outcome was, however, entirely different. Men failed to account for the sovereignty of the Most High.... read more here

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

How to vote?

we must esteem it not merely a duty but a privilege, to remind the people, that it is through having God glorified in the exercise of their political privileges, that they will have the nation blessed, and that the rule " whether therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God," is as applicable to the exercise of the elective franchise [i.e. voting], as it is to the discharge of any duty we may have to perform, or the enjoyment of any privilege we may possess. By the people being brought to act on this rule, they will encourage the righteousness by which a nation is exalted, and discourage the sin which is a reproach to any people, and by which they are ruined.
Synod of the United Original Secession Church, May 1885.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #2

"And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them". (Acts 15:4)

  • the work of salvation cannot be separated from the nature of church communion, there must be qualifications for the latter 

"And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter" (v6)

  • the unity and government of the church in the new testament follows on directly from that of the Old Testament. We have a passing reference to the office of elder as assumed to be continued in the New Testament together with church courts. 
  • Deliberation and decision on matters relating to terms of communion rest with representative presbyters in church courts.

"Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they". (vv10-11)

  • the terms of communion under the mosaic administration involved a burden that was too heavy to bear

"Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." (v14-17)

  • Scripture must be the ultimate authority to appeal to in order to confirm experience
  • the church is a people named with the name of God and under his authority and his possession
  • the church is the continuation of the church of Israel under the Old Testament
  • there is now no separation between Jew and gentile in the communion of the church

"Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God" (v19)

  • unscriptural terms of communion trouble the people of God 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #1

In what follows I would like to endeavour to reflect upon Acts 15 and what we can we can learn about the unity of the visible church and terms of communion by good and necessary consequence.

Acts 15v1 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved"

  • The church will often face those who wish to add to, diminish from or over extend the terms of communion established by the word of God. The principles of Acts 15 can be applied to all and any of these situations also. It is just as unscriptural to diminish from as to add to what God requires.
  • In this case there was addition to, but in much of the New Testament e.g. Corinth and Churches of Asia there was a laxity on these matters i.e. participation in idolatry and immorality. 
  • Differences in relation to terms of communion may often relate to correct interpretation of scripture including the prohibitions of the mosaic law and the degree of continuity between old and new treatments
  • Sometimes this may even impact upon and distort the teaching of the gospel and v24 subverts and plunders souls 
  • This will also subvert the foundations of the church

v.2-3 "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren."

  • Where terms of communion are distorted in this way division and strife inevitably results
  • Which will lead to permanent disunity (Rom 14:1)
  • It is our duty to resist and oppose false teaching and practice that subverts the unity of the church and the purity of the gospel in this area 
  • It is the role of church courts to handle such questions and to assert the scriptural view upon it.
  • Ignoring such questions or making them a matter of individual conscience will not settle them as they concern the whole church

Friday, November 14, 2014

the sum of the sum

William Perkins said to his student preachers at the conclusion of his Arte of Prophecying, "The sum of the sum: Preach one Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ." See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2013/06/leading-sinners-to-christ.php#sthash.VAA8icPw.dpuf

Friday, August 01, 2014

FP Church Website Re-launched

A lot of new material has been added to the now re-launched Church website. You can now find out a lot about the distinctives of the Church clearly explained from Scripture here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reflections in the Psalms

C.S. Lewis once wrote a book Reflections on the Psalms but it is not very recommended reading because of his treatment of the doctrine of inspiration and the imprecatory psalms (or psalms of cursing). To reflect ‘on’ the Psalms seems to be the wrong approach – since it establishes a position of personal opinion above Scripture. This cannot be right: we come to the Scriptures with humility and trust in order to be changed by them, not to have our own assumptions reflected back at us unaltered.   We should not walk away from the mirror of Scripture without ‘looking’ intently into the ‘perfect law of liberty’ in order to continue in its precepts, remembering the way in which it has exposed our character (James 1:22-25). We should behold in that mirror ‘the glory of the Lord’ in order to be ‘changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (II Corinthians 3:18).

The Early Church Fathers (especially Athanasius (c. 296-373), Bishop of Alexandria) viewed the Psalms in this way. Athanasius is famous for his mighty defence of the deity of Christ. In his Letter on the Psalms, he praises the Psalter very highly:
[Within it] are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed and, seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given…you learn aboutyourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill (p.19).
Athanasius stresses the singing of the Psalms – for him this is their primary use and purpose, and he finds a special benefit in this:
It seems to me, moreover, that because the Psalms thus serve him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he sees himself and his own soul, he cannot help but render them in such a manner that their words go home with equal force to those who hear him sing, and stir them also to a like reaction…just as in a mirror the movements of our own souls are reflected in them an the words are indeed our very own, given us to serve both as a reminder of our changes of condition and as a pattern and model for the amendment of our lives (p.22-23).
Athanasius, together with all the Church Fathers as well as the apostles, also sees the Psalms as the Book about Christ, words that are His very own spoken about Himself: reflections of the perfect life of the perfect man. ‘And therefore, before He came among us, He sketched the likeness if this perfect life for us in words, in this same book of Psalms; in order that, just as He revealed Himself in flesh to be the perfect, heavenly Man, so in the Psalms also men of good-will might see the pattern life portrayed, and find therein the healing and correction of their own’ (p.24).

John Calvin continued the idea in calling the Psalter ‘an anatomy of all parts of the soul, since no one can experience emotions whose portrait he could not behold reflected in its mirror. Yes, the Holy Spirit has there depicted in the most vivid manner every species of pain, affliction, fear doubt, hope, care, anxiety, and turbulent emotion, through which the hearts of men are chased’.

As a book for corporate at least as much as individual praise the book of Psalms is also able to reflect and to change the Church as its songs are sung together (for the Church in the interpretation of the Psalms see Bishop Horne’s classic exposition).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

His righteousness complete by his Resurrection

Some notes from a sermon by one of our ministers some time ago.

John 20:1-8. There is much interest in the fact that John reached the grave before Peter, but the minister felt that might just have been the due to the fact that different people have different physiques and can run faster than others. What is significant is the word 'seeth' in John 20:6, which actually means that John 'studied' what he saw. The Scripture reference to the head napkin and the separate winding clothes disprove the Turin shroud's authenticity. The grave clothes had fallen in empty on themselves: Christ did not have to tear his way out of them, as His resurrection body was a spiritual body, real but capable of things the normal human body was not; this point is shown in His being able to walk through the door into the room where the disciples gathered later for fear of the Jews (John 20:19).

Many place emphasis on the incarnation, the child in the manger. But that is an incomplete Saviour. To fully satisfy divine justice, Christ had to suffer and die and rise again, His righteousness complete by his resurrection, His foes defeated.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

in one day

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Zechariah 3v9 "I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day".
1. the greatness of Christ's suffering; 2. the greatness of the strength of Christ, and 3. the greatness of His love.

Adam's one 'small' act of disobedience had massive repercussions for the millions of his descendants; one sin led to another and the corruption brought in by his one act of disobedience has led to an infinite number of sins. Each sin any one person commits can lead to  dreadful results too in future generations.

The minister laid emphasis on the sufferings being in Christ's human nature as the divine nature cannot suffer (an error, he said which is beginning to appear now). Also laid stress on His love to His own people and the great victory wrought.

Samson was a type of Christ. Just as Samson brought down the house of his enemies by heaving down the two pillars which held it up, so Christ leaned His strength against Sin and Death - the two pillars holding up the House of Satan. And just as Samson destroyed more of the Philistines in his death than he did in his life, so Christ caused great destruction to Satan in His own death.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

O send out thy light and thy truth

A few sermon notes from one of the ministers.

Psalm 43 v 3;4. "O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. 4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God".

The desire is for a blessing on God's Word to his own soul, for the Word to be his guide. The first word in v3 is 'O'…how much meaning is in that one-vowel word of longing, which also appears at the end of v4. The psalmist is able to say that the Most High is "my God".

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

John 6 v5-6 "When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?  6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do".

Points made were: 1. the problem; and 2. the solution.

1. The hungry people would have been amazed to be told that the Most High was to use the events of that day by putting it into Scripture for posterity. The people had no food. Philip was looking at the problem, rather than looking at Christ. He was forgetting how the Saviour turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and how He healed many of their diseases in the previous few days. Philip was also forgetting the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament books which told of the Lord's dealings, for example the children of Israel being fed with manna and quails from heaven. Philip was overlooking the Lord's mercy, love, intercession and promises to His people.

2. The solution. The Lord told them to feed the crowd with the barley loaves and small fish. The barley bread was the least tasty of the Jewish baking, and small fish would be less tasty and substantial than large ones. So is the gospel to natural unregenerate man. It is insipid and without attraction to him.

The food was handed out by disciples but it was really Christ who was giving it to the people. Some in the crowd might have not wanted the food from them. So, we have to be careful that we're not looking to this preacher, or that one in particular, for a blessing. It's the Lord who's dividing the word of truth. An old elder used to say that if you're looking to man in the preaching, it's the man you will get; and if you're looking for Christ, it's Christ you will get.

The smallest fragment in the hand of the disciples was feeding the people. When you get a taste of Christ from one portion of Scripture or hearing preaching on one of His works or attributes, you are really getting Him all.

But how did He spread five loaves and two fish between twelve disciples in the first place? He had to break these items of food. In doing that, He was preaching Himself. He had to be broken Himself. As the great High Priest he was to offer Himself as a sacrifice. The veil of the temple was to be torn, just as His body was broken on the cross.

The fragments were gathered: it would be good for us to discuss the word and preaching afterwards so it sticks in the mind. Spoke of a man, over 100 years old, who'd emigrated to the USA from Scotland in his youth. One day the man remembered a church service back in Scotland, where the preacher had refused in tears to pronounce the benediction at the end of the service, asking the congregation how he could possibly bless them when they were not converted. This worked on the old man's conscience as he recalled it all these years later. It was blessed to his soul.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

glorying in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Galatians 6v14. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world”.

All religions in this world are either about salvation by works, or salvation by faith in the finished work of Christ. That has ever been the dividing line between spiritual life and spiritual death; it was the line between Jacob and Esau, Abel and Cain; it's the fundamental difference today, and the difference between those entitled to go to the Lord's Table and those who are not.

The Galatians people were showing signs of going back to works salvation. What uncertain creatures we are -- the Word, Spirit and experience teach us that. We have native antipathy to giving all the glory to Christ alone for salvation. But over against that, Paul states that he will not glory save in the Cross of Jesus Christ. He had long experience of the years the locusts had eaten while he followed works, he'd spent long enough in the camp of glorying in other things, long enough with that cracked vessel.

Three headings: 1. Paul gloried in a great name. 2. Paul gloried in the cross. 3. The world was crucified to him.

1. Glorying in a great name. In Isaiah Ch 6 we see glory given to God. That vision was given to Isaiah at the beginning, to set his feet right. The angels are saying: "We never did anything glorious, we are less than nothing compared to the One who set His face as flint to go up to Jerusalem, saying 'To do thy will I take delight' ". The angels are saying: " God forbid that we should glory".

The Bible says that His name shall be called Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins. Joshua was a type of Christ. He cleared the land of giants so his people could have possession of the land. Christ came into possession, knocking down the walls of the Jericho of man's pride, slaying the giants of unbelief, striving with Satan in the wilderness. He has come as the New Testament Joshua to destroy the works of the devil, cast down his citadels. The possessions which the New Testament Joshua has gained for His people are the sure mercies of David in the covenant of grace.

Paul gloried in His name as Christ. Christ means anointed, the Messiah. In the Old Testament, prophets were anointed to speak with the authority of God. Moses stood face to face with God and came down from the mount with his face shining so much it had to be veiled. The prophets had to receive the Spirit -- that's what the holy anointing oil represented. Christ was THE Messiah, there were many prophets, but here is the One who is the voice of wisdom, able to speak a word in season to them that are weary. He also speaks with authority. He told Zacchaeus to come down at once from the tree. He pronounces that salvation has come to this house. He cries outside the grave of Lazarus and Lazarus comes forth. Lazarus comes forth and joins them so that the little family in Bethany can be remade. (In contrast to this level of authority, Paul had to ask for men to pray that he would be given a dorr of utterance).

Christ was anointed as a priest. Paul gloried in the High Priest who was holy, harmless and undefiled. Nothing less than this One, who was holy in Himself, would suffice; though He is bone of our bone and flesh o our flesh, He is nevertheless separate from sinners. This High Priest continueth ever, in the order of Melchisedec, without end of days, He is anointed as High Priest, continuing ever with divine power to take away sins. The divinity in the High Priest means he is able to save to the uttermost.

Christ was anointed as a King. There was one high point in the history of Israel’s kings and that wad the reign of David. The Lord over-ruled the waywardness of Israel in asking for a king – He is able to accomplish His purposes with means, above means, without means etc. Saul died, David anointed goes before in the house of his father. He was set apart to receive a kingly disposition, a nearness to the Lord, “a man after mine own heart” said the Lord. There was no time like the kingship of David in the history of Israel. His head was crowned with many crowns. Let us serve Him and pay Him allegiance. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were given to Christ in the stable. No doubt the wise men from the east gave Herod his place as an earthly king but there was no glory in Herod’s crown and scepter as there was in Christ’s. When men’s feet are “put upon the rock” there is praise for heaven’s King. Do you see anything in Him worth your allegiance and zeal?

2. Glorying in the Cross. Here is the cross of the same King. Christ died there, having lived a life of pain and sorrow. He was tempted in the wilderness. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. “Is there any sorrow like unto my sorrow” he asks. He was the seed of the woman, promised at the gates of the Garden of Eden. His great purpose was to save by the cross. He was to turn the curse into a blessing, destroy the destroyer, tramp on the head of the serpent, tread the wine-press alone.

Wherever there is to be hope of cleansing the soul from sin, even one sinful thought, there must be the cross.

The cross was a public statement that the Second Adam was bearing away the curse. The two great elements to be seen at the cross are God’s love to His people, and the justice of God being set forth.

There are “songs in the night” at the cross. There is a dark night – see Psalm 130 – “if thou should’st mark iniquity, who shall stand?” Yet there is a song there too – “but yet with thee forgiveness is, that feared thou mayest be”.

Just as there was a  savour from the sacrifice Noah offered, on leaving the ark – a savour of rest, justice having been done on the wicked people – so there is a savour of rest and completion and satisfaction of divine justice at the cross of Christ.

3. Crucified to the world. Paul experienced an alienation from the world, its values, pomp, ceremonies and priorities.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man...

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

John 6v53

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.

Christ is using a metaphor. V 30 shows the Jews looking for a sign. It seems they were trying to impose this thinking on the Saviour, that He should show them a sign like Moses had done. There are warnings in Scripture against this. "A wicked and adulterous generation require a sign, etc" -- this is a fruit of the native unbelief and unwillingness to accept the word of the Lord which has already ben given. Yet, in this case, Christ does use the idea of a sign.

The Jews at this point could not understand the significance of His words. Now we have the full revelation of Calvary, we can and ought to understand this figurative language here. The manna Moses gave was not THE life-giving bread; it was a miracle and sign and proof that God spoke by Moses but not THE bread. Christ points to this by saying "My Father giveth you the true bread" (v32)

In v53 Christ is giving the application of the metaphor.

1. The verse teaches there must be a receiving of Him. This is as fundamental as the Father giving Him, and He giving Himself on Calvary. A man is not a Christian unless he believes that the Father sent the Son to redeem. Christ came to do the will of Him that sent him. What a will that was, what requirements were attached to it! O how essential it is. Christ's life is not just an example or pattern of behaviour, but He lived that he might give His flesh for the world, (men of evrry kind, not just Jews). He was giving His life, it was substitution, one in the place of another, Christ crucified. This was the commandment of the Father. Christ gave Himself as a ransom for many.

But, it's equally essential that they would eat. There's a receiving of His flesh and blood by faith. It's  a spiritual receiving of the atonement.

2. The teaching is a distinguishing doctrine -- it discriminates between people.

3 These words are soul-humbling; it's a doctrine which offends or humbles.

4. It is a soul-satisfying doctrine. "My flesh is meat indeed". It is in proportion to their faith, that their soul gets satisfaction.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The thief's dying prayer

Luke 23v42, 43. "And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise".

1. The unusual prayer. The thief preached before he prayed. He was the only person who defended Christ at the scene of the crucifixion. He never enjoyed spiritual fellow-ship with another sinner on this earth. The thief was on the cross, losing his ability to speak.

2. The prayer's content. The prayer showed that Christ was his Lord, the ruler of his life; he was not just seeing Christ as Saviour. We don't know if the thief could read, but he could see the inscription 'King of the Jews'. The words Jew and Judah means 'praise of God'.

3. Its answer. The phrase 'with me' is crucial. It refers to Christ bringing the thief close to Him, sanctifying him, and taking him into heaven as His brother. The thief would have heard the cry: "It is finished". This was the most joyous cry ever heard in the history of the earth. He'd have heard Christ commit His spirit into the hands of the Father. These were 'hands' that were as holy and just as himself. The most precious soul ever on earth was being committed to God the Father.

Friday, May 02, 2014

He that hath the bride

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

John 3v29. "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled". The words are those of John. Two points:

1. The unique privilege of the bridegroom. Christ is the bridegroom to the bride, His church. This was a marriage arranged beforehand, like all marriages. But this was arranged and covenanted for, in a past Eternity. There are no slip-ups in this marriage, nothing goes wrong.

2. The privilege of the bride-groom's friend. John was the special friend, like the special friend at Jewish weddings who waited for the voice of the groom. Eliezer spoke in this way on behalf of Isaac. John heard the voice of Christ. The voice was similar to the sound of the trumpet, blown at the Jubilee, when slaves were set free and debts wiped out. Again, the voice of Christ was like the sound of the bells on Aaron's garment. It's sounding showed that the High Priest had put the special garment back on, during the Great Day of Atonement and that his sacrifice on behalf of the people had been accepted. The atoning blood had been accepted. The golden bells and pomegranates hit each other, causing the sound. The golden bells signified the gospel, and they struck the pomegranates, these dried fruit signifying the finished work.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Every plant...

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Matthew 15v13: "But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up".

Points: 1. The greatest planting done by the father; 2. The Lord's people as plants; 3. Those that are not planted by the father.

1. The Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest planting done by the Most High and is referred to often as a plant. He is the Rose of Sharon -- His name is as ointment poured forth. How few today love to think of the Godhead. He is the lily of the valleys  -  He is with His people in the dark valleys through which they travel. There are different valleys but the lily, Christ, is the same always.  He is the apple tree and the fruits of His death are sweet to His people. He is the Plant of Renown. He is the Branch. He is the True Vine.

2. The Lord's people are planted by Him. They are in the wilderness of this world. The Bible refers to the fir and the oak and the pine being found in the wilderness -- the place you would not expect to find these kinds of trees.

3. In the preceding verses the Pharisees are seen with their traditions of men, which Christ condemned. Unlike false plants such as the Pharisees, the Lord's people always have green leaves…see Psalm One.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Blessed are the meek"

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Matthew 5v5: "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth".

This is one of the best known sections of the Bible. Men believe it provides an easy religion. The expressions in the first few verses can be heard in ordinary conversation. Yet people ignore the fact that Christs exhorts men to be perfect in this chapter. And that He exhorts to greater righteousness than that of the Pharisees.

Meekness is that evenness of temper, in the face of oppression from others, that does not go into sinful passions; and on the other hand does not go into undue sadness. It is a calmness of spirit. It was seen in its clearest expression in Christ. But was also seen in David as he faced rebellion and the loss of friends and opposition from within his family. Also seen in Moses despite all that he faced. All these graces in the first section of Matthew 5 complement each other; where one is, the others will accompany it in some measure.

The promise is that such will inherit the earth. Some have interpreted this to refer to the whole earth being filled with the knowledge of God in the days of the latter glory. But the minister said he leaned more to it being the blessing of contentment with our lot in providence, which the Lord gives to His own. Some have been poor materially and some not, but whatever their circumstances there is this blessing for the meek .

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Purge me with hyssop"

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Psalms 51v7 "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow".

This is one of the seven penitential Psalms. Augustine asked for all seven to be put on the walls of the room where he lay in his final illness.

Hyssop was  a plant used to sprinkle blood and water in the various ceremonies of the Old Testament. It was used for example to confirm that the leper -- formerly kept outside the camp -- was now cured and therefore clean. That is a picture of the saved sinner. The priests used hyssop in the sacrifices. And it was also used by Moses in making the covenant with the Most High on behalf of the people. In this Psalm, David is seeking that the Lord would expiate -- put away  -- the guilt and pollution and power of sin. The word purge in this verse was translated in Luther's German Bible by a word not found normally in English -- "un-sin me". All of these points have relevance to the sacrament of baptism. The sprinkling is a symbol, a sign, something that signifies the inner cleansing that must take place in the sinner. The person baptised is under the vows and in adult life we should all be considering whether we have fulfilled the blessings available in the visible church, of which we become part by baptism.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Switzerland Reformation Tour 2014

Switzerland Reformation Tour. A tour to Geneva and other Swiss towns associated with the Reformation

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

John Knox @ 500

As you may know 2014 marks the 500th centenary (as far as can be fairly assessed) of John Knox's birth.  On the right hand side of this blog you will find regular tweets of John Knox quotations, there is also a page at http://about.me/johnknox.

You may also be interested in a conference on John Knox due to take place in April.

Why is there nothing else much - apart from a tour? Will there be a commemorative stamp? A google doodle home page? A photo call with the First Minister outside St Giles? Will the Established Church even acknowledge it?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Guest Post: The Establishment Principle and the Unity of the Church #2

Mark Hausam's second post. 


At this point we can begin to see how the Establishment Principle (EP) supports the unity of the church of Christ.  We can see this partly by recognizing how societies that have abandoned (either explicitly or in practice) the EP and instead embraced a voluntaristic view of the relationship between church and state have correspondingly had trouble maintaining the unity of the church.

In the United States of America, for example, abandonment of the EP has gone hand in hand with abandonment of the concept of the formal unity of the church.  This can be seen by taking a look at the revised version of the Westminster Confession embraced by the mainstream Presbyterian tradition in the United States, in particular the section on the civil magistrate that corresponds to the quotation from the original version of the Confession quoted at the very beginning of this article:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance (Westminster Confession 23:3 as revised by American Presbyterian synods in 1788).
Notice the intertwining here of two ideas, 1. that the civil magistrate ought not to establish or even show any favoritism to any particular Christian denomination, and 2. that there are multiple legitimate denominations.  Historically, the embracing of denominationalism--the idea that there can be multiple, legitimate, de jure denominations--is what led to opposition to the EP.  If there is more than one legitimate denomination, then it wouldn't make sense for the civil magistrate to establish only one of them.  And yet the civil magistrate can't establish all of them, because they are not in full formal communion with each other and have contradictory teachings and practices.  An attempt to formally recognize all of them fully would result in a contradictory position for the civil government.  So the only solution was to disestablish them all and treat them all, in effect, as private organizations no different in principle from the Boy Scouts or a country club or any other purely voluntary, not-officially-recognized organization.

Disestablishmentarianism (that is, the abandonment of the principles of the EP) and denominationalism tend to reinforce each other in a society.  Historically, in Britain and in the United States in particular, the pattern seems to have worked in this way:  Before 1690, most Christians were opposed both to denominationalism and to disestablishmentarianism.  They believed firmly that the church of Christ is one and that the nature of the church is incompatible with idea of multiple de jure denominations, and they also believed firmly that the state should formally acknowledge the legitimate denominational church.  However, in 1690, toleration begin to be established in Britain.  Multiple churches were allowed to exist without hindrance.  This contributed more and more over time to the advancement of an agnostic attitude in British society, and people became more and more indifferent to the truth claims of the various churches.  This attitude of indifferentism, in turn, created a lack of concern for the unity of the church.  "Agreeing to disagree in a friendly and charitable manner" came to replace biblical unity as the ideal for the people of God.  Toleration and indifferentism combined led to the setting up of more and more denominations until the point was reached that most of the church and the broader society became used to having multiple churches and thought nothing of it, even embracing it as the ideal--the state we are in today, except that we've now gone even further and embraced non-Protestant forms of Christianity and even non-Christian religions and Atheism and Agnosticism into the mix.  Denominationalism and indifferentism, in turn, serve to reinforce the idea that the civil government should not establish a particular church, which then continues to reinforce denominationalism, which continues to reinforce disestablishmentarianism, and so on.

It is easy to see how an embracing of the EP would tend to be a scourge for denominationalism and would encourage concern for the formal unity of the church.  We don't tend to have a problem similar to denominationalism in the civil sphere.  That is, we don't live in societies where people go around joining themselves to a whole host of different civil magistrates based on their personal taste, agreeing happily to disagree:  "Oh, David Cameron is your Prime Minister?  That's nice!  My personal Prime Minister is Ed Miliband!"  This doesn't happen because we understand the concept that there is an officially recognized civil government.  A person doesn't get to be a civil magistrate simply be standing up and declaring himself to be one.  He has to be properly appointed and legitimately recognized.  Otherwise, he is not legitimate, however much he may protest that he is or wish to be.  Similarly, in the EP system, the church is formally recognized by the society.  One cannot simply decide to start a new denomination and have it be recognized as legitimate.  One has to go through the proper channels, and if one doesn't do so, one cannot be recognized as having any legitimate authority.  If a session, or a presbytery, decides to break from the rest of the established church, the society will view that session or presbytery as having forfeited its legitimate authority to function and will treat it accordingly.

Thus, an EP way of looking at things, in contrast with voluntarism, will make it impossible for a situation to arise in which the legitimate church can come to be viewed as being made up of multiple independent denominations.  Just as the fact that the federal government of the United States has an official position on who the legitimate governor of Utah actually is prevents multiple governors from being considered to be legitimate and accepted by different people in Utah, so the formal recognition of the true church by the civil government will have the effect of preventing multiple independent ecclesiastical organizations from being considered all to be legitimate, de jure churches (though it may still be recognized that those who are not members of the established, legitimate church may be, in fact, regenerated members of Christ's Body de facto or informally).  The question of the de jure legitimacy and authority of the various existing denominations and the mandate of the unity of the church must be faced whether or not the civil magistrate does his part by formally recognizing and establishing Christianity and the church, but if he does do his part, it makes it much harder for the society to forget the importance of these principles and these questions and for the indifferentism that allows denominationalism to flourish to become established.  In this way, the civil magistrate has a major role to play in taking order "that unity and peace be preserved in the Church."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Post: The Establishment Principle and the Unity of the Church #1

Mark Hausam lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, where he is an instructor in Philosophy at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT, and an instructor at the New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy He is a member at Christ Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, UT.  He is also the author of Why Christianity is True.  His blog can be found here

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

I have read the above-quoted portion of the Westminster Confession many, many times, but it was only recently that a particular phrase of it stood out to me, a phrase that briefly states an idea that I think is of enormous importance for the ideal of church unity.  In describing the duties of the civil magistrate relating to religion, the Confession notes that it is the civil magistrate's duty "to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church."  Particularly, I am now interested in the idea that part of the role of the civil magistrate is to help preserve "unity" in the church of Christ.


How does the civil magistrate help preserve unity in the church of Christ?  In order to answer this question, we need to look at the overall idea of civil government put forward by the Westminster Confession.  The Confession puts forward a biblical view of the relationship between civil government and religion that has come to be known as the Establishment Principle.  The Establishment Principle can be expressed in these two basic concepts:

1. The civil magistrate is not neutral in religious matters.  This non-neutrality is both a logical necessity and a moral imperative.  The civil magistrate is in the business of making and enforcing civil laws and public policies.  In order to do this, he (or they--I'll use the singular pronoun for shorthand while recognizing the diversity of forms civil government can take) must have in mind ideals as to how society should function, a hierarchy of valuable ends that are worth pursuing, beliefs about what is right and wrong and good and bad, a perspective on what the purpose of civil government is and thus what tasks he should be about, and so on.  But all of these ideals, beliefs, values, etc., are dependent upon which worldview is actually true.  If Agnosticism or Atheism is the worldview through which we should view the world, this will lead to a particular set of ideals, values, and beliefs.  If Islam is the correct worldview, this will lead to a quite different set of values and beliefs.  If Reformed Christianity is true, this will lead to yet another distinct set of beliefs and values.

Granting that this is the case, it is evident to the mind of man, whether illuminated by special revelation or not, that civil governments ought to base their laws and policies not on falsehood but on reality.  It would be absurd to hold that while it is good for individuals to base their lives on reality, it is perfectly reasonable and harmless for entire societies to be grounded in fundamentally false views about the nature of the universe.  This is why Atheists and Agnostics are so bent on bringing about a fully secular society.  A secular society is a society that assumes that we have no knowledge of the supernatural but only of the natural world.  Secularists like to present secularism as a neutral point of view upon which government can be based, but of course it is not neutral at all--it is the political instantiation of Agnosticism or Atheism.  How foolish, then, is it for Christians to advocate for a secular society!  Can we imagine Atheists advocating for a Christian or an Islamic theocracy?  Of course not.  And yet we see Christians all too often advocating for an Agnostocracy or an Atheocracy (though they don't put it so bluntly).

Both Christian common-sense, then, as well as the Bible, leads us to conclude that the civil government should not be secular but should be explicitly, officially Christian.  The civil magistrate should acknowledge and establish the true Christian religion and base his laws and policies on that truth.  We see this idea put forward, among many other places in Scripture, in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
The Westminster Confession summarizes this teaching in this way:

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (WCF 23:1)

The civil magistrate is the "minister of God", whose job it is to keep the public sphere clear of evil and safe for the good as much as possible, judging good and bad and learning the rules and methods of his governing from the revelation of God.

Note also that these biblical principles do not lead to the conclusion that the civil magistrate should acknowledge and ground his laws in only some portion of God's revealed truth while neglecting other parts of it.  The established religion should not be merely a lowest-common-denominator, watered-down form of Christianity, but it should embrace the fullness of the the whole counsel of God.  Just as the individual, and the family, and the church, has no right to ignore any portion of God's Word, so the civil magistrate must also acknowledge all of it.  The church ought not to be simply "Christian" in a lowest-common-denominator sort of way, but it should have a confession that is distinctly Reformed and Presbyterian (because the Reformed faith, summarized in the Westminster Standards, is the full and purest expression of biblical Christianity).  Similarly, it is not just a watered-down Christianity that should be embraced by the civil magistrate and by the entire society, but true, biblical, Reformed Christianity.
2. The civil magistrate should not only acknowledge and establish the true religion in an abstract sense, but he should formally recognize the official rulers of the church.  It is not enough for Christians and for churches to acknowledge some abstract concept of "proper biblical civil governance."  We must fully and formally recognize the specific civil government that is set over us and the specific rulers who have formal rule over us in the civil sphere.  To put it more specifically, as an American, I cannot simply acknowledge the abstract principles of biblical civil government; I must also formally acknowledge my allegiance to the particular civil government set over me by the providence of God--the federal government of the United States of America, the government of the State of Utah, and the government of the City of Orem.  I must recognize and show proper respect and deference to all those who are formally recognized to have an official role in the functioning of these legitimate governments.  If I do not like the current president of the United States, I cannot simply ignore him and decide to set up my own president.  This would be rebellion against those who have lawful rule over me.

In the same way, the civil magistrate has an obligation not just to acknowledge in the abstract the doctrines of the true religion; he must also formally, explicitly, and officially recognize as established the true church of God.  He must formally acknowledge and recognize the sessions, presbyteries, synods, and national assembly of the true church of Christ in his nation.  He must recognize the formally-appointed officers who make up these ecclesiastical governing bodies.

The ideal the Establishment Principle points to is a situation where the society as a whole embraces a formal recognition of all of the leaders God has appointed over the people--both civil and ecclesiastical (and parental).  The society of the United States of America, for example, ought to acknowledge both an official body of civil governance and an official body of ecclesiastical governance, which bodies mutually and formally acknowledge each other and support each other in their distinct spheres of jurisdiction and activity.  Here in America, this concept is extremely foreign, as we have never had an officially-recognized established church.  In Scotland, on the other hand, this situation is at least in principle familiar (if not currently functioning in the best of conditions, to put it mildly).


Some Scripture Proofs of the Establishment Principle

2 Kings 18:4 He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. (1CH 13:1-8; 2KI 24:1-25) 2CH 34:33 And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the Lord their God. And all his days they departed not from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.

2 Chron 15:12 And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; 13 That whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.

2 Chron 19:8 Moreover in Jerusalem did Jehoshaphat set of the Levites, and of the priests, and of the chief of the fathers of Israel, for the judgment of the Lord, and for controversies, when they returned to Jerusalem. 9 And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully, and with a perfect heart. 10 And what cause soever shall come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye shall even warn them that they trespass not against the Lord, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass. 11 And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good. (2 Chron 29-30)

Ezra 7:23 Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? 25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. 26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment. 27 Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem: 28 And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellers, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.

Ps. 2:10-12 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Ps. 9:17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.

Ps.22:27-28 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations.

Ps. 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.

Isa. 49:23 And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.

Isa. 60:12 For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.

Rom. 13:3-4 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

1 Tim. 2.1-2 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

Revelation 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.

Rev. 19:16 And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

Rev. 21:24, 26 And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.

More Reading on the Establishment Principle

A paper on this topic can be found here, here and here and a useful booklet here.