Tuesday, December 21, 2010

God speaking to us

“Therefore the second practice concerns everyone whose heart is to live for God; so that namely they may love and magnify his unique rule (Ps. 119:127, 2 Thess. 2:10). This consists in love for the divine word (a) in bowing our disposition to Scripture to such a degree that we receive Scripture as God speaking to us, as it were, with His own mouth, with such great submission of course to whatever has been commanded; with such grea0t care and aversion to whatever has been forbidden; with such great delight and desire for whatever has been promised; and finally with such great fear and anxiety of whatever has been threatened; and, as it were, we have God speaking such great things in our presence (1 Thess. 2:13).” Petrus van Mastricht

Thursday, December 16, 2010

the pulling down of strongholds

On 5th July 1910 the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland opened in Inverness with a sermon by the Moderator, Rev. Alex Macrae on the text.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” – 2 Corinthians 10:4. Closing his sermon Macrae said the following which is very relevant to the situation today.

We are in extreme danger. It is, however, with the weapons that the Gospel supplies that Christ will yet, through His mighty power, pull them all down. He shall consume the man of sin “with the spirit of his mouth and shall destroy him with the brightness of his coming.” He shall yet completely demolish the strongholds of error that are spread all over Christendom in the present day...The weapons furnished in the Gospel alone will do it, through the forthputting of the almighty power of God. When His time comes, the light of the Gospel will flash throughout all lands. In spite of all opposition, Christ will have the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession.

In conclusion, we have reason to bewail many shortcomings. We see little of the Lord’s work anywhere in our Land. The Holy Spirit is grieved. There is a general falling away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. There is a process of retrogression persistently going on from purity of doctrine and practice. There is a growing indifference to true religion and undefiled. There is a wide-spread apathy to the inroads of the Papacy that aims at depriving us of our civil and religious liberties. There is a false charity that is more careful of not offending the protagonists of error and falsehood than the God of truth and righteousness. Our duty, however, is clear. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. His truth is the same. Let us, therefore, value more and more the weapons that are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, and unflaggingly conduct the warfare to which the Lord has called us, in the strength of His grace, and with a single eye to His glory. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Amen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof

Is weak government a judgement from God upon our sins?

Prov. 28:2 For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.

Note, 1. National sins bring national disorders and the disturbance of the public repose: For the transgression of a land, and a general defection from God and religion to idolatry, profaneness, or immorality, many are the princes thereof, many at the same time pretending to the sovereignty and contending for it, by which the people are crumbled into parties and factions, biting and devouring one another, or many successively, in a little time, one cutting off another, as 1 Kings xvi. 8, &c., or soon cut off by the hand of God or of a foreign enemy, as 2 Kings xxiv. 5, &c.

2. Wisdom will prevent or redress these grievances: By a man, that is, by a people, of understanding, that come again to themselves and their right mind, things are kept in a good order, or, if disturbed, brought back to the old channel again. Or, By a prince of understanding and knowledge, a privy-counsellor, or minister of state, that will restrain or suppress the transgression of the land, and take the right methods of healing the state thereof, the good estate of it will be prolonged. We cannot imagine what a great deal of service one wise man may do to a nation in a critical juncture.

- Matthew Henry Commentary

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


David Calderwood identified 1596 as the year of greatest "perfectioun" and "puritie" in doctrine and discipline for the church in Scotland. 1596 was not only the year in which Andrew Melville called King James VI "God's sillie vassall," a phrase that symbolises the Scottish resistance to Erastianism; it was also the year in which the presbyterian movement showed most strength. A covenant, subscribed in March 1596 was adopted by the general assembly and two synods. The covenant involved a confession of the sins of ministers and a promise to be more zealous. It was a national repentance led by the Church. These were the headings of the covenant:

"Corruptions in the persons and lives of ministers of the gospel."
"Offences in His Majesty's house."
"The common corruptions of all estates."
"And offences in the Courts of Justice."

The initiative in this came from Davidson of Prestonpans. He submitted an overture from the Presbytery of Haddington showing that deep humiliation on account of sin was the first and best preparation against the national disaster of impending invasion. This had followed his visitation to Nithsdale, Annandale, Lauder-dale, Eskdale, and Ewesdale where he witnessed sad corruptions.

On Tuesday, 30th March 1596, the members of Assembly and other brethren having met in the " Little High Church," Mr Davidson discoursed on the evils of an ungodly ministry, and urged his hearers to repentance and self-abasement. For fifteen minutes he sat down and remained silent, the whole place became a Bochim as many of his hearers became deeply moved and sobbed audibly. After another impassioned address, he called on each one to stand up, and with extended hand to pledge himself to a more earnest ministry. "There have," says Calderwood, "been manie dayes of humiliation for present judgement in imminent dangers, but the like for sinne and defectiqun was thus never seen since the Reformation."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the Free Church and the 2nd Commandment

After one post already on this, some might question my right to comment on this. Besides having belonged to the Free Church in the past, currently I belong to a church that inherits from the Free Church of 1843 and retains its constitution. The right to comment, however, is in Leviticus 19:17 "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him". I trust that this will be understood in the light of that and neither will it be thought that I am breaching the first part of that verse in order to keep the second.

The Second Commandment "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image etc." tells us how God is to be worshipped i.e. the means of worship which are to be only according to his appointment and not by our invention. There is emphasis here upon the reflexive "making unto thee" devising and inventing after our own carnal preference and wisdom. Graven images are invented as an aid to worship and so this commandment is linked to the regulative principle of worship which is so abundant in scripture and forbids any aids to worship not appointed by God (Deut. 4:15-20; 12:32; Matt. 4:9-10; 15:8-9; Acts 17:23-25; Exod. 20:4-6, John 4:23-24; Col. 2:18-23; Lev. 10:1-3). A useful article on this is found here, see also here and here.

The Larger Catechism asks: Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding,using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself...

Only only has to look at the arguments to see that what is now being taught and commanded by the Free Church is merely the doctrines and commandments of men. The crux of the matter is that noone has been able to find that God has instituted in Scripture extra-biblical hymns not immediately inspired by Himself. Neither has anyone been able to find that God has instituted in the New Testament the retention of parts of the ceremonial temple worship which typified Christ's perfect work of redemption and were therefore swept away. Musical instruments are included in this.

We can consider the steps to the position taken by the Free Church in the words of the Larger Catechism.

Using religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Board in their Report pointed out that inconsistent practice has been maintained in the Free Church for a long time. "The Assembly had the matter drawn to their attention in 1953 when
they were asked to judge an appeal against a decision by the Synod of Ross. The Synod had sought to prohibit Free Church ministers from participating in worship involving hymns and instrumental music in other churches. The Assembly debated the matter, and upheld the right of Free Church ministers to participate in worship of this kind in other churches - thus moving against the spirit of the 1910 Act." This was what Kenneth Macrae protested against in his booklet "Resurgence of Arminianism" in the 1950s. The growing question becomes, "if the vows can be relaxed outwith the Free Church, why not within?" Neil Macmillan put this at the plenary General Assembly: "There are few of us who think that singing hymns and using musical instruments is sinful – hence the repeal of the Act. It if it sinful we should not do it anywhere. How can worship be acceptable to God in another church but not in the Free Church?" Others referred to the inconsistency of allowing church gatherings to use hymns but not allowing them in public worship. The Board tried to maintain this inconsistency but could not in the face of those taking matters to their logical conclusion.

Approving religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Free Church have now gone the length of approving religious worship not instituted by God Himself. They have done this in a way that is exceedingly difficult to reverse, only an attempt through the barrier Act over several years would change this. Note that the Free Church would have found it a little more difficult and time-consuming to arrive at its current position following this method which was instituted for the prevention of such innovations. The Free Church as a whole with the consent of the majority of the members of her presbyteries approves of religious worship not instituted by God Himself.

Counselling religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The arguments that allow defection from purity of worship that one does not believe in themselves and believe that it will be more attractive to those who would otherwise leave are only counselling that which is sinful that good may come from it.

Commanding religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The result of this position is that the ordination vows and constitution have been changed. The ordination vows under which men took office cannot be maintained any longer. Despite the false assurances there is an imposition upon consciences made by this legislation. It is no longer possible to assert, maintain and defend purity of worship in congregations that will reject purity of worship. While liberty will be granted to use purity of worship when conducting worship there is there liberty to preach against the defection from purity of worship? Will this not be seen as schismatic and proceeded against? Will elders be able to protest against defections within their congregation? The truth is that men are being commanded to accept this. John Kennedy said that if the legislation permitting hymns had gone under the Barrier Act he would have separated from the Free Church due to the constitutional change. This position enters into the difference of views on duty as to the 1892 Declaratory Act. When I referred to this back in 2009 I commented that "I don't think that there are any of John Kennedy's spirit in the present day Free Church". It appears that I may have been wrong and I am very glad to say so because it seems Kenneth Stewart, Dowanvale has principle in view (his statement is here). There were 30 dissents apparently but protest rather than dissent is what is required in order to keep one's conscience and vows entact.

Devising religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Free Church are now devising worship for themselves like Jeroboam "devised of his own heart" his worship (1 Kings 12:33). The Assembly approved as follows: "The General Assembly appoint a Special Committee (using consultants as required) to investigate the feasibility and desirability of producing a recommended list of paraphrases of Scripture and hymns and spiritual songs consistent with the Word of God and the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith [there are none such consistent with WCF 21:1 and 5 - this is a Declaratory Act in relation to confessional subscription], and whether the Free Church ought to produce a praise resource supplementary to the Psalter, and to report to the 2011 General Assembly [with all due haste].” We also note that the anti-verbal inspiration principle of dynamic equivalence has been elevated to constitutional significance in the following instruction to the committee: "to investigate, collect and, if necessary prepare from within the resources of the Church appropriate portions of Scripture, other than the 150 Psalms, in a form which accurately renders the thought of the original [note that] and is suitable for singing in public worship".

This is the seriousness of the step that has been taken: using, approving, commanding, counselling and devising what is sinful in God's eyes. Jeroboam was described as one "who made Israel to sin" by his false aids to the worship of Jehovah not instituted by God Himself. We tremble to say it but this is what must be applied to the Free Church since Friday 19 November 2010.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Free Church votes to allow instruments and man-made hymns

Which makes it an extremely sad day for anyone who prizes the principles of the Scottish Reformation including the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. The vote was carried 98 to 14, defeating a report that proposed a compromise that was unconvincing and clearly not acceptable. As with many of these events in church history it is not the vociferous and determined minority that vote it through but those who do not want the change for themselves but want to keep the minority happy and think that they can and always will be able to harness the forces of change and conservatism. Those who approve of others who express views they personally never could are those who are responsible for the consequences of the change for they have given their support to it.

Take the example of Iain D Campbell who less than 18 months ago was clearly opposed to the change observing at the 2009 General Assembly that the regulative principle was being skewed in the report by a reference to the primacy of Scripture. He pointed out: 'This report affirms the primacy of Scripture. Primacy is something you start from. Scripture is a finality not a primacy'. He then said something important: 'We have taken serious vows regarding a particular position on worship. We’re now being asked to approve a process in this report that begs serious questions. We seem to be asked to reinvent the wheel. It seems to be predetermining the outcome. He did not think he could approve a report that would allow songs of human compositions and instruments.'

His intervention in the debate today was no doubt significant. 'The view I hold is that I want to remain in the same church as the previous two speakers [David Robertson and Kenneth Stewart]. I agree with Mr Stewart’s arguments. I have argued this before - always taken the view that the sufficiency of scripture means the sufficiency of the psalms. Now I need to ask which position safeguuards my position on worship. Alex’s! it safeguards my position insisting on singing psalms. BUT I need to ask what to do with my brethren who have come to another conclusion. What am I going to say to our young people - we’re educating them in the theology of the reformed faith but they drift away to other churches. I want to keep them! Alexs amendment in opening up honestly is a means to that end. We need to fill our pulpits and take more people - but we need to keep our people!' Principled expediency?

The motion carried and the quality of the arguments within the debate (here and here)are most concerning because very little was said of a scriptural character let alone logical consistency. The essence of the motion was that every one had their own 'equally conscientious and Biblically grounded but differing views on the subject' i.e. mere opinion and should be free to do what was right in their own eyes. Scripture wasn't clear on the matter and so it was a matter of conscience and subjective judgement. They had landed themselves in the same morass as John Frame, without a tenth of his rationalising attempts to dilute the regulative principle. Frame says “Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to prove that anything is divinely required specifically for official services” (Worship in Spirit and Truth, p.44).

The most telling contribution and stinging indictment of the whole debate was from Chris Redmond - Dowanvale.
'There is lack of scripture and confusion. I sing Jesus with my understanding when I sing the psalms Going to support the deliverance as lesser of two evils. We are accommodating two different views of scriptures but God is not divided. Are we Reformed? Not if we are subjective and interpret scripture subjectively. My vows speaks of current worship. The pragmatic arguments? We are too accommodating to people rather than the word'.

Previous posts that have discussed this controversy are here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Godliness in everything

even in labouring for these other things, ye must do it in a godly manner. In your love to wife, husband, children, and others relations, ye must be godly, not only in your praying, reading, singing, discoursing in the familie, ye must be godly. But also in your lawful callings, whatever they be. If this be not, all the preaching that ye hear, and all the profession of faith, and of godliness that ye have will not profit you, nor avail you anything in the day of God's reckoning with you, because ye gave not him that which he mainly called for, which is godliness.

James Durham

Monday, November 01, 2010

The hyperinflation of Scripture

Yet more Bible versions - the Common English Bible(New) and the NIV 2011(New) take up their position in a crowded market place with aggressive marketing ($3M marketing budgets). This secular newspaper article entitled "How many versions of the Bible do we need?" lifts the lid on the hypocrisy. (I didn't believe that there was a "Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing Edition" until I googled it).

“Bibles are in many ways a cash cow,” said Phyllis Tickle, a former longtime religion editor at Publishers Weekly. “The Bible is the mainstay of many a publishing program.”

“I think we are drifting more and more to a diverse Babel of translations,” said David Lyle Jeffrey, former provost of Baylor University and an expert on biblical translations. Jeffrey thinks Americans need a “common Bible” — a role the King James version played for centuries — to communicate the grandeur of Scripture without reducing it to “shopping-center-level” discourse.

“When we have so much diversity, we lose our common voice,” he said. “It is in effect moving away from a common membership in the body of Christ into disparate, confusing misrepresentations of the rich wisdom of Scripture, which ought to unify us.”

These comments make the implicit claim of the Common English Bible publishers ludicrous.

Leland Ryken, an English professor at Wheaton College, was more blunt.

“When there is wide divergence among Bible translations, readers have no way of knowing what the original text really says,” Ryken said. “It’s like being given four different scores for the same football game or three contradictory directions for getting to a town in the middle of the state.”

In the process “the Bible loses its identity as the authoritative word of God and becomes something trivial, on par with shoes for hikers or luggage for the international set.”

What has happened? Hyperinflation. This vicious circle occurs in an economy when the currency plummets in value while more and more inflation is created with each iteration of the ever increasing money printing cycle. Wikipedia tells us that it "Hyperinflation becomes visible when there is an unchecked increase in the money supply usually accompanied by a widespread unwillingness on the part of the local population to hold the hypebecomes visible when there is an unchecked increase in the money supply usually accompanied by a widespread unwillingness on the part of the local population to hold the hyperinflationary money for more than the time needed to trade it for something non-monetary to avoid further loss of real value". "The main cause of hyperinflation is a massive and rapid increase in the amount of money that is not supported by a corresponding growth in the output of goods and services. This results in an imbalance between the supply and demand for the money (including currency and bank deposits), accompanied by a complete loss of confidence in the money, similar to a bank run".

This is what is happening with the overprinting of versions of the Bible resulting in a loss of confidence in the value of Scripture.

Friday, October 22, 2010

24 hours away from the black hole

University students around the world are taking part in an experiment called "Unplugged" to see how we react to a total media black-out. They have to avoid radio, television, the internet and mobile phones for 24 hours. Some of us do this every week, it's called the Christian Sabbath although self-control shouldn't be limited to that. But apparently for some students it is "akin to torture". "Every single person [so far] has said there was an eerie or deafening silence - that it was scary and isolating. They are just not used to existing without background music." They are disconnected and empty. In fact, all the signs of addicts in withdrawal are there. There's actually an internet addiction test that you can take. It's a bit shocking if not surprising to see how far the media governs and saturates the lives of people in our society. The evidence of infinite distraction is more apparent than the last post on this blog estimated.

Thinking, reading, writing, praying, talking, visiting widows and orphans in their affliction, meditating on the truth...they're all things that the always-connected media world distracts us from. If we're feeling that we don't have the time for these the answer may well lie in disconnecting a lot more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

is the internet amusing us to death?

In his 1985 book 'Amusing Ourselves to Death', Neil Postman wrote of the danger not of an Orwellian 1984 totalitarian world but of a dystopia envisaged by Aldous Huxley characterised by infinite distraction, one where books would not be available - not because they were not banned but because noone wanted to read them. Postman singled out a culture of entertainment with television as its leading media for particular analysis:
"When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when a cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainment, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a possibility". (Postman 1985: preface)

Although it began as an educational medium with hopes for educational advancement, television became instead pure entertainment on tap. Postman argued that 'television's principal contribution to educational philosophy is the idea that teaching and entertainment are inseparable' (p150) and that its overall effect was the trivialisation of culture. 25 years later we have a culture that is celebrity-obsessed to the nth degree.

The internet can be lauded similarly as a medium with transformational educational potential. What is the reality? Is the internet just changing things to provide play-on-demand services with an almost infinite variety of choice? Triviality has been trademarked on You Tube and in more sinister entertainment allows happy slapping to be viewed or street fights. Social networking' websites where ego-centrism reigns such as Bebo,
MySpace and FaceBook create a virtual reality where public and private never seem separate and which provides an equally unattractive mirror of the standards of conversation, thinking, spelling besides morality  that obtain in society. Entertainment mimics itself with Facebook now becoming a Holywood movie. Always more than one step ahead of their parents, children are now constant consumers of the internet and have their minds well conformed to this world before they even try to think for themselves.

Part of the problem of the internet is the illusion of aggregation that somehow because enough people hit the "like" button, the preference becomes invested with far more value than it is worth. A cursory review of the trends of searching on Google or Yahoo shows the purpose for which people use the internet as well as the fallacy of building a ranking system for your search engine around these bulk requests. What is the purpose of the internet for many? What Postman describes as "escaping reality and living hollow lives".

The internet is governed by the cult of the instant. The internet makes entertainment instant, information instant - everything instant. This doesn't do much for the virtue of patience; people wait less than 4 seconds for a page to load. No one really reads on the Internet, they skim over words for sound bytes. If you've got beyond the first two paragraphs to this point, you are not in the internet majority. If there are any profound thoughts shared on Twitter, its certain that they cannot be elaborated adequately.

The instant is addictive, if you know that anything is a click away, you keep going and going following an endless trail of information that you cannot absorb but intoxicated by the power of your fingertips. Meanwhile, there's no time for the things that really matter. How much time is redeemed on the internet and how much time is wasted? Our whole view of the world is shaped by this and our lives are changed without us noticing. We focus on what the internet has given us but rarely on what it has taken away. What Postman called the "anxious age of agitated amnesiacs" has become a lot more agitated with the speed of the internet.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Why read Samuel Rutherford?

Rutherford was one of the greatest Scottish theologians, a moving preacher and experimental writer. He is both exuberant and sublime in his commendation of communion with the Lord Jesus Christ but also uniquely homely in the powerful imagery flowing from his pen. Only the Bible exceeds his letters in spirituality.
[This is an opportune time to introduce www.samuelrutherford.org.uk - this site seeks to promote his works and various recent studies of this important figure. The site introduction doesn't quite manage 50 words but is very close.]

Monday, October 04, 2010

Why read the Puritans?

The puritans are mighty in the Scriptures and
promote God's glory to the utmost in honouring above all His will
precisely. They make godliness attractive, doctrine practical and
experience vital to the Christian. They
instruct the Church in entire conformity to the Word of God in
government, worship and practice.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The glory of the millennium

Thomas Ridgely, Body of Divinity

So far as scripture plainly gives countenance to the doctrine in general, that the administration of Christ's government, in this world, shall be attended with great glory, and shall abundantly tend to the advantage of his church, it is a subject of too great importance to be passed over with neglect, as if we had no manner of concern in it, or as if it were a matter of mere speculation; for certainly all scripture is written for our learning, and ought to be studied and improved by us, to the glory of God, and our own edification.

As to those texts which speak of Christ's government as exercised in this world, not only do they contain matters awful and sublime, but our having just ideas of these will be a direction to our faith, when we pray for the farther advancement of Christ's kingdom, as we are bound daily to do. We must take heed, however, that we do not give too great scope to our fancy, by framing imaginary schemes of our own, and then bringing in scripture, not without some violence offered to the sense of it, to give countenance to them. Nor ought we to acquiesce in such a sense of scripture, brought to support this doctrine, as is evidently contrary to other scriptures, or to the nature and spirituality of Christ's government. We must also take it for granted, that some of those scriptures which relate to this matter are hard to be understood, and that, therefore, a humble modesty becomes us in treating it, rather than to censure those who differ from us, as if they had departed from that faith which is founded on the most obvious and plain sense of scripture, especially if they maintain nothing which is derogatory to the glory of Christ. This rule we shall endeavour to observe, in what remains to be considered on this subject.

As most allow that there is a sense in which Christ's kingdom shall be attended with greater circumstances of glory than it is at present, we shall proceed to show how it shall be advanced, in this lower world, beyond what it is at present; and we shall show this in a way which agrees very well with the sense of several scriptures relating to the subject, without going into some extremes which many have run into who plead for Christ's personal reign on earth in a way in which it cannot easily be defended. We freely own, as what we think agreeable to scripture, that as Christ has, in all ages, displayed his glory as King of the church, so we have ground to conclude, from scripture, that the administration of his government in this world, before his coming to judgment, will be attended with greater magnificence, more visible marks of glory, and various occurrences of providence, which shall tend to the welfare and happiness of his church, in a greater degree than has been beheld or experienced by it, since it was planted by the ministry of the apostles after his ascension into heaven. This we think to be the sense, in general, of those scriptures, both in the Old and in the New Testament, which speak of the latter-day glory.

Some of the prophets seem to look farther than the first preaching of the gospel, and the glorious display of Christ's government which attended it. These were, in part, an accomplishment of some of their predictions, but they were not wholly so; for there are some expressions made use of by them which seem as yet not to have had their accomplishment. Of the former kind are the expressions of the prophet Isaiah, when he speaks of 'the glory of the Lord, as arising,' and being 'seen upon' the church, and of the 'Gentiles coming to this light,' and 'kings to the brightness of it;'' and many other things to the same purpose, which denote the glorious privileges that the gospel-church should enjoy. Though these, in a spiritual sense, may, in a great measure, be supposed to be already accomplished ; yet there are other things which he foretells concerning the church which do not yet appear to have had their accomplishment.

He says, for example,' Thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night,' as denoting the church's being perfectly free from all those afflictive dispensations of providence which should tend to hinder the preaching and success of the gospel. He says, also, ' Violence shall be no more heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; by which he intends the church's perfect freedom from all persecution. He says farther, 'The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.' This is so far from having been yet accomplished, that it seems to refer to the same thing which is mentioned concerning the New Jerusalem, and almost expressed in the same words: which, if it be not a metaphorical description of the heavenly state, has a peculiar reference to the latter-day glory. The prophet again adds, 'Thy people shall be all righteous,' denoting that holiness should almost universally obtain in the world, as much as iniquity has abounded in it,—an event which does not appear to have yet taken place. Again, when the prophet Micah speaks of ' the mountain of the house of the Lord being established in the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills,' and says, that 'people should flow unto it,' though this, and some other things which he there mentions, may refer to the first preaching of the gospel, and the success of it; yet the words which follow cannot be so understood: ' They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; and nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid.' This prophecy, so far as it may be taken otherwise than in a spiritual sense, seems to imply a greater degree of peace and tranquillity than the gospel-church has hitherto enjoyed. Hence, when he says that this shall be ' in the last days, 'we have reason to conclude that he does not mean merely the last or gospel-dispensation, which commenced on our Saviour's ascension into heaven, but the last period of that dispensation, or the time which we are now considering.

As to the account we have of this period in the New Testament, especially in many places in the Book of Revelation, which speak of' the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ,' and of his ' taking to himself his great power and reigning, and of the thousand years' reign; whatever be the sense of these passages, as to some circumstances of glory which shall attend this administration of the affairs of his kingdom, they certainly have not yet had their accomplishment; and they, therefore, lead us to expect that Christ's kingdom shall be attended with greater degrees of glory redounding to himself, which we call the latter-day glory.

When this period of greater glory shall arrive, many privileges will redound to the church. As Christ is said to reign on earth, so the saints are represented as reigning with him. They say,' Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth; and elsewhere, when the apostle speaks of Christ's reigning ' a thousand years,' he adds, that 'they shall reign with him.' This cannot be understood in any other sense than that of a spiritual reign, agreeably to the nature of Christ's kingdom, which is not of this world. We have, hence, sufficient ground to conclude, that, when these prophecies shall have their accomplishment, the interest of Christ shall be the prevailing interest in the world, which it has never yet been in all respects ; so that godliness shall be as much and as universally valued and esteemed, as it has hitherto been decried, and it shall be reckoned as great an honour to be a Christian, as it has, in the most degenerate age of the church, been matter of reproach. We may add, that the church shall have a perfect freedom from persecution in all parts of the world ; that a greater glory shall be put on the ordinances; and that more success shall attend them thau has hitherto been experienced. In short, there shall be, as it were, an universal spread of religion and holiness to the Lord, throughout the world.

When this glorious dispensation shall commence, we have sufficient ground to conclude, that, the anti-christian powers having been wholly subdued, the Jews shall be converted. This may be inferred from the order in which this event is foretold in the book of Revelation. The fall and utter ruin of Babylon are first predicted. Afterwards we read of 'the marriage of the Lamb being come,'of ' his wife having made herself ready,' and of others, who are styled 'blessed,' being 'called to tho marriage-supper.' This, as an ingenious and learned writer observes, seems to be a prediction of the call of the Jews, and of the saints and faithful, namelv, the gospel-church, who were converted before this time, being, together with the Jews, made partakers of the spiritual privileges of Christ's kingdom, and so invited to the marriage-supper. Accordingly, by 'the Lamb's wife,'is intended the converted Jews, who are considered as espoused to him. As their being ' ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, and not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God,'m occasioned their being rejected ; so, when they are converted, and their new espousals are celebrated, it is particularly observed that this righteousness shall be their greatest glory, the robe that they shall be adorned with. Hence, when the bride is said to have made herself ready, it is added, ' To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.'" This prophecy, being placed immediately before the account of the thousand years' reign, gives ground to conclude that the conversion of the Jews shall be before it, or an introduction to it.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What do we pray for in saying Thy kingdom come?

In desiring that Christ's kingdom may come, we pray that the gospel may be propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, and the fulness of the Gentiles brought in.

When the gospel dispensation, which is Christ's kingdom, was first erected, the apostles, who were employed in the important work, were to fulfil the commission which he gave them, in preaching the gospel to all nations. This they accordingly did; and, by the extraordinary hand of God attending their ministry, the gospel was spread, in a short space of time, through a considerable part of the world. Many of the Jews were called,—among whom all that were ordained to eternal life believed: and as for the Gentiles, who formerly were unacquainted with the way of salvation, they had Christ preached to them, and many churches were gathered from among them. Thus the kingdom of Christ was advanced ; and a foundation was laid for the propagation and flourishing state of the gospel in all succeeding ages, the effects of which are experienced at this day. Hence, when the petition relating to the coming of Christ's kingdom was used by the first disciples, that which was principally intended by it, was that Christ might be preached to the Gentiles, and believed on in the world,—that the vail, or the face of the covering which was spread over all nations, might be taken away,—and that the way of salvation might be known by those who sat in the region and shadow of death. When, however, it is used by us, we signify our desire that the invaluable blessing of the gospel may be still continued, and that the promises relating to the greater success of it may have a more full accomplishment. The apostles, indeed, in executing their commission, are said to have preached the gospel to all nations, that is, to a very considerable part of the heathen world. It does not appear, however, that every individual nation in the world has yet been favoured with this privilege; so that what was foretold concerning the earth being 'full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,' and other predictions to the same purpose, do not seem hitherto to have had their full accomplishment. It is very evident, too, that many nations, who had the gospel preached to them by the apostles, are now wholly destitute of it. And, though it is true a considerable number of the Jews at first believed iu Christ; yet the greatest part of that people were cast off, and all remain, at this day, strangers and enemies to him. Hence, we cannot but suppose that those prophecies which respect their conversion, in the latter day, together with the fulness of the Gentiles being brought in, shall be more eminently accomplished than they have hitherto been.

This, therefore, is what we are to pray for when we say, ' Thy kingdom come.'
Thomas Ridgely, Body of Divinity

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Are we what the Law requires of us?

William Swan Plumer
Thy commandment is exceeding broad. — Psal. cxix. 96.

In the text God's commandment means God's law, that holy, just, and good law, which he gave on Mount Sinai. It is more fully explained in other  parts of Scripture. The text says that this commandment is broad. The meaning is that it covers a great deal of ground. It covers our whole case.

1 . It enjoins all duties — all duties which we owe  to God, to our neighbour, or to ourselves. It claims to control our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, our words, and our acts. No thought can pass in our minds, no wish spring up in our hearts, no word escape our lips, but this law notices it and pronounces it good or evil.

2. It forbids all sins. Men have been very cunning in finding out ways of doing wickedly, but they have found out no way of sinning that is not forbidden by the law of God. We have something like a hundred words in our language to denote wicked conduct. But the law comprehends all these forms of sinning. It is absolutely universal. Men make laws to govern a state. They pile statute upon statute. When a law works badly, they repeal it or  try to amend it, and then they amend the amendment. But here is a law which in ten short precepts does in spirit forbid all sin and require all duty.

3. God's law is one, and not many. It is a chain. If you break any link in it, you break the chain. He that offends in one point is guilty of all. The whole law is fulfilled in one word; and that word is Love.

4. This law is unbending. It can be broken, but it cannot be bent. It will not conform to us. We must conform to it.

5. It requires obedience to be rendered to God. We are not to keep it merely from accident, or for convenience, or for a reward of merit, or from a spirit of servility. Our obedience must be hearty, cheerful, affectionate. God's law must be within us. We must delight to do his will. His statutes must be the rejoicings of our hearts. If we could be as precise as Pharisees, it would do us no good. We must love God supremely and our neighbour as ourselves.

6. In this obedience we must persevere. "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" Gal. iii. 10. Past obedience was due; present obedience is due : and future obedience will be due for ever. This is right. A man may keep all the laws for fifty years. If he then commits murder, he is justly punished. A man may steal but once, yet that one act makes him a thief.

7. The law requires prompt, unhesitating obedience. When God commands and we know what he means, we must not linger, but go right forward.  When Abraham was required to sacrifice Isaac, and knew what God's will was, he arose very early the next morning, and started on the commanded journey. David says, " I made haste and delayed not to keep thy commandments," Ps. cxix. 60. Some children and servants, when required to do a thing and know what their duty is, ask questions, find fault, and even murmur. Their conduct is wicked. It is still more wicked to stand finding fault with God.

8. The obedience we owe to God is supreme. We must put his will above our own or that of any man or number of men. We owe great honour to our father and mother ; but if they call on us to do anything contrary to the law of God, we may not do it. Sometimes States and Kings make wicked laws, contrary to the known will of the Most High. In all such cases we must obey God rather than men. Sometimes churches make wicked rules, and wickedly enforce them. In such cases, we must bear expulsion from the church rather than sin against God. We owe him all. He is in all and through all and above all and over all.

9. God's law requires obedience perfect in all respects. The least failure is a sin; and against every sin God sets his face. He says, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." And he is right, and has a right to require all this. To give a license to sin once, or in the least, would be bringing sin into the world. It was for one sin that angels were hurled out of heaven. It was for one sin that Adam was driven from Paradise.

If these things are so, how stands your case with God? Do you take him to be the only living and
true God, and your God? Do you love anything more than you love God ? Are you more distressed when God is dishonoured than when you are reproached? Do you put anything above God's favour? Do you tempt God? Are you lukewarm or dead in the things of God ? Do you make any man or set of men the lords of your faith and conscience ? Do you slight the Saviour ? Do you resist or grieve God's Spirit ? Do you delight yourself in the Lord ? Do you worship God with a pure heart ? Do you pay your vows ? Do you honour God with your lips when your heart is far from him ? Do you speak of God's name, or word, or worship in a vain or profane manner? Do you ever jest with sacred things ? Do you ever oppose God's truth or grace or ways? Do you love the Sabbath-day and keep it holy? Or are you weary of its duties? Do you omit any honour or love due to your parents, teachers, guardians, or rulers ? Do you indulge envy, scorn, or malice towards them ? Do you pray for them ? Are you careful of your own life and the life of others ? Do you indulge excessive passions and needless cares ? Do you strike, or wound, or quarrel, or oppress ? Are you cruel to brutes ? Do you cherish all chaste and pure thoughts, looks, and words ? Is your behaviour light or impudent? Are you guilty of excess in eating, drinking, or sleeping? Have you made a covenant with your eyes and your ears ? Do you steal from rich or poor ? Do you beg when you might earn your bread ? Do you borrow when you could do without the things borrowed? Do you always speak the truth in your heart ? As far as you can, do you speak well of all men ? Do you hate lying, slander, backbiting, talebearing, whispering, flattery, scoffing, reviling, vain boasting ? Do you listen to false reports ? Do you patiently hear a just defence ? Are you not sometimes silent when you ought to speak ? Do you not sometimes speak when you ought to be silent ? Are you a brawler ? Do you keep your word? Is your promise as good as your bond ? Are you contented with your lot ?
Do you envy your more prosperous neighbour ? Are you glad when others have good success ? Can you truly say, I hate every false way, but I love thy law, God?


1 . How many kinds of sins there are ! Some are secret, and some are open. Some are on the spur of the moment, and some have long been thought over before they are committed. Some are against ourselves, some against our neighbours, and all against God. If God would contend with us, we cannot answer him for one of a thousand of our sins. Job ix. 3. All good men count their sins by the thousand, or else say that they are like a thick cloud, that they are innumerable, that they are like the great mountains.

2. How vain is the pretence of men to sinless perfection. The Bible is clear that " there is no man that liveth and sinneth not," 1 Kings viii. 46; 2 Chron. vi. 36. Yea more, " there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not," Ecc.vii. 20. The whole verse from which the text is taken reads ; " I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad."

3. It is very foolish in us to expect to be justified by the deeds of the law. The law justifies only sinless creatures, and we are all sinful creatures. By the law is the knowledge of sin, not the pardon of sin. The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, not to bring us to God. Christ must bring us before his holy majesty. The law pours only curses on sinners. It has no mercy, because it is law, and unbending.

4. How kind and glorious is the gospel. It brings help to the needy, mercy to the guilty, salvation to the lost. One of my friends, with a company of travellers, was crossing the Alps, when there came up a great snow-storm. The clouds were very heavy. The paths soon became covered. The snow fell fast. They could see but a little way before them. By-and-by their guide sadly said to them, " I know not where we are." It was very cold. The prospect before them was very dismal. The guide went a little way to the one side, and there he found one of the guide-boards, which were in the shape of a cross; and he returned with great joy in his countenance, shouting, " The cross, the cross ! " Their hearts were indeed glad. They soon took the road, and went on their way rejoicing. So we are all lost. We are out of the way. We know not how to come before the Almighty. We are in a perishing condition. Our only hope is the cross of Christ — not the wood on which he hung, nor an image of it ; but Christ's death which he there suffered, Christ's blood which he there shed. Will you not say, — " My faith, would lay her hand On that dear head of thine ; While like a penitent I stand, And there confess my sin."

No man needs any sacrifice but that of Calvary, any atonement but that of Christ. His work is perfect. His death is all-sufficient. O look to him — to him alone.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bernard on Loving God

One of Calvin's favourite Church Fathers was Bernard of Clairvaux (for more see here and here). 
He may have had his faults, but he believed in truly free grace and Bernard's treatise "On Loving God" is perhaps his richest writing (listen to it here). 

"He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4:19)" Chapter I, 5.

"So it behoves us, if we would have Christ for a frequent guest, to fill our hearts with faithful meditations on the mercy He showed in dying for us, and on His mighty power in rising again from the dead. ... surely there is proof enough and to spare in that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification, and ascended into heaven that He might protect us from on high, and sent the Holy Spirit for our comfort. Hereafter He will come again for the consummation of our bliss. In His Death He displayed His mercy, in His Resurrection His power; both combine to manifest His glory." - Chapter III, 5.

"What could result from the contemplation of compassion so marvelous and so undeserved, favor so free and so well attested, kindness so unexpected, clemency so unconquerable, grace so amazing except that the soul should withdraw from all sinful affections, reject all that is inconsistent with God's love, and yield herself wholly to heavenly things? No wonder is it that the Bride, moved by the perfume of these unctions, runs swiftly, all on fire with love, yet reckons herself as loving all too little in return for the Bridegroom's love. And rightly, since it is no great matter that a little dust should be all consumed with love of that Majesty which loved her first and which revealed itself as wholly bent on saving her. For 'God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life' (John 3:16). This sets forth the Father's love. But 'He hath poured out His soul unto death,' was written of the Son (Isa. 53:12). And of the Holy Spirit it is said, 'The Comforter which is the Holy Ghost whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you' (John 14:26). It is plain, therefore, that God loves us, and loves us with all His heart; for the Holy Trinity altogether loves us, if we may venture so to speak of the infinite and incomprehensible Godhead who is essentially one." - Chapter IV, 5.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

principia ecclesia

This excellent lecture on church principles made me think a little about the first principles of the Church.

There are first (foundational) principles and derived principles. First principles are self-evident truths that as postulates cannot be derived or deduced from any other truths. Aristotle writes that first principles are the primary source from which anything is, becomes or is known.

The Church is not a first principle in itself but derived. The first principles of the Church are the same as those for religion and theology. The foundation of being for the Church is God himself (principium essendi). It is the Church of God. Without God the Church has no meaning or being and no knowledge of God - all of which originate in himself (Matthew 11:27 and 1 Cor. 2:10). Only God's knowledge of himself is complete and exhaustive, the Church's knowledge of Him is while true - creaturely, finite and dependent.

This brings us to how the Church gains its knowledge. The external foundation of knowing for the Church is the Holy Scriptures which are the Word of God. This is God's special revelation of Himself or self-communication. The Scriptures are the constitutive principle of the Church. It has only regulative, ministerial and limited power to teach and to observe all things that have been commanded in Scripture (nothing more or less). It is therefore free from the commandments and doctrines of men which are not only contrary to but beside the Word of God.

What Herman Bavinck says concerning theology could be said concerning the Church:
“The fact that theology exists we owe solely to God, to his self-consciousness, to his good pleasure [God as principium essendi]. But the means, the way, by which that knowledge of God reaches us is God’s revelation… This is implied in the nature of the thing. Other people only become knowable to us when they reveal themselves to us, i.e. mainfest their presence, speak, or act… The same is true in the case of the Lord our God; his knowledge, too, flows to us only through the channel of his revelation. Furthermore, that revelation, too, can only be his appearance, his word, and his deed. Accordingly, the principle by which we know (principium cognoscendi), the principle of theology, is the self-revelation or self-communication of God to his creatures.”

The internal foundation of knowing is the work of the Holy Spirit (principium cognoscendi internum) “the illumination of human beings by God’s Spirit” - working faith in the heart (Rom. 10:17; Gal 3:3; Heb 11:1-3). Bavinck writes: “"We do not only confess a ‘principium externum’ i.e. Holy Scripture, but also a ‘principium internum’ i.e. the Holy Spirit, who dwelling in the church makes the things of the kingdom known to her."”
"“Accordingly, the confession of the church can be called the dogma quoad nos or the truth of God as it has been taken up in the consciousness of the church and confessed by it in its own language".

Bavinck also notes concerning these principles: "These three are one in the respect that they have God as author and one identical knowledge of God as their content". One can see how some have been able to discern a trinitarian dimension to these foundational principles if one associates the external principle of knowing particularly with the Eternal Son as Logos or the Word.

From these foundations or first principles the general principles of the Church are derived. We can consider these later.

sola scriptura

sola Scriptura: Scripture alone; the watchword of the Reformation in its establishment of the basis for a renewed and reformed statement of Christian doctrine. We find the concept of sola Scriptura, Scripture alone as the primary and absolute norm of doctrine, at the foundation of the early Protestant attempts at theological system in the form of exegetical loci communes, or common places. In the orthodox or scholastic codification of Lutheran and Reformed doctrine, the sola Scriptura of the Reformers was elaborated as a separate doctrinal locus placed at the beginning of theological system and determinative of its contents. Scripture was identified as the principium cognoscendi, the principle of knowing or cognitive foundation of theology, and described doctrinally in terms of its authority, clarity, and sufficiency in all matters of faith and morals.

Finally, it ought to be noted that sola Scriptura was never meant as a denial of the usefulness of the Christian tradition as a subordinate norm in theology. The views of the Reformers developed out of a debate in the late medieval theology over the relation of Scripture and tradition, one party viewing the two as coequal norms, the other party viewing Scripture as the absolute and therefore prior norm, but allowing tradition a derivative but important secondary role in doctrinal statement. The Reformers and the Protestant orthodox held the latter view, on the assumption that tradition was a useful guide, that the trinitarian and christological statements of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon were expressions of biblical truth, and that the great teachers of the church provided valuable instruction in theology that always needed to be evaluated in the light of Scripture. We encounter, particularly in the scholastic era of Protestantism, a profound interest in the patristic period and a critical, but often substantive, use of ideas and patterns enunciated by the medieval doctors.

Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985), 284.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How worldly am I?

First, what are the objects before your mind in times of recreation? What do your thoughts most run upon?
Second, what are the objects of your choice? When you have to decide how to spend an evening or the Sabbath afternoon, what do you select?
Third, which occasions you the most sorrow, the loss of earthly things, or lack of communion with God?
Which causes greater grief (or chagrin), the spoiling of your plans, or the coldness of your heart to Christ?
Fourth, what is your favorite topic of conversation? Do you hanker after the news of the day, or to meet with those who talk of the “altogether lovely” One?
Fifth, do your “good intentions” materialize, or are they nothing but empty dreams? Are you spending more or less time than formerly on your knees? Is the Word sweeter to your taste, or has your soul lost its relish for it?

A. W. Pink, Profiting from the Word (Banner of Truth, 1970) found here

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The knowledge that we need

Man does not know himself or God truly. He does not know the greatness of his sin and misery. Neither does he know where he is going. He knoweth not his time, there is not a heart in him to be wise and understand his latter end, numbering up his days and so applying his heart to wisdom. We read in Ecclesiastes that ‘the labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city’. Man does not know the way to everlasting life unless the Scriptures reveal it to him and even then he will seek to follow his own way and not heed the clear instruction of the Word. At the beginning of Pilgrim’s Progress we witness a man all deserted, with the burden of sin upon his back, he is reading in the book, weeping and trembling and crying out: ‘What shall I do?’ There is a man with some knowledge but he has not that saving knowledge that he requires. O what a pitiable condition.

There is a paradox in religion also that although there may be much knowledge about religious things, about God and his requirements, there is no true and real experimental and saving knowledge of God. This was true of the Pharisees of whom Christ said that they knew neither him nor his Father. It was true of the Jews of Paul’s day. They had the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. He bore record of them that they had a zeal of God but not according to knowledge, For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. If they knew truly the righteous character of God and what he requires they would never be so zealous to seek to establish their own righteousness. Paul knew himself that he trusted in many religious privileges but yet it was all nothing to him when he came to a true experimental knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. We read in Hosea that God ‘desired mercy, and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings’.  You must be clear as to this, it is not your religious privileges or observances that will make you right with God, you must come to a saving knowledge of God by faith.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How many books? #3

Returning to books, W.S Plumer records the following in relation to Psalm 27:4. 'When some one admired Leighton's library, he said: "One devout thought is worth more than it all." He was right'. 'When we have a good thought or desire, we must not yield it up to temptation, but hold on to it and cherish it'.

The reference is not to Lord Leighton but to the godly but misguided prelate Robert Leighton. It is not a reference to Leighton's Newbattle library but to his Dunblane Library. True to his sentiments, Leighton bequeathed his books to the Cathedral of Dunblane in Scotland, to remain there for the use of the Clergy of that Diocese, thankfully not to remain a diocese for many years after. The library was opened in the year 1688. Various books have been lost over the years c.100. I remember a summer job over 10 years ago was to remove and store the books while work was being done to the library building.

Leighton filled his library with the best books of divinity then available and numerous markings and pencillings show his avid reading of authors such as Richard Sibbes. It appears that next to his Bible his most treasured book was a miniature pocket edition carried everywhere "Of the Imitation by Christ" by Thomas A Kempis which we quoted from at the end of 'How Many Books? #1'. There were notes upon all the margins, many of which no doubt were devout thoughts...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"his passing is epochal"

This obituary puts some words on an event that is very difficult to describe. Some sermons from "one of the great teaching ministries anywhere in post-war Scotland" (also here).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Adam's knowledge

When God had created all things, he ‘saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good’.  God looked upon man, body and soul and he saw that he was very good.  Man was also created in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness with dominion over the creatures.  We read that when the image of God is renewed it is ‘renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him’ (Col. 3:10). It is apparent that the reference is to the original image of God in Adam for when something is renewed it must have once been possessed but now lost. What was this knowledge that Adam possessed as he came from the hand of God?  It was primarily moral and spiritual but it is important to recognise that man’s knowledge naturally speaking is nothing now to what Adam had before he fell.

Adam’s natural knowledge was perfect, not in the sense of being infinite or exhaustive but because his faculties of understanding, discernment and memory were not impaired by sin and the fall, he would have had a full knowledge of things and their nature. This was seen when the animals were brought to Adam. They came as it were to acknowledge their lord who was crowned with this glory and honour, that all things were put under his feet. God delegated to Adam as one that had dominion over the creatures the authority to give them their names. This signified his authority – ‘whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof’. What an insight and understanding he possessed to discern the nature and characteristics of a creature in so short a time and to assign it an appropriate name. What a naturalist might take years to understand about a living organism Adam was able to fathom in a short while. No doubt the knowledge that he possessed, as one in harmony and fellowship with God, was also God-given. He was placed in the garden to dress it and keep it. This meant that he would have had a full understanding of that which he was appointed to steward and attend to. He knew the best ways to preserve them and care for each creature and organism according to their nature. We do not know fully what his service entailed but we know that he rendered a perfect service.

His knowledge of the nature of things would have been of service to him spiritually. ‘He that is spiritual judgeth [or discerneth] all things’. The Lord Jesus Christ instructs us to consider the nature and characteristics of created things and to draw spiritual instruction from them. Everything would have been full of spiritual profit in this way to the holy discernment of Adam. Even after the fall certain things are apparent to man. Man after the fall must acknowledge that ‘that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead’ (Romans 1:19-20). We do not know all that Adam was able to read in the book of Nature but we know that sin has darkened our minds to this and would seek to deny even what is clearly manifest. He knew at any rate what it was to have contentment with all that God had given to him, he knew by experience that to be spiritually minded is life and peace. He knew nothing else.

Men boast of their advancement in knowledge but their capacities and understanding are nothing to what Adam possessed.  Adam’s thoughts and desires were well ordered and had not the disorder of sin. His thoughts would have been kept under the government of his will so that he would not have found himself distracted with a multitude of thoughts but would have been able to concentrate upon one thing without distraction and follow a thought through to its ultimate conclusion unerringly and without deviation. His powers of reason and understanding were perfect.

Much more wonderful in Adam, however, was the moral knowledge that his soul possessed. God made man upright.  His knowledge was upright. What he knew and how he came to understand it was altogether regulated according to a holy nature. He had the law of God written upon his heart and conscience.  The conscience was not restrained or impaired by sin in any way but witnessed fully to the spirituality and breadth of the law of God. He delighted in the knowledge of the law of God after the inward man. It revealed to him the character of God. He had the revealed will of God not only in his heart but there was also a sign given to him to show and prove his obedience and love of God in a simple outward way. That was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from which he was forbidden to eat. He had the opportunity of making an open demonstration of his knowledge of the holiness that God requires and his delight in that. Holiness unto the Lord was written across all his actions and thoughts. He understood in a real experimental and perfect sense what that means – whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God

The knowledge that he had was also spiritual and experimental. He was made a living soul, spiritually alive towards God. He knew God in a holy and perfect way. He was in covenant with God, brought into the secret of his covenant. God promised life to Adam in his covenant – this was implicit in the threatening of death upon disobedience – life was promised upon perfect obedience. ‘With length of days unto his mind, I will him satisfy’. What was said of the second Adam could be said of the type: ‘because my great name he hath known, I will him set on high’. O surely the soul of Adam, as one who had the breath of God in it and was made a living soul, surely that was borne along sweetly by the gales of the Holy Spirit upon it. Surely his soul was set on high, made like the chariots of Amminadib. The favour of God shone upon him, His countenance was lifted upon him to give him peace. He knew Him in the bond of adoption or sonship, as one who was called the son of God.  He knew God face to face as a man speaketh with his friend. He dwelt within the veil and walked with God upon this earth. The Spirit of God that ‘searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God’ was surely revealing such things to Adam.  He knew what the worship of God was. The worship of the Sabbath day was heaven upon earth in Eden. We do not know how soon Adam fell but we know that he had at least one Sabbath, the very first which God hallowed and blessed. Eden means delights and the chief delight there was communion with God whose presence tabernacled with man.

Although man had such a high provision of knowledge the devil came to tempt him to sin in this area. The temptation was that God had reserved some greater knowledge that they might have had and kept it from them. God was holding them down, Satan implied. This was within their grasp and he insinuated that it was their right as it were to lay hold on it. There was an independent source of knowledge open to them – they would not need to be dependent upon God any more. ‘For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil’.  The lust in the heart of the woman was after this higher knowledge that the devil held out to her since she saw that the tree was ‘to be desired to make one wise’. The feet that hasted sinned. There was a rushing headlong into what had been forbidden. Man fell – his soul lost the knowledge that he had in reaching after knowledge that he could never had. The devil had promised that their eyes would be opened and indeed their eyes were opened to see themselves stripped of the glory and dignity that they had. They now had a practical knowledge of evil and became unable to spiritual good. How blinded many are by the devil – they do not see that he only promises to them that which they cannot possess and which will be their eternal ruin.

O what we have lost in Adam – the glory and dignity of it. The crown is fallen from our heads indeed, what a thief and extortioner sin is that has robbed us of so rich and glorious an estate and inheritance. Our head was held aloft to heaven in him, but now through sin our eyes and minds are set upon earthly things. Man is a ruined temple – only a little of the glory and magnificence that he one possessed can now be discerned.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How many books? #2

The puritan Thomas Fuller put things in a more succinct way than the previous post attempted to do: "A few books well chosen, and well made use of will be more profitable than a great confused Alexandrian library." Perhaps Samuel Johnson was aware of this when he said famously, "Books like friends, should be few and well-chosen." Fuller was a very prolific and extensive writer, there were 11 volumes of The Church History of Britain (1655) for instance. How many of his own books were among the "few chosen"? 

How might we identify "a few books well chosen"? As to lists - usually I don't concur entirely with their contents but I quite like this one. We might ask various questions of the book. Does the book promote holiness of life either by precept or example? Does the book extend knowledge and understanding usefully? Does the book promote spiritual edification? The best books are well-defined by Thomas Watson, however:

"Get books into your houses, when you have not the spring near you, then get some water into your cisterns; so when you have not that wholesome preaching that you desire, good books are cisterns that hold the water of life in them to refresh you; So, when you find a chillness upon your souls, and that your former heat begins to abate, ply yourselves with warm clothes, get those good books that may acquaint you with such truths as may warm and affect your hearts." 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How many books?

"The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments." 2 Timothy 4:13.

As Spurgeon points out, even an apostle needed books. Paul needed books, more than one book, at least a few. Yet hardly a few thousand when they had to be brought. We emphasise that he needed books not that he was a book addict.

Paul was awaiting his martyrdom just as was Tyndale in 1535 when incarcerated in Vilvoorde Castle near Brussels. He wrote to the prison governor requesting him kindly to let him have his Hebrew Bible, Hebrew grammar books and a Hebrew dictionary, as well as warmer clothing for the coming winter.

I suffer greatly from cold in the head and am afflicted with perpetual catarrh. I ask to have a lamp in the evening; it is indeed wearisome sitting alone in the dark. Most of all I beg and beseech Your Clemency to urge the Commissary that he will kindly permit me to have the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew grammar and Hebrew dictionary, that I may pass the time in that study.

It was not long before those that were burning his translation of the Scriptures into English were able to have him garrotted and his body burnt at the stake.

The fact that Paul writes "especially the parchments" shows a particular regard for the Scriptures. These he cannot do without. The books may have been his own or those of other men and of particular value but no book has anything approaching the value of the Bible.

Reading has so declined that we can feel it needs all possible emphasis. Spurgeon's application of this verse is very appropriate:
You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying.

We are well able to stop short of reading real books by skimming information on the internet or reading popular books with no real content and more comfortable with it too. But we are also able to use books in order to avoid the real labour of engaging with the Scriptures for ourselves. Our lives are more than saturated with extraneous information. It doesn't take a professional to diagnose the fact that this deluge washes away our concentration never mind our productivity and creativity. The modern phenomenon of infoglut - being flooded with more information than we can process with the knowledge that there is always more queuing up for us - is not just a data problem it can also be a problem in scanning an overstocked library and thinking that any and every book must be held onto tenaciously "just in case" or because given world enough and time we will actually open its covers one day. Electronic books will probably increase rather than reduce this problem since we can store more and more and the fact that we can access any at instant speed may induce paralysis in deciding which to select.

Books are to be read and used; they're not window dressing or commodities. This brings us to the main point. How many books? Surely no more than necessary. That necessity will be related to our calling.

After sending some more unused books to the attic to join the rest it was providential to come across these reflections here and here. I particularly valued these thoughts:
How many books do you have? If you serve in the first world, the answer is almost certainly more than you need; it’s often more than you can justify; and it’s sometimes more than you can accommodate.

These reflections are more valuable than a cult of minimalism for its own sake (although some attempt at minimalism probably wouldn't hurt most of us). Is it relevant that those that have contributed most probably have had the smallest libraries? ANS Lane points out that "Calvin was very skilled at reading the minimum and making the maximum use of it". Surely that is a minimalism to aspire to. Thomas Boston was someone with an exceedingly scarce library but was nevertheless a powerful theologian. Debates continue as to what books Bunyan had access to, evidently a little more than his Bible and concordance but probably not much more and certainly entirely overshadowed by his use of these as his bibline writings demonstrate.

We are not disparaging books - many have received a blessing for eternity from them. As the Puritans would have put it - we need to be less like the butterfly in flitting from flower to flower and more like the bee in selecting the flowers that will yield most and spending time in extracting what we need. We need to be more selective about what we buy, what we read and why. We need to ask ourselves how this will profit ourselves and others in glorifying and enjoying God aright. Rev. James S. Sinclair wrote that: "The value of good books is not be estimated by their commercial price...The value of good books is to be reckoned according to the amount of moral and spiritual benefit they are fitted to convey to the understanding, heart and life of men. A bargain is only a bargain if it is going to be useful. A interesting set of notes in relation to this is found here. This begins with the searching words of Thomas A Kempis:

When the day of judgment comes, inquiry will not be made of us of what we have read, but what we have done, not how well we have spoken, but how piously we have lived (Imitation of Christ I.3.4).

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

M'Crie on Baptism #1

Although over 200 years old (published in 1801) Thomas M'Crie's Lectures on Christian Baptism remain a useful classic work on this subject. He describes it as "the result of the readings and reflections of many years". M'Crie is not so much writing in order to advance polemic as to state his case clearly. "On the subject in general, it is to be feared much ignorance and misapprehension prevail. The first and simplest of the Christian institutes has been involved in a labyrinth of metaphysical subtlety and theological discussion, the very aspect of which deters many from examining it." His intention is to provide a discussion "in a plain, popular, and practical manner, adapted to the comprehension of all". What is particularly noteworthy is the gracious manner in which he approaches the subject. "It is extremely difficult to speak on the point at all without offending cherished prejudices; and it is our special unhappiness in this question, that we are brought into collision with brethren whose personal piety and public zeal in the cause of Christ entitle them to the highest praise. But the interests of truth (and this seems eminently a part of " the present truth ") require that we should take up the question under this disadvantage; and it has been the author's intention, however he may have succeeded in carrying it out, to avoid all uncharitable invective and needless irritation".

He concludes his preface in the attitude of prayer using "one of the Prayers anciently used at the celebration of baptism in the French and Scottish Churches:— 'Hear us, Father of mercy, that so the Baptism which we dispense, according to thy institution, may produce its fruit and virtue, in such sort as thou hast declared to us in thy Gospel!'"

Is this not the spirit to approach this and all such similar controversies?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Scriptural Duty of bearing public Testimony

John Willison writes the following in his A Fair and Impartial Testimony.

1. The servants of God, and especially ministers of the gospel, are frequently in Scripture called his Witnesses; in regard they are called to give testimony to his truths and ways, and to bear witness against what is prejudicial or contrary thereunto, Rev. xi. 3, 7. Luke xxiv. 48. John v. 33. and xv. 27. Acts i. 8. and xxii. 15, 18. and xxvi. 19. It is by such faithful witness hearing that we must hold fast the truths of God when ready to be plucked from us, and to contend for the faith which he hath delivered to his saints, Rev. iii. 11. Jude verse 3. And in this way we are to wrestle with and overcome truth’s adversaries, Rev. xii. 11. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony. The character which God gives his servants three times in the compass of a few verses should make very deep impression upon us, Isa. xliii. 10, 12. and xliv. 8. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord. And it is in that capacity he calls and requires us to confess Christ before men, to bear viwitness to Christ and to his truths, to stand fast is the faith, to quit ourselves like men, to be strong, to be steadfast, tobe zealous and valiant for the truth, to be faithful unto death.—To contend earnestly for the faith and set ourselves for the defence of the gospel.—To plead with our Mother; to keep the charge of the Lord, and the charge of his sanctuary; to keep that which is committed to our, trust; to be clean who bear the vessels of the Lord, and not to touch the unclean thing.—To save ourselves from an untoward generation: to keep our garments clean and unspotted from the world, to hate the work of them that turn aside, that it may not cleave to us; to keep ourselves pure, and not to be partakers of other mens sins; to flee from sin, and deliver every man his own soul; to abhor what is evil, to cleave unto the Lord and to that which is good; to keep ourselves from the accursed thing.—To be watchmen to the house of Israel, and give them warning from God; to cry aloud and not spare, to shew the house of Jacob their sins; to reprove the works of darkness; not to suffer sin upon our brother; to be pure from the blood of all men, and not to shun to declare all the counsel of God.—Now these multiplied Scripture texts and Divine precepts afford us clear and plain warrant to make an open appearance and declaration for our Lord Jesus Christ, and for his truths and ways when injured; and against the evils and corruptions of the times, especially when they are avowed and infectious, and like to infect more and more.

2. Writing and leaving a testimony behind us to true religion, and against error and corruption, is necessary and useful for the instruction, conviction, and confirmation both of the present and future generations, and a very proper mean for handing viidown God’s truths and institutions pure from age to age; which is a debt that one generation owes to another, as God declares in his word; Psal. lxxviii. 5, 6, 7. He established a testimony in, Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of Cod, but keep his commandments. Psal. cxlv. 4. One generation shall praise thy works to another and shall declare thy mighty acts. And according to Psal. cii. 18. God’s works of grace and mercy are to be written for the generations to come, that the people which are to be created may praise the Lord. And we are enjoined, Psal. xlviii. 13. to walk about Zion, to tell her towers, mark her bulwarks and palaces, viz. the institutions and ornaments of the gospel church, that we may shew them to the generation following. And we are appointed, Ezek. xliii. 11. to shew to the house of Israel the form and fashion of the house of God, with the ordinances and laws thereof, and to write it in their sight, that they may keep them and do them. All these do plainly demonstrate our Scripture warrant for leaving such written testimonies behind us.

3. Writing and emitting faithful testimonies for God and his ways, is necessary and seasonable especially in times of corruption and backsliding, even when true religion is in danger. In such times Christ doth kindly accept and reward our open confessing of him and his truths before men, Rev. ii. 2. Matth. x. 32. And, on the other hand, he severely threatens our conniving at error and impiety, and not bearing testimony against them when they abound, Rev. ii. 14, 15, 16. Now, is not the backsliding day in which we live a proper season for such open confessions and faithful testimonies, when errors of all kinds are tolerate, approven truths are run down, and manifold corruptions prevail, to the dishonour of God and our holy religion; and when applications to judicatories for redress are unsuccessful? Surely it must be in such a time as this, that God calls his servants and witnesses to rise up for him (by faithful testimonies) against the evil-doers, and stand up for him against the workers of iniquity, Psal. xciv. 16.

4. A written subscribed testimony seems necessary in obedience to the Ninth Commandment, for preserving and clearing the names and characters of honest ministers and elders in times of defection, and for vindicating them from the common charge of the corruptions and wrong steps of the societies whereof they are members. As they are often loaded unjustly with these evils, so their giving a subscribed testimony against them is a proper xway to wipe off aspersions from their names while they live, to prevent blackning of their memories when dead, and also to yield them much inward peace when dying. Wherefore in my humble opinion, the call seems to be pretty clear to them who desire to, keep their garments unspotted, and to hate the work of them that turn aside, that it may not cleave to them, and who would embalm their names to posterity as witnesses for God in an evil time, to declare their minds by joining in such a testimony as this, and thereby exoner their consciences with respect to the backsliding and defections under which they have been long groaning. And whatsoever their hands finds to do in this matter, it is fit they do it without loss of time, seeing their standing is so slippery every day upon the brink of the grave.

5. Emitting testimonies in time of defection hath been the approven practice of God’s worthies in former times. They judged their giving written testimonies against growing errors and corruptions to be the lifting up, a banner for truth, and the proper means to stop the current of defection, and to excite and plead with their Mother to use her best endeavours for that effect.—We have still extant such faithful testimonies given by sundry ministers in the years 1658 and 1659, when a toleration was granted by law to the sectaries and errors which then prevailed: and namely, that famous testimony drawn up against these errors, and to the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of this church, subscribed by Mr. Samuel Rutherford, Mr. James Wedderburn, Mr. James Guthrie, Mr. Alexander Moncrieff, Mr. Thomas Lundie, and many others.—Likewise a testimony against toleration by the presbytery of Edinburgh, xi5th October, 1659.—One by the ministers of Lancashire, 3d March, 1648.—One by Mr. George Gillespie, two days before his death.—One by the ministers of London, 14th December, 1647.—One by Mr. Rutherford on his death-bed, February, 1661.—One by, Dr. Horneck against stageplays, &c. And, lastly, what are all the dying speeches which our martyrs have left written behind them, but so many testimonies to the truths and ways of God, and against the errors and corruptions of their times? And these testimonies, however much despised by the world, God hath blessed as means for continuing truth and gospel purity among us to this day. And who knows but the Testimony now essayed in imitation of the foresaid worthies, may likewise be of use for preserving truth, and exciting reformation, when many of the present backsliding generation are laid in the dust? A new turn of affairs, and a general revival, may yet come; (The Lord himself hasten it!) Now it will be highly useful at such a time, for the generation to know something of the sentiments and practices of ancient wrestlers against corruption. Were there no testimonies of this kind, both the knowledge of truth, and the sense of duty and of sin in sundry cases, would be lost to the rising ages, towards whom we of the present age are indispensibly bound to act a kind and faithful part, viz. to give them just information.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI and the United Kingdom

The cost of the proposed papal visit to UK taxpayers is one thing (easily £100m once security is taken into account) - although by no means a small matter in the current climate. Why should the tax payer shell out so much on the head of a country that is so small it would scarcely cover the area of any parish or community council in the UK? There is another cost, however, which is political, moral and spiritual. It is a dangerous attack upon the heritage of the nation. A new book seeks to highlight this cost. It does so in an informed, rather than prejudiced, way by taking these matters back to the Scriptures for the examination of the claims of the papacy against the truth.

'For well over a thousand years there has been a succession of men claiming an astonishing position for themselves, both in religion and in the affairs of nations. When one dies, another takes his place. The latest in this extraordinary dynasty has been invited by the former Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, to visit Britain. Who is this man and why is his visit a danger to the United Kingdom?'

Published by Free Presbyterian Publications (Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland) at £5 (available from www.fpbookroom.org), this small paperback (108pp) highlights the serious issues surrounding the impending state visit of the pope to the United Kingdom. It outlines his absurd role as head of state, his objectionable career, especially in covering up the sexual abuse carried out by priests. Other essays focus on the Protestant nature of the UK constitution, show that the Pope is head of a false religion which denies and undermines the cardinal points of salvation and truth, refute the doctrine of Papal infallibility and show how the Scriptures foretell the emergence, character and demise of the papacy.

The volume concludes with the reprint of an essay by RL Dabney on the Attractions of Popery. Dabney has this to say: "The popish system of ritual and doctrine was a gradual growth, which, modifying true Christianity, first perverted and then extinguished it. Its destructive power has resulted from this: that it has not been the invention of any one cunning and hostile mind, but a gradual growth, modified by hundreds or thousands of its cultivators, who were the most acute, learned, selfish, and anti-Christian spirits of their generations, perpetually retouched and adapted to every weakness and every attribute of depraved human nature, until it became the most skillful and pernicious system of error which the world has ever known. As it has adjusted itself to every superstition, every sense of guilt, every foible and craving of the depraved human heart, so it has travestied with consummate skill every active principle of the gospel. It is doubtless the ne plus ultra of religious delusion, the final and highest result of perverted human faculty guided by the sagacity of the great enemy".

A review is available at www.middletome.com from which the above image has been borrowed.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

'behind the age'?

"These are held up as superstitious who claim a hearing for God when, on other days than Sabbath, He calls men away from the vanities of the world to consider things unseen and eternal. Those who attempt to fence the table of the Lord are represented as mystical and straight-laced and, because conservative of what is scriptural, they are said to be 'behind the age'. . . . To be behind an age that is drifting away from truth and ungodliness is the only safe, the only dutiful, position." (John Kennedy, The Present Cast and Tendency of Religious Thought and Feeling in Scotland,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the most beautiful thing under heaven

The true visible church, where God's ordinances are set up as he hath appointed, where his word is purely preached, is the most beautiful thing under heaven, and there is God's glory set forth and manifested more clearly than in all the Lord's handiwork beside in heaven or earth.
David Dickson

Saturday, June 19, 2010

a prisoner of God's kind providence

The online publication of old copies of the Free Presbyterian Magazine (beginning 1906) is a great provision. The following comes from a letter written by a Colin Mackenzie 4 South Erradale, Gairloch, who died in 1905. It is said of him that "It was apparent to those who knew him intimately that his trouble proved a spiritual blessing to him. He once mentioned with much solemnity and pathos that he had often, day and night, suffered from such excruciating pains that he was afraid he would be deprived of his reason, yet that that was but a trifle compared to the smallest part of a grain of the wrath of God on the conscience for a single moment. His very countenance bespoke the reality of what he said".

Though I am a prisoner of God's kind providence, yet I praise His thrice holy name that my bitter cup is mixed with His loving kindness; and He not only bestows upon me of His liberal
bounty, but in a wonderful way permits me to enjoy a fair share of the good things of this life.
A few weeks ago I was very much depressed and low in spirit, but now my hope seems to have revived a bit, and my confidence in God renewed. Yet I must confess I make little, if any,
progress on the way to Zion. I find my old enemy - the carnal mind - is still alive, and at times makes me cry out in despair of ever reaching that city of refuge. Oh, that my Redeemer would suffer me to crawl at His feet, and eat of the crumbs that fall off His table; and as a poor worm would find refuge under a stone, so would my:soul find a place of refuge under His wings. Then I would have confidence that He would not crush me, because He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Pardon me for talking, in my own illiterate way, of things too wonderful for me, of which I know so little. It would become me best to repent not only of my old sins, but of every-day thought, word, and deed, and come again and again to be washed in the fountain open for sin and uncleanness.