Monday, May 28, 2007

The Believer's Journey - a simple picture

Genesis 12:5 'and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came'.

What is the believer's destination?
The heavenly Canaan.

How does this journey begin?
The eyes of the soul are opened to see the wrath to come, to which they are heading but from which they must flee.

How are they turned away from this direction into the right way?
They are given faith which runs out after Christ as the only way to life and the city of refuge to whom they must flee. They are also given repentance which turns their back upon their sins, so that they longer walk according to the course of this world.

How do they begin in the journey?
They begin with a blessedness upon them and rejoicing and singing. The love of their espousals makes them are strong and active in setting out in the way and they lift up their feet.

How long is the journey?
Although some are only a short time in the wilderness, usually it is a long journey and they are often longing to be at their destination, looking for a better country and the city whose builder and maker is God.

What is the wilderness like through which they must pass?
It is not only a strange country but a waste howling wilderness, with no provision in it for their journey.

How do they get strength for this journey?
They have no strength of their own but with a sense of their own weakness they go up out of the wilderness of this world leaning upon the Beloved.

Is it an easy journey?
It is not a smooth but a narrow, hard and rugged way, they must labour to enter into that rest and it can be lonely because only a few travel on this path. Yet because it is the right way they acknowledge them to be ways of pleasantness and that all these paths are peace.

What holds back the believer in their journey?
Remaining sin still easily besets and entangles them, sometimes they are blinded by their old sins so that they cannot see afar off, and so their progress is hindered.

How does the believer deal with these hindrances?
The believer must be killing sin and so laying it aside. They will make no progress without defending themselves to the death against the sin that seeks their life. These are like the Amalekites that fought against the Israelites in the wilderness but the Lord is the banner of His people and through the Spirit they are able to overcome.

What adversities does the believer meet with in the land of Providence?
They meet with many storms, steep and stony, even perilous or else slippery places. In the darkest of valleys, however, they are never left to find their way alone. The heat of trials and temptations and the fierce storm of afflictions are often intense but they have an apple-tree under which they may rest and a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. All the adversities that they face however, work for their good and help them further in their journey and make them more earnest to reach their destination.
What sustains the believer in their journey?
The bread of life is given to them daily for the journey - there are also wells and pools of grace for them to drink of in the way. They often have the light and heat of the Sun of righteousness upon them. They are also upheld in their goings by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes their heart is so enlarged that they are enabled to run the way marked out for them. Then they have the statutes of God for their songs in the days of their pilgrimage.

What guides are given for the way?
Light and truth lead the way for the believer and goodness and mercy follow them for their help.

What is the general character of the believer's progress?
They go from strength to strength and their path is shining ever brighter unto the perfect day.

Is this always true of the believer?
Although this is the general character yet they can also grow weary and stumble in the way. They are perplexed but not in despair, cast down but not destroyed. When they slide back in their path, they are restored. Though they fall, they arise and though they may have difficulties they cannot go altogether out of the way.

How do they arrive in the heavenly Canaan?
Their journey ends in peace and they arrive in the heavenly Canaan with singing and everlasting joy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

James Durham on the Intercession of Christ

There is much encouragment in this sermon by James Durham on the text Isaiah 53:12. And made intercession for the transgressors.

Encouragement for the individual
Durham shows how "Disposition for duty, and help in the performance of duty, flows from his intercession. It is this that makes us pray, and that gives us boldness in prayer, and in other duties, that there is such an high priest over the house of God (as it is, Heb. 10:19-21). It is this that gives us ground of approaching to God, and to expect a hearing; and (as it is, Luke 13:7-8), it is his digging and pains, that makes the barren fig tree fruitful."

He goes on to say: "It flows from this, that our prayers are heard, though there be much infirmity in them, and that they are not cast back in our faces as dung, but are made savory to God, it is through the efficacy of his intercession. We have a type of this [in] Rev. 8:4-5, where John sees an angel come and stand at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it up with the prayers of all saints, and the smoke of the incense which came up with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God. It was savory and acceptable to God, and made the prayers of all saints acceptable; for the weight of God’s accepting their prayers, is laid on the smoke of his incense. It is he that takes the mangled and half prayers of his people, and presents them to God; and when they would be cast back, as the supplication of an enemy, he as great Master of requests, through the acceptation that he has with God, makes them acceptable. We should have no ground to pray with confidence, nor expectation to be heard, if there were not a golden censer in his hand."

For those oppressed by their sin in holy things and duties - there is this help that "our Lord, by his intercession, takes away the guilt of our holy things; for when we approach to God in worship, there is a carnalness and pollutedness in the best things we do; much irreverence, much unbelief, much [lack] of humility, zeal, sincerity and tenderness; so that all our righteousnesses are but as filthy rags. But the high priest (Ex. 38:28), has on his forehead, Holiness to the Lord; and his office is, to bear the iniquities of the holy things of the children of Israel, that they may be accepted before the Lord; and in this he was a type of Christ, the great high priest going in unto heaven, to make intercession for his people, who bears not only their iniquities, but the iniquity of their holy things. Aaron answers for them as the type, our Lord Jesus as the Anti-type; he being eminently Holiness to the Lord, and having holiness on his forehead, and being so well pleasing to the Father. However our prayers and praises, and other parts of service, be but little worth; yet he makes them acceptable, and procures that they be not rejected, when he is for this end employed and made use of."

Further we ought to consider that "we come never to hear preaching, but we are beholden to it; it being a peculiar fruit of his intercession, that gifts are given to men, and that the gospel is sent through the earth. And if ever any get good of a sermon, it is by virtue of this intercession, seeing he has said that he will pray the Father, and that he will send the Comforter [John 14:16]; and whenever we come to hear preaching, there would be (to say so), a reviving of the thoughts of Christ’s intercession, and a stirring up of ourselves to get the faith of it lively in its exercise."

Encouragement for the Church

In a day of small things the exercised Christian has many fears in relation to the Church. Like Eli, they tremble for the ark of God. Durham shows how these fears are largely incorporated into 4 main fears which are answered in the intercession of Christ.

"1. The first is the fear of a scarcity, or weakness of the public ministry; that being the great gift which he has given for the edifying of his body;and it being a prejudice to the Church, when she has not pastors according to God’s own heart. But compare Ps. 68:18 with Eph. 4:8, 12-14, and we willfind that his intercession answers all that fear. In the Psalm, it is said, Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men; which supposes his seeking of, or making suit for them; or, as the word is, ‘thou hast received gifts in the man,’ that is, being in our nature, he procured them. And, Eph. 4, it is said, He gave gifts to men; and compare these two places with a third, to wit, Acts 1:4 where he bids his apostles tarry at Jerusalem, till he send the promised Spirit; and immediately, after his ascension (as it is, Acts 2), he poured it out, which abode on them, in the likeness of cloven tongues of fire. It is likewise said that that Spirit was not given, for Jesus was not yet glorified (John 11:39). All which show an influence that Christ’s ascension has on the pouring out of the Spirit, and on the gifts given to men, whether ministers or others. There is nothing amongst men readily less cared for, than a ministry; some would have none at all, others would have them of such a stamp, as would please and humor them. But our Lord has received gifts to be given unto men; and he that poured out such gifts on the apostles and others, has what gifts he pleases, and sees needful for his Church’s edification, yet to give. And that he gives such gifts to men, that his people are not praying much for; whence is it, but from his intercession? Therefore, we will find that he delights in this property, as a piece of his spiritual state and grandeur, That he holds the stars in his right hand (Rev. 1:16); such is his respect to them, and his it is to dispose of them.

2. It is a greatly exercising difficulty to the Church of God, to think of the mighty opposition that is made by enemies; Mahomet, heathens, Antichrist, false brethren, threatening to swallow up the little stock, the Church of Christ, which is like a bush burning with fire, and not consumed. But for this there is a consolation in Christ’s intercession, according to that word (Heb. 10:13), He sat down on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting, till his enemies be made his footstool. He has this for his suit at the Father’s bar, and is backing it. Upon this it followed, and as a fruit of it, that all the first persecutions were broken; on this it has come to pass, that Antichrist’s kingdom is tottering; and it is on this ground, that his bearing-down and utter-breaking will be accomplished. Hence it is most emphatically said (1 Cor 15:24) that he must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet; according to the promise made by Jehovah to him (Ps. 110:1), The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. He cannot be an Intercessor, but his enemies must down. For who, I pray, will be able to stand, when he gives in his complaint against them? Who will plead Antichrist’s and other persecutors’ cause, when he appears against them? And he is so certain of his enemies being made his footstool, that he is waiting till he see it done; he must reign till then, maugre [notwithstanding] all the malice and might of devils and men.

3. It is a difficulty to the Church and people of God, to think on such great confusions as are in the world; there are but a few judicatories that are for Christ; but few governors, higher or lower, that do consult his honor, or regard him; it is others that have the throne and court, and the guiding of things, than friends and favorers of his interest, for most part. But here the consolation lies, that there is a court in heaven that gives out orders, where the Church has an agent constantly lying, where the devil and the world has none; Jesus Christ is the Church’s agent and intercessor there. Daniel has a word to this purpose (Dan. 10:13), The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days, but Michael the chief Prince came to help me. And (Dan. 10:21), There is none in all the court of Persia that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your Prince. The great intercessor was at court, looking that nothing went wrong, seeing that no decree was passed to the prejudice of the people of God, and his work. In the time when they were building the temple, He is said (Zech. 6:13), to build the temple of the Lord, to bear the glory, and to be a Priest, sitting and ruling on his throne; having the government committed to him. What hazard then is there here, when heaven guides all, when the Church has an Agent at the court, to see (as I said), that nothing go wrong, when Michael the Prince is there, and sees all the acts and decrees of the court, and reads them, yea draws them, and looks well that there be nothing in them hurtful to his Church. And O! may we not, and should we not thank God for this?

4. A fourth thing that troubles the Church of God, is the abounding of offences in herself, and the spreading of error, which, like a flood, threatens to drown the Church; and great stormy winds come, that are like to blow down the house of God; offences and stumblings abound, and error, which (I just now said), as a flood is like to drown all. When the devil is put from the throne, and gets not violence acted, he turns about, and falls on another way, and spews out his flood of error, to devour the Woman and her Child; but our Lord has a vote here also. After the persecution of the heathen is over (Rev. 7:1-2), John sees an angel ascending from the east, the great Lordkeeper, or Chancellor of the Father’s council, the supreme Deputy over all under-officers, that has the keeping of the great-seal of the living God, and there is nothing relevant nor valid till it be sealed by him. And mark the time when he appears; it is when the winds are held, and ready to blow, as verse 1, but he cries with a loud voice, Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of God in their fore-heads. ‘Stay,’ he says, ‘a little; ere these winds blow that will take the most part off their feet, ere that delusion go forward; there are some servants of God that must be marked, and put without the reach of the hazard, and the winds shall get leave to blow.’ What reason then of anxiety is there, or could be here, if the solid and lively faith of this intercessor, and advocate, his being in heaven, and thus interceding, were in our hearts?"

My counsel would be to read the whole sermon. There is also an interesting blog developing on Durham's preaching.

Monday, May 21, 2007

the agenda behind Blair's inter-faith mission

Tony Blair has announced that he wants to encourage inter-faith cooperation in his retirement. He "plans to act as an ambassador for multi-faith dialogue in Britain and abroad." Blair recently declared: "The tragedy is that Christians, Jews and Muslims are all Abrahamic religions. We regard ourselves as children of Abraham but we have fought for so long." The plan is to set up a Blair Foundation having as one of its main aims to promote further communication between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Apparently Blair's discussions with the present Pope in May 2006 centred around interfaith conversation and cooperation between religious leaders in order to combat extremism and international conflicts. The Blair foundation is said to have won the support of Canon Guy Wilkinson, the Church of England's adviser on interfaith relations, and Sir Sigmund Sternberg of the Three Faiths Forum.

Blair has also been in conversation with ecumenical Swiss Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng whom he has taken for his mentor. Hans Küng is founder and president of the Global Ethic Foundation in Tubingen, where Tony Blair has met him and spoken at his conferences. Küng champions what he calls a "global ethic" for people of different belief systems, both religious and non-religious. Küng's aim is to seek common religious ground in a global affirmation of human rights as defined by western liberal ideas. He believes that this will lead toward universal peace. In 1992 he drafted a "Declaration of the Religions for a Global Ethic" for the "Council for a Parliament of the World Religions". This synthesised all the major religions of the world to create a consensus of their moral teachings. He is said to have gained the interested support of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and other world leaders.

Küng's latest book "Islam: past, present and future" pursues this goal further.
Küng demands categorically that Christian theology and the Christian Churches should recognise "without reservation" that: "Through the Qur'an the Prophet gave countless people in his century and in the centuries that followed infinite inspiration, courage and power to make a new religious beginning: a move towards greater truth and deeper knowledge and a breakthrough towards enlivening and renewing traditional religion. Islam was the great help in life."

Concerning dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims, Küng argues that historic Christology must be jettisoned in favour of a Christology that would be decidedly "Jewish-Christian in character" would make this possible. Küng believes that the Nicean Creed and Chalcedon have "altered the message of the New Testament".

Although he was a key figure behind Vatican II, long ago Kung had his canonical license to operate as a Roman Catholic theologian removed. He had discussions with the current Pope in 2005, however, and he remains a priest.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thomas Goodwin - God is Love

I was very pleased to find that the Works of Thomas Goodwin are now all online. Here is an excerpt.

Our God being love, even love itself, 1 John 4:16, 'And we have known and believed the love God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.' Our God loving, where he sets his love, with an infinite love as himself is, which love of all things else in him he loves to shew the utmost of, and of all works, works of love have the most delight in them, therefore mercy is called his delight, his darling: Micah 7:18, 'Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.' Our God being thus love, and mercy his delight, he would gladly shew how well he could love creatures, he was most glad of the greatest opportunity to shew it; therefore he resolves upon this course, to reconcile enemies, whatsoever it should cost. And the more they should cost him, the gladder should they [he] be. The making of a thousand new friends could not have expressed so much love as the reconciling one enemy. To love and delight in friends, who had never wronged him, was too narrow, shallow, and slight a way. He had heights, depths, breadth of love: Ephesians 3:18, 'May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.' Which heights and depth of love he would make known, and which nothing but the depths of our misery could have drawn out.

And that this is the reason, see Rom. 5: 8, 10, ' But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' Ver. 10, 'For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.' God commends his love towards us, that whilst we were yet enemies, he gave his Son for us, not to be born only, but to die. Both our being sinners, and his giving his Son, commends or sets out his love; and that he might commend it, he pitcheth on this course. And that this love should be pitched upon men, not the angels that fell, it yet further commends his love. There were but two sorts of sinners whose sins could be taken away; and of the twain, who would not have thought but the fallen angels should have been propounded first, and have passed more easily? They were fairer and better creatures than we; and if he regarded service, one of them was able to do him more than a thousand of us. When he had bought us, he must be at a great deal of more trouble to preserve and tend us, than we were able ever to requite-in service and attendance upon him. He must allow us much of our time to sleep, and eat, and to be idle in; to refresh our bodies, and tend us as you would tend a child; rock us asleep every night, and make our beds in sickness; Psalm 41:3, 'The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness;' and feed us himself in due season. Whereas the angels, they could stand in his presence day and night, and not be weary. And, besides, the nature of the angels had been a fitter match a great deal for his Son. They are spirits, and so. in a nearer assimilation to him. Who ever thought he should close to match so low as with us? All this makes for us still the more love, for it was the more free. And the more unlikely it is that he could 'love such as we, the more his love is commended. The less we could do for him or for 'ourselves, the more it would appear he did for us. He is honoured more in our dependence than our service. He hath regard to the lowness of his spouse and handmaids, and lets the mighty go, principalities and powers; he loves still to prefer the younger, and make the elder serve them, Romans 9. The angels are ministering spirits for their good. Among men he culls out still the poor, the foolish, not many wise or noble; and he makes as unlikely a. choice amongst his creatures.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

BBC broadcast Gay Romish Mass

For their "Sunday Worship" programme the BBC decided to broadcast a service from the Roman Catholic Parish of Most Holy Redeemer, San Francisco which is notorious for its support of gay activism. In the script of the mass Fr Donal Godfrey, Society of Jesus, leads the service "exploring how gay people can find a place in the Christian narrative and speaks of the gift of faith" Godfrey says "approximately 80% of the parishioners here are gay" and goes on to say "what you thought was evil, corrupting, life denying is in fact good, liberating, and life giving."

Sr Cleta Herold goes on to say later in the service: "When we decided to open the doors of this church to the gay community, 22 years ago, I discovered that what we were doing was in fact unbinding God. We were having to look at our own narrative of who god is, be it a white god, or a black god, male, female, straight, or gay."

The preacher was Dr. James Alison a Roman Catholic theologian, priest, and author. He is noted for his work on gay issues and lives in England. His books include: "The Joy of Being Wrong, Original Sin Through Easter Eyes", "Faith Beyond Resentment, Fragments Catholic and Gay (2001)" and "Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-In".

The incident reveals further what many have known for some time, the popularity of homosexuality within Roman Catholicism, particularly in the USA.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

300 years ago today

On 1 May 1707 England and Scotland became the ‘United Kingdom of GREAT BRITAIN’. The new united kingdom was to be represented by a ‘union’ flag and governed by a British parliament at Westminster and a shared head of state. The Act of Union of 1707 provided security for the Church of Scotland by legislating to "establish and confirm the said true Protestant religion, and the worship, discipline, and government of this Church to continue without any alteration to the people of this land in all succeeding generations". The Act also "ratifies, approves, and forever confirms the fifth Act of the first Parliament of King William and Queen Mary, entitled " Act Ratifying the Confession of Faith, and Settling Presbyterian Church Government," with the whole other Acts of Parliament relating thereto, in prosecution of the Declaration of the Estates of this kingdom". Some felt that whatever the union sacrificed it functioned as a bulwark against the Roman Catholic threat.

The idea was not completely popular in Scotland, however. Presbyterian stalwarts like the historian, Robert Wodrow feared for the safety of presbyterianism after the union. Wodrow together with Thomas Halyburton were concerned that liberal bishops in England and their Episcopal friends in Scotland were adopting Socinian as well as Arminian doctrines. Writing after the union of the two kingdoms, Halyburton worried that the “Times are infectious, and Deism is the Contagion that spreads” (Natural religion insufficient, and revealed necessary to man’s happiness in his present state or a rational enquiry into the principles of the modern deists, Edinburgh, 1714, p.15. It is fair to say that the effects of the union were that the Church of Scotland did witness a liberalisation in terms of the theological views embraced within it as Moderatism developed.

There had been rioting in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1706. The most vociferous protests were in the most strongly Presbyterian areas. There was strong Covenanter opposition, and on 20 November 1706 300 armed Cameronians entered Dumfries, ceremonially burnt the articles of union as ‘utterly destructive of the nation's independency, crown rights, and our constitute laws, both civil and sacred’, and denounced those in the Scots parliament who ‘shall presume to carry on the said Union by a supream power, over the belly of the generality of this nation’ (W. Ferguson, Scotland's relations with England: a survey to 1707, 1977, p.268). Covenanters believed the Union betrayed the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 and instead of establishing Presbyterianism throughout the kingdoms it would place 'an eternal embargo upon all such endeavours.'

In Providence it was the 1 May 1707 that Thomas Boston was inducted to Ettrick. He writes: "On the first day of May I was admitted minister of Ettrick; a day remarkable to after ages, as the day in which the union of Scotland and England commenced, according to the articles thereof agreed upon by the two parliaments. And on that very account I had frequent occasion to remember it; the spirits of the people of that place being embittered on that event against the ministers of the church; which was an occasion of much heaviness to me, though I never was for the Union, but always against it from the beginning unto this day."

On the Sabbath after his admission, he began his ministry at Ettrick by preaching from the text, 1 Sam. 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
Thus began a most notable and fruitful ministry. It was hard, however. Hard to leave his previous congregation:“Thus, I parted with a people
whose hearts were knit to me, and mine to them; nothing but the sense of God’s
command that took me there making me to part with them.”

It was also hard ground to till after 3 years the first communion witnessed only 57 communicants. Boston had privately interviewed each candidate to determine their fitness for the sacrament. By the time of Boston's last communion in 1731, however, there were 777 communicants — including all four of his surviving children.

Yet it was also hard personally for Boston. The same year 1707 he writes: "It pleased the Lord, for my further trial, to remove by death, on the 8th September,
my son Ebenezer. Before that event, I was much helped of the Lord; I had never
more confidence with God in any such case, than in that child’s being the Lord’s. I
had indeed more than ordinary, in giving him away to the Lord, to be saved by the
blood of Jesus Christ. But his death was exceeding afflicting to me, and matter of
sharp exercise. To bury his name, was indeed harder than to bury his body; and so
much the heavier was it, that I could fall upon no scripture example parallel to it; but I saw a necessity of allowing a latitude to sovereignty. I could not charge myself with rashness in giving him that name. But one thing was plain as the sun to me, that day eight days before, my heart was excessively led away from God towards the creature; and I had not visited my pillar so often and seriously as I ought to have done." This was a reference to the first text he had preached on after his induction, 1 Sam. 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

Scotland may say the same over these 300 years. "Except Jehovah of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, we should have been like unto Gomorrah." {Isa 1:9}.