Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why are we here?

ALL that men have to know, may be comprised under these two heads,—What their end is; and What is the right, way to attain to that end. And all that we have to do, is by any means to seek to compass that end. These are the two cardinal points of a man’s knowledge and exercise: Quo et qua eundum est,—Whither to go, and what way to go. If there be a mistake in any of these fundamentals, all is wrong...Except you would walk at random, not knowing whither you go, or what you do, you must once establish this and fix it in your intention—What is the great end and purpose wherefore I am created, and sent into the world?

It is certainly the wrong establishing of this one thing that makes the most part of our motions either altogether irregular, or unprofitable, or destructive and hurtful. Therefore, as this point hath the first place in your catechism, so it ought to be first of all laid to heart, and pondered as the one necessary thing. ‘One thing is needful,’ says Christ, Luke 10.42; and if any thing be in a superlative degree needful, this is it. O that you would choose to consider it, as the necessity and weight of it require!

We have read two scriptures, which speak to the ultimate and chief end of man, which is the glorifying of God by all our actions and words and thoughts. ROM. 11.36. "Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever." And 1 COR. 10.31. "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." In which we have these things of importance: 1. That God’s glory is the end of our being. 2. That God’s glory should be the end of our doing. And, 3. The ground of both these; because both being and doing are from him, therefore they ought to be both for him. He is the first cause of both, and therefore he ought to be the last end of both. ‘Of him, and through him, are all things;’ and therefore all things are also for him, and therefore all things should be done to him.

God is independent altogether, and self-sufficient. This is his royal prerogative, wherein he infinitely transcends all created perfection. He is of himself, and for himself; from no other, and for no other, ‘but of him, and for him, are all things.’ He is the fountain-head; you ought to follow the streams up to it, and then to rest, for you can go no farther. But the creature, even the most perfect work, besides God, it hath these two ingredients of limitation and imperfection in its bosom: it is from another, and for another. It hath its rise out of the fountain of God’s immense power and goodness, and it must run towards that again, till it empty all its faculties and excellencies into that same sea of goodness. Dependence is the proper notion of a created being,—dependence upon that infinite independent Being, as the first immediate cause, and the last immediate end. You see then that this principle is engraven in the very nature of man. It is as certain and evident that man is made for God’s glory, and for no other end, as that he is from God’s power, and from no other cause. Except men do violate their own conscience, and put out their own eyes—as the Gentiles did, Rom. 1.19,&c.—‘that which may be known’ of man’s chief end, ‘is manifest in them,’ so that all men are ‘without excuse.’

Now when we are speaking of the great end and purpose of our creation, we call to mind our lamentable and tragical fall from that blessed station we were constitute into. ‘All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God,’ Rom. 3.23. His being in the world was for that glory, and he is come short of that glory. O strange shortcoming! Short of all that he was ordained for! What is he now meet for? For what purpose is that chief of the works of God now! The salt, if it lose its saltness, is meet for nothing, for wherewithal shall it be seasoned? Mark 9.50. Even so, when man is rendered unfit for his proper end, he is meet for nothing, but to be cast out and trode upon; he is like a withered branch that must be cast into the fire, John 15.6. Some things, if they fail in one use, they are good for another; but the best things are not so,—Corruptio optimi, pessima. As the Lord speaks to the house of Israel, ‘Shall wood be taken of the vine tree to do any work?’ Even so the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Ezek. 15.2-6. If it yield not wine, it is good for nothing. So, if man do not glorify God,—if he fall from that,—he is meet for nothing, but to be cast into the fire of hell, and burnt for ever; he is for no use in the creation, but to be fuel to the fire of the Lord’s indignation.

But behold! the goodness of the Lord and his kindness and love hath ‘appeared toward man. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us,’ ‘through Jesus Christ,’ Tit. 3.4-6. Our Lord Jesus, by whom all things were created, and for whom, would not let this excellent workmanship perish so, therefore he goes about the work of redemption,—a second creation more laborious and also more glorious than the first, that so he might glorify his Father and our Father. Thus the breach is made up; thus the unsavoury salt is seasoned; thus the withered branch is quickened again for that same fruit of praises and glorifying of God. This is the end of his second creation, as it was of the first: ‘We are his workmanship created to good works in Christ Jesus,’ Eph. 2.10. ‘This is the work of God, to believe on him whom he hath sent;’ ‘to set to our seal,’ and to give our testimony to all his attributes, John 6.29, and 3.33. We are ‘bought with a price,’ and therefore we ought to glorify him with our souls and bodies. He made us with a word, and that bound us; but now he has made us again, and paid a price for us, and so we are twice bound not to be our own but his, ‘and so to glorify him in our bodies and spirits,’ 1 Cor. 6.20. I beseech you, gather your spirits, call them home about the business. We once came short of our end,—God’s glory and our happiness; but know, that it is attainable again. We lost both; but both are found in Christ. Awake then and stir up your spirits, else it shall be double condemnation—when we have the offer of being restored to our former blessed condition—to love our present misery better. Once establish this point within your souls, and therefore ask, Why came I hither? To what purpose am I come into the world? If you do not ask it, what will you answer, when he asks you at your appearance before his tribunal? I beseech you, what will many of you say in that day when the Master returns and takes an account of your dispensation? You are sent into the world only for this business,—to serve the Lord. Now what will many of you answer? If you speak the truth (as then you must do it,—you cannot lie then!) you must say, "Lord, I spent my time in serving my own lusts; I was taken up with other businesses, and had no leisure; I was occupied in my calling," &c.

Hugh Binning summarised from here

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Vital Importance of the Westminster Standards

J.H. Thornwell spoke of his personal debt to the Westminster Standards (Confession and Catechisms): "I bless God, for that glorious summary of Christian doctrine contained in our noble Standards. It has cheered my soul in many a dark hour, and sustained me in many a desponding moment...[I know of] no uninspired production in any language, or of any denomination, that for richness of matter, soundness of doctrine, scriptural expression and edifying tendency can for a moment enter into competition with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms."

B.B Warfield stated that the Westminster Standards (Confession and Catechisms) 'embody the gospel of the grace of God with a carefulness, a purity, and an exactness never elsewhere achieved, and come to us as, historically, the final fixing in confessional language of the principles and teachings of evangelical religion'. He referred to 'how fully and genially they represent the consensus of Reformed doctrine in its most developed and most catholic form; how strictly they are held in every definition to the purity of the Biblical conceptions and enunciations of truth'.

'Open these standards where you will and you will not fail to feel the throb of an elevated and noble spiritual life pulsing through them. They are not merely a notably exact scientific statement of the elements of the gospel: they are, in the strictest sense of the words, the very embodiment of the gospel. They not only know what God is; they know God: and they make their readers know Him—know Him in His infinite majesty, in His exalted dominion, in His unlimited sovereignty, in the immutability of His purpose and His almighty power and universal providence, but know Him also in that strangest, most incomprehensible of all His perfections, the unfathomableness of His love. Their description of Him transcends the just limits of mere definition and swells into a paean of praise—praise to Him who is "most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." And how profound their knowledge is of the heart of man—its proneness to evil, its natural aversion to spiritual good, its slowness of response to spiritual influence, the deviousness of its path even under the leading of the Holy Ghost. But, above all, they know, with a fulness of apprehension which startles and instructs and blesses the reader, the ways of God with the errant souls of men—how He has condescended to open the way to them of having fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, how He has redeemed them unto Himself in the blood of His Son, and how He deals with them, as only a loving Father may, in disciplining and fitting them for the heavenly glory. Where elsewhere may we find more vitally set forth the whole circle of experience in the Christian life—what conversion is and how God operates in bringing the soul to knowledge of Him and faith in its Saviour, what are the joys of justifying grace and of adoption into the family of God, and what the horrors of those temporary lapses that lie in wait for unwary steps, and what the inconceivable tenderness of God’s gracious dealings with the stumbling and trembling spirit until He brings it safely home?'

They are 'historically speaking, the final crystallization of the very essence of evangelical religion—scientifically speaking, the richest and most precise and best guarded statement possessed by man, of all that enters into evangelical religion and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world—religiously speaking, the very expressed essence of vital religion. Surely blessed are the churches which feed upon this meat! Surely the very possession of Standards like these differentiates the fortunate churches which have inherited them as those best furnished for the word and work of the Christian proclamation and the Christian life. May God Almighty infuse their strength into our bones and their beauty into our flesh, and enable us to justify our inheritance by unfolding into life, in all its completeness and richness and divinity, the precious gospel which they have enfolded for us in their protecting envelope of sound words!'

The Westminster Standards are therefore well worth reading through in 2009 - the following is a calendar of readings in the Westminster Standards. There are various harmonies of the Westminster Standards - here is one of them. Listen to them here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Subjects of Meditation for a Time of Trouble

1. Our frailty and entire dependence as creatures on the self-existent and infinitely glorious Jehovah.

2. Our awful inconceivable guilt as apostates from Him who made man in His own image, after His likeness; the entire depravity of our natures as fallen, and our personal actual transgressions by omission and commission, in youth and riper years, before we knew, or rather, were known of God, and since; and most particularly in sins against Christ, His Gospel, Spirit, and grace, etc.

3. The believing contemplation of Christ in His person, covenant engagements, mediatory work, all-sufficiency, grace, truth, and saving benefits.

4. The patience, long-suffering, and abundant grace of the Heavenly Father, as it has been so richly manifested in the Son of His love and in His dealings with us.

5. The shortness of time, the certainty of death, the vanity of the world, the solemnity of judgment, the preciousness of the mercy-seat, the necessity of entire sanctification.

6. The glory of the exalted Redeemer, the perpetuity of His intercession, the fidelity of His promises, His power to guide unto death and through it, the blessedness of those that are at home with Him in the mansions which He has gone to prepare, the unutterable blessedness, transport, and triumph which are stored up in the words of eternal life--”I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also.”

Excerpted from Rich Gleanings from Rabbi Duncan, Free Presbyterian Publications, 1984, pp. 396-397.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Holding Fast Christ's Name

thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith Revelation 2:12,13.

It is commended for holding fast His name, that is His truth, cause, and interest, yea, everything whereby He makes Himself known. Then

(1.) We must lay hold of Him by making peace with Him. "Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me." So unless ye be in Christ, ye cannot hold fast His name in a day of trial, temptation, and persecution. You must close with Him as JESUS, that is, as a Saviour to save you both from the guilt of sin and the power of sin. And also ye must close with Him, as CHRIST, that is, as He is anointed to be King, Priest, and Prophet to His people,

(2.) If you would hold fast His name, you must hold fast everyone of His truths, every part of His cause and interest We must quit with none of them, or any part of them, whatever it may cost us. Many will hold fast a part of His name. They will hold fast and suffer for some of His truths, but not for all. Some they will quit and not think them worth the suffering for. But if ye would hold fast His name, then ye must hold fast and suffer for all His truths, not quitting any of them.

(3.) If ye would hold fast His name, then ye must do it constantly. Ye must not think it enough to commend and suffer for the truths a while, and quit and deny the same afterwards; but that is not the way. If ye would hold fast His name, then ye must do it to the end.

from a lecture delivered by Alexander Shields at the Lowthers in Crawfordmoor, March 11, 1688

Friday, January 09, 2009

Real Challenges for 2009

9 days into 2009 how about some real reading challenges?

Read the New Testament right through in Greek here - although you may want to learn NT Greek first - here is a free option.

If you don't fancy Greek what about reading the Bible through in the Authorised Version? This Bible Reading Plan Generator is software allowing you to generate a plan for reading any books of the Bible you choose over any number of days you wish. If you didn't know you can listen to the whole Bible in a year at 10 minutes each day. Listen to/download mp3s here AV (British/Male Voice narrating).

Since 2009 is the anniversary of Calvin’s birth read the whole of the Institutes through here or could it be easier than this? You can also cheat by listening to it by mp3 here. Other good audio book mp3s are also on this site.

But remember that reading without prayer and practical application will not profit.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Countess of the Covenant

Anna, Countess of the Covenant by Mary McGrigor Birlinn Books pbk Price: £9.99

ISBN: 9781841586687

This book is a biography of Lady Anna Mackenzie, daughter of Lord Seaforth, first married to the Earl of Balcarres and later after his death married to Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll.

She lived during the tumultuous times of the Covenanting Revolution and the Restoration. She was not a 'Lady of the Covenant' in the same way as the godly wife of the 8th Earl of Argyll who was among the first Covenanting martyrs after the Restoration (see Donald Beaton's Ladies of the Covenant). While Royalist and not radical Covenanters, neither of her husbands could be termed malignants. They were firm Protestants and Presbyterians, however, and while weaker than the most resolute in defence of the Covenants, from their testimonies they appear to have had a firm hold on saving knowledge. Lord Balcarres was a great favourite of Charles II but does not appear to have been corrupted as a result and expressed a significant degree of assurance on his deathbed. He received one polite letter expressing differing opinions from Samuel Rutherford but was not among his close correspondents.

The 8th Earl of Argyll collided resolutely with James VII & II, while the latter was still Duke of York in relation to the Test Act and after a dramatic escape from execution was finally captured and executed as a martyr for the Protestant faith because he would not bow to the tyrannical abuses of James. His testimony is most moving and perhaps one of the most moving parts of the book.

Lady Anna was a strong figure who suffered many great griefs during the course in which Providence guided her life. As an exile, she became a governess to Prince William of Orange, later William III. She entertained kings and bargained with them. Her piety was much admired by Richard Baxter who dedicated several books to her. She suffered a lot through one of her daughters running away to become a Romanist nun, Richard Baxter sought to help her through this and seek to persuade the girl of her errors.

While not a religious biography intended to bring spiritual benefit - this book is a fascinating window into the personal lives of some of those who lived through the Covenanting times, particularly the firm faith of those not gathered among the Scots Worthies. The book builds upon the victorian biography of Lady Anna and uses research such as personal letters to fill out the picture in a very illuminating way.