Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The sun of holiness

Sanctification is a constant, progressive renewing of the whole man, whereby the new creature doth daily more and more die unto sin and live unto God. Regeneration is the birth, sanctification is the growth of this babe of grace. In regeneration the sun of holiness rises; in sanctification it keepeth its course, and shineth brighter and brighter unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4:18). The former is a specifical change from nature to grace (Ephesians 5:8); the latter is a gradual change from one degree of grace to another (Psalm 84:7), whereby the Christian goeth from strength to strength till he appear before God in Zion.
George Swinnock 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

how we take God’s name in vain in reading or hearing His Word

Thomas Boston has these solemn considerations in relation to our reading and hearing (i.e. hearing sermons) of the Word of God.
In reading or hearing the word, we take God's name in vain,
[1.] When we do not prepare ourselves for it, appointing a meal in it to our souls by prayer and looking to God; and when we make it not our business to get our hearts emptied of worldly thoughts and affections, and come with an appetite, 1 Pet. 2:1, 2.
[2.] When we do not strive to understand what we read or hear of the word, Acts 8:30; but pass it, as if bare reading or hearing were all.
[3.] When we are not attentive thereto, but let the heart wander in the time after other things, Ezek. 33:30.
[4.] When we are dull, drowsy, sleepy, and weary in it, crying in our hearts, When will the Sabbath be over? like Doeg, detained before the Lord.
[5.] When we do not receive it as the word of the living God, looking on it as God himself speaking to us, 1 Thess. 2:13.
[6.] When we do not subject ourselves humbly to what we hear from the Lord by his word, being affected suitably to every part of the word, approving the commands thereof, believing the promises, and trembling at the threatenings, Heb. 4:2.
[7.] When we do not lay ourselves open to the word, to be taught our duty, to be reproved for our faults, to be searched and known as by the candle of the Lord; but ward off convictions, and rise against the speaker when the word toucheth us.
[8.] When we hear it partially, having more respect to the speaker, to receive it or reject it according to our opinion of him, than to the Lord's word itself, Acts 17:11, &c.
[9.] Lastly, When we do not meditate upon it afterwards, confer about it, and labour to improve it to our soul's good.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is all of life worship?

There are many attempts to redefine the regulative principle of worship viz. that "the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan...or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture" (WCF). One of these is the idea that "all of life is worship". In other words the Bible only regulates worship in the way that it regulates the rest of life. All of life contains many elements and activities that are not explicitly and strictly regulated by Scripture. therefore whatever is permitted in "all of life," is permitted in the public worship of God on the Lord's Day. This changes the regulative principle to a rather loose principle and to mean simply that worship may introduce what is not forbidden by Scripture. The idea has been popularised by John Frame citing passages such as Romans 12:1 and 1Corinthians 10:32. He concludes "Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to prove that anything is divinely requiredspecifically for official services." This idea ignores the obvious distinction between generic commands and specific commands in the Bible. Yet the Lord's Day is a distinct time of worship set apart by God, sanctified from the rest of the days.
There are some very useful contributions refuting this idea here. Daniel Ritchie also does so in pp.63ff of his book.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is a minister an employee?

This is a matter that is to be settled ultimately by Scripture. We bring worldly assumptions into this area at great peril to the church of Christ. When a member speaks of paying the minister's salary and having a right to demand things in return
they are expressing matters in entirely the wrong way. They have not 'hired' the minister, they have called him to exercise among them a function to which he has already been called by God. The spiritual offering of the individual's substance is to God, not a tax or a salary. Indeed, it is extremely dangerous to see it in this light, as though spiritual things might be bought and sold (Acts 8:18). In the
prophecy of Micah 3:11 this is rebuked and hirelings are also condemned from the mouth of Christ.

The ministry is a spiritual vocation not to be identified with secular employment. Where does this vocation or calling come from? Christ is the Head of the Church and He calls men inwardly Himself and then outwardly through the delegated authority of the courts of the Church who confirm that call (Ro 1:1, 1 Co 1:1). What is that man before he is ordained? He is a member of the Church, subject to the disciplinary
authority of Christ ministerially applying His decrees in the courts of His Church. What is he after ordination? He is a member of presbytery. He is an officer of Christ's church whom Christ has set apart for functions within that Church subject to the disciplinary authority of Christ ministerially applying His decrees in the courts
of His Church. As the older writers asserted the external call of the Church is mediate. A call that comes through a means; the means by which God calls men into the ministry is the church. We do not believe that men can set themselves up in the ministry without the mediate call of the Church but that does not mean that we are to regard that man as any less called of God than the prophets who were called by him
immediately and sent without means. The call from the church is a divine call mediated through the Church.

We must remember that a salary is not essential to the being of a minister. A minister who is retired may not have a salary or an active minister may forego a salary in exceptional circumstances (1 Cor 9:5,6; Acts 20:33; 2 Thess. 3:8, 9; 2 Cor. 11:8). Who pays a minister? Essentially it is Christ who pays a minister. He has ordained that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel (1 Cor 9:14,15).
He is the one who lays down the principle that a labourer is worthy of his hire (Mt. 10:10; Lk. 10:7). Who were the disciples working for? For a Church? No, this was not possible. They were working for Christ. He had sent them out as labourers and would ensure in His providence that they were maintained. He is the Lord of the harvest who sends them into His harvest field. The master of the house instructs those entrusted with the stewardship of His resources to supply to the labourers that He has hired that which is worthy of that hire. The Master provides his people with the substance and the willingness to offer of their substance, part of which is communicated to the work of the ministry. He lays upon them this duty. The means of supply should not be confused with the one from whom the supply comes. In this sense a minister is no more an employee of the Church than he is of the bank through the money may be paid. As Turretin points out: 'these wages can be paid in various ways; either by the volun tary offerings of believers which they liberally contribute of their goods for the
common use of the church from Christian love and justice (as was done by the first Christians in the time of the apostles and for some ages after); or from a mutual agreement and the joint pay of individuals brought together; or paid from the public treasury by the Christian magistrate; or drawn from tithes; or finally, from the annual returns and produce of fields and farms given and left to the church and other
ecclesiastical property'.

The church does not recruit. Christ recruits His labourers Himself. The Church does not sack a minister as an employee. It proceeds against him as against any member of the Church to discipline with the purpose of restoration. It proceeds using the prescriptions of the King and Head of the Church using its delegated authority. Christ through the means of His Church suspends or deposes a minister just as Christ through the means of His Church suspends a communicant member or applies other censure. If the Church disciplines a minister for something that is not required by Christ then it is ultra vires, this shows that ministers are not in the employ of the Church but of Christ.

Martin Chemnitz puts it well when he says:
Just as God properly claims for himself the right to call, also mediately, and it is accordingly necessary for it to be done according to divine instruction, so also has
God properly reserved to himself alone this power of removing someone from the ministry. 1 Sam 2:30, 32; Hos 4:6. But since that dismissal takes places mediately, it is therefore necessary that it not take place except by instruction and divine direction. Therefore as long as God lets in the ministry his minister who teaches rightly and lives blamelessly, the church does not have the power, without divine command to remove an unwanted man, namely a servant of God. But when he does not build up the church by doctrine or life, but rather destroys, God himself removes him, 1 Sam 2:30; Hos 4:6. And then the church not only properly can but by all means should remove such a one from the ministry. For just as God calls ministers of the church, so he also removes them through legitimate means. But as the procedure of a call is to follow the instruction of the Lord of the harvest, so also if one is to be removed from the ministry, the church must show that that also is done by the command and will of the Lord.

It is said that ministers have an employment contract. The word is objectionable but for the sake of argument let us ask. Who is the contract with? The vows are administered by the courts of the Church but they are as the Confession says "not to be made to any creature, but to God alone" and are a part of religious worship since a vow is of the like nature to a lawful promissory oath "the person swearing solemnly calleth God to witness what he asserteth or promiseth". The Church can only impose what the Head of the Church imposes through His Word. The Church itself is bound by the same vows to Christ, showing that the vows are made to Christ and not the Church.

When we consider the titles applied to ministers in Scripture, it should be clear who "employs" ministers. They are God’s servants (1 Cor 3.5), farmers (1 Cor 3.6), and fellow-workers with one another under God’s employment (1 Cor 3.9). Paul is God’s master-builder (1 Cor 3.10). They are servants or “ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4.1).

There is an important Scriptural and theological principle at stake in asserting that ministers are not employed by the Church. Added to this there is the problem of compromising the spiritual independence of the Church. If we assert that ministers are employees in the same sense as civil callings then they are under the employment legislation of the nation which means that the State has the right to determine who can be a minister and who cannot and to regulate all aspects of their

Monday, June 08, 2009

getting Christ better

It is reasonably well known that Robert Bruce, the Scottish minister of the second generation of Reformers, emphasised that grace received through the sacraments is not different from that received through the Word. Both convey the same Christ. But as he went on to assert that while we do not get a better Christ in the sacraments than we do in the Word, there are times when we get Christ better. He said "we get Christ better nor we did before; Aye get the thing that we gat mair fullie, that is, with a surer apprehension nor we had of before; we get a better grip of Christ now: For be the sacrament my faith is nurished, the bounds of my saull is enlarged, and sa, quhere I had but a little grip of Christ before, as it were betwixt my finger and my thumbe, now 1 get him in my haill hande; and ay the mair that my faith growes, the better grip I get of Christ lesus. Sa the sacrament is felloun necessarie, an it were na mair but to get Christ better, and to get a faster apprehension of him be the sacrament nor we coidd have of before". Bruce spoke of it as leading to 'growth of faith and increase of holiness', so that the believer might say 'the bounds of my soul are inlarged... I grow in knowledge. I grow in apprehension. I grow in feeling... He changes the affections of my soul. He changes their faculties and qualities. Hearts and mind not changed in substance - but made new to the extent that we are new creatures.' 'Christ works in you a spiritual feeling', said Bruce, 'that in your heart and in your conscience you may fmd the effect of his Word.' The effect of having such new feelings is that the believer might obtain 'strength' to 'lay hold of mercy' and obtain 'strong resolve for bettering the self'. In the words of Bruce, 'there is no other lesson in Christianity than this - to shake off your lusts and affections more and more to renounce yourself, so that you may embrace Christ.'

George Gillespie explained this further in writing that believers are given the body and blood of Christ through preaching also, but in preaching there was
more 'human wisdom' mixed in, so it was not so 'pure' as the sacrament.'

In the words of the Scots Confession, 'The faithful in the right use of the Lord's table have sic a conjunction with the Lord Jesus Christ as the natural man cannot comprehend.'

Friday, June 05, 2009

Litigation among Christians

The subject of litigation among Christians, and even the relation which they stand in to one another as such, render the adjustment of their differences more delicate and embarrassing. It is always a work of difficulty to reconcile hostile parties, whatever the matter of strife may happen to be. Once involved in litigation about civil rights and property, men, not of the most contentious or obstinate tempers, have been known to persevere until they had ruined themselves and their families. When unhappily discord and contention arise between those who are allied by blood, or who were united by the bonds of close friendship, their variance is of all others the most inveterate and deadly. "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle" (Prov. 18:19). If "love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave" (Song 8:6). Of all the ties which bind man to man, religion is the most powerful, and when once loosened or burst asunder, it is the hardest to restore. Religious differences engage and call into action the strongest powers of the human mind. Conscience comes to the aid of convictions of right, and zeal for the glory of God combines with that jealousy with which we watch over everything that is connected with our own reputation.

Feelings of personal offense and injury form no inconsiderable obstacle in the way of removing divisions in the Church. In one degree or another these are unavoidable, when religious differences arise and grow to a height. They are no proper ground of separation, and the recollection of them ought not to be allowed to stand in the way of a desirable reunion. If in any instance personal injury has been combined with injuries done to truth, those who have been the sufferers need to exert the utmost jealousy over their own spirits. Self-love will lead us insensibly to confound and identify the two; and what we flatter ourselves to be pure zeal for religion and hatred of sin, may, in the process of a rigid and impartial examination, be found to contain a large mixture of resentment for offenses which terminated on ourselves.

Victory, not truth, is too often the object of litigant parties, and provided they can gain this, though it should be achieved by over-reaching one another, and by practicing the low tricks of worldly policy, they will boast of a religious triumph.

Thomas McCrie(1772-1835).

McCrie well knew the sorrows of division. In 1806, with three other ministers, he was forced to separate from the Antiburgher side of the Secession Synod to form the Constitutional Associate Presbytery. In 1821 he published Two Discourses on the
Unity of the Church, Her Divisions, and Their Removal from which this excerpt is taken.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An open letter to Gordon Brown

To the Right Honourable Gordon Brown Prime Minister MP.

Dear Prime Minister,

I was most encouraged to learn that you had a "presbyterian conscience", one indeed which is capable of being offended. It is indeed a solemn matter to have a properly informed conscience, when we consider the danger of having what the Bible calls a "defiled" or even a "seared conscience". As the Scottish presbyterian Samuel Rutherford said, "We take nothing to the grave with us, but a good or evil conscience". He also warned that if you "break your conscience in twain...who then can mend it, and cast a knot on it?" If our conscience is properly informed by what God requires we will realise that we can never hope in ourselves to fulfil his righteous requirements. The Bible instructs us that nothing we can do but only the application of the atonement of Christ can "purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:14). The reforming presbyterian Robert Bruce said "There is no man nor woman that is able to purge their conscience, to take away the guiltiness of sin off their conscience; it is only God who, by virtue of the blood of his Son, doth purge the conscience; therefore, they address them to God only."

In order to best inform your presbyterian conscience we would commend to you the close study of the Bible, together with the Sum of Saving Knowledge, the Westminster Larger Catechism (especially on the Ten Commandments) and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

As you study these matters your presbyterian conscience ought to smite you when you think of the evil of abortion as legalised murder that is carried out in the nation that you govern. It ought also to make you reconsider the legislation on embryological research and creating animal-human hybrid embryos that you have sponsored as you recover the Bible's teaching on the sanctity of all human life. Your voting record on moral matters is very alarming. It will be a solemn matter to have this record brought into view on the day of judgement with the condemning voice of a conscience now fully informed as well as the condemnation of the judge.

The Bible will also speak loudly to your presbyterian conscience about the fact that homosexuality is clearly against the law of God. This will make you look again at the Equality Bill with its ideological coercion and other legislation. As you look at the breadth and length of the law of God in the Ten Commandments it must be clear to a rightly informed conscience that your government and that of your predecessor have gone much further than all previous governments in passing legislation that positively undermines each one of the 10 commandments. It is a fearful thing to be using God-given power to encourage sin and restrain those who seek to do right.

Your presbyterian conscience rightly informed by Scripture and the Westminster Confession would make you reconsider the place that you have given to Roman Catholicism in visiting the Pope and seeking to amend the Act of Settlement.

There are many other matters that we could mention right down to the long-overdue required repeal of the Acts Recissory. The essence of it all is this the prayer that the Biblical and presbyterian principle that Christ alone is King in State and Church would sound loudly in your conscience and that you would follow it and implement it faithfully and sincerely. This would be by far the best for you, best for us and best for this nation and its future.

Yours sincerely,


Monday, June 01, 2009

‘So Catholic it forgot to be Christian’

These words from a priest in Ireland, in relation to the industrial home abuses carried out on children by Roman Catholic orders in the 20th Century are very solemn. Yet even more haunting are the words of one of the victims Michael O'Brien: "They raped me on a Saturday, gave me an unmerciful beating afterwards, and then gave me Communion on Sunday." One amongst thousands.

How much have the orders learned from this? They haven't fully paid their paltry 10% of the compensation package. They are failing to acknowledge their full responsibility and appear to be in such open conflict with the Roman hierarchy about the Church's response that the Pope will have to be brought in. This situation looks set to be overtaken by the publication of other reports this summer into sexual abuse committed by priests and the efforts by church authorities to cover it up.

The Tablet newspaper comments in its editorial: "It is clear the problem was not just "a few bad apples" or even a whole barrel of them, but the arrogance of an almighty Church too powerful for its own good. It is useless to blame the state or society for allowing it to happen. The blame lies within the Church itself. The power and the glory that were so badly misused had a theological, even ideological, basis. This told the Church that it was "a true and perfect society" (in the words of Pius IX): whatever it did was right, and whatever might contradict that impression had to be suppressed. Only "bad Catholics" would dare whisper it." Is not the ideological and theological basis, the Roman Catholic elevation of the Church above Scripture? While this is the case the law of God will never be adhered to as it ought. As the papal historian put it, absolute power corrupts absolutely.