Friday, April 30, 2010

The principles of the Scottish Reformation

The Reformation in Scotland may be briefly characterised as the development of three great principles—
1st, The supreme authority of the Word of God in all matters pertaining to religion;
2d, The sole sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Head and King of the Church—understanding by the term Church, the company of believers comprising both ministers and people;
3d, The official equality of all ordained ministers.

From these primary principles flow others, secondary in position, but essentially necessary—
1st, The independent spiritual jurisdiction of the Church as a necessary consequence of the two first principles, and that the Church may obey Christ freely and fully according to the revelation of his mind in the Sacred Scriptures;
2d, The rights and privileges of the Christian people regarded as believers, and thereby entitled to enjoy the liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free —this also follows from the two first;
3d, Presbyterian Church government, as necessarily arising out of the first three principles, and opposed both to Prelacy and Congregationalism ;
4th, The education of the people as a part of the Church system, and therefore based upon and thoroughly pervaded by the principles of sacred and revealed truth.

Authoritative Exposition of the principles of the Free Church of Scotland, 1845

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The greatest responsibility you have: the greatest privilege you could have

There are many questions in the world. The greatest of all questions that could be addressed to you is that which the Lord Jesus Christ addressed to Peter. "Lovest thou me?" This is not just a question asked by the greatest person about himself. It is the greatest question it is possible to ask about the greatest person. It is the greatest commandment. 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment' (Mark 12:30). All our moral responsibility, the whole law hangs upon it.

This great commandment is in the gospel: 'Kiss the Son lest he be angry and ye perish from the way when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him' (Psalm 2:12). It is the test of all our religious duty - without love to Christ, all is lost and nothing. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and knowledge, Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor; and Though I give my body to be burnt, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." (1 Cor 13:1ff). It profiteth me nothing. As with a sum of money the zeros are important but without the whole number they are of no value no matter how many there may be. So with the love of Christ this is what gives value to anything that we do. This is a great question to ask of faith - is it working through love to Christ? Love and faith are joined together because they centre upon the same object, the Lord Jesus Christ. 'Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory' (1 Pet 1:8). The Pharisees had not the love of God in them (Jn 5:42) - this was the great charge against them - they would not come to Christ which was the great evidence of not having love toward God. This will be the great question on the day of judgement. "Lovest thou me more than these?" Our thoughts, words, actions will be sifted for love to Christ. This is laid upon us as vital to our eternal destiny, 'if any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema, Maranatha' (1 Cor 16:22). Anathema means accursed, Maranatha means the Lord comes. At the Lord's coming he shall judge and shall pronounce either the curse or blessing. How solemn to be pronounced accursed at the coming of the Lord. He shall say 'Depart from me, I never knew you'. You never loved me and I never knew you in that way. This is the great distinguishing mark of regeneration, circumcision of heart must produce love to Christ (Deut 30:6). It is the test of whether or not we are in right relationship with God. Those that love Christ in sincerity have a primary mark of grace. They are the truly regenerate (Deuteronomy 30:6).

It is also the highest privilege that there is. To love Christ. He is the greatest object for our affections. No-one higher may be loved in heaven or upon earth (Ps 73:25). The psalmist's question, 'Whom have I in the heavens high, but thee O Lord alone?' is not just a personal question but a question that is unversally true. 'And in the earth whom I desire, besides thee, there is none'. All the things that we may desire are not to be compared to him. One of the old writers says that an individual's worth is to be measured according to the object of their affections and satisfaction. Christ is an infinite person and therefore those that make him the object of their affections and satisfaction have an infinite worth attaching to them. He is the only object of true and ultimate affection and satisfaction and to seek this elsewhere is idolatry. If we are placing our chief affections elsewhere, this is upon comparatively worthless objects which makes us in turn worthless. The more we love Christ the more we become like him. Christ is not only infinite but eternal. This love is therefore everlasting - it is the queen of all graces because it outshines them and outlasts them. It brings all other graces in its train. 'Charity edifieth'. It brings joy unspeakable and quickens obedience. It is a heavenly affection that puts heaven in us before we are in heaven. Heaven is a world of love. Love to Christ is also the highest of privileges that brings all other privileges in its train. Those that love God are remembered by him in a special way and looked upon in a special way. They are preserved. That God should love us is beyond our grasp. That God should condescend to accept our love is something more - an even more mysterious thing. It is a condescension shining with glorious, matchless grace. There can be no greater privilege. 'My beloved is mine and I am his' is the very heights of redemptive privilege. Is it not a wonderful thing To be able to be able to lay claims of love upon Christ?

The poet George Herbert brought the greatest responsibility and the greatest privilege together in his poem "The Affliction". He writes:

Ah my dear God! though I am clean forgot,
Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.

It is of course a paradox, saying I do not deserve to love God unless I love him sincerely. God forbid that I would be allowed the greatest privilege and mercy of loving thee if I do not fulfil the greatest commandment.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What it means to hold fast

Revelation 2:24-25 “I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.”

Undoubtedly we live in an evil day. What we have in these words from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ is valuable counsel for His Church in the midst of an evil day.“That which ye have already, hold fast”. To hold fast implies that when we make a sincere and open profession of the truth there will be significant opposition in our way and there will be great difficulties and even danger in fulfilling this duty.

John Owen writes concerning the original word translated hold fast that it includes:
(1.) A supposition of great difficulty, with danger and opposition, against this holding the profession of our faith. (2.) The putting forth of the utmost of our strength and endeavors in the defense of it. (3.) A constant perseverance in it.

Holding fast also implies that in an evil day our main responsibility and duty is to retain and maintain the heritage or deposit of truth with which we have been entrusted: “I will put none other burden upon you”. “Hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). This is our basic duty. It may take all of our energy just to swim against the high waves of opposition and iniquity, even just to hold our ground. The man who slackens to attend to anything else while swimming against the tide will never succeed in either task by which his attention is divided.

Christ gives us “none other burden”, we are not to take additional burdens from anyone else. Men love to add burdens, the Pharisees piled duties upon the people which blinded them to the real necessities of their responsibility towards God. “I have spoken to them the great things of my law, but they were accounted as a strange thing”. The apostolic Church could say of their synodical decrees “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things’ (Acts 15:28).

In a day of small things men like to add new burdens in the Church of God. They bring in inventions of their own, innovations in the worship of God which are neither commanded nor necessary. These are the burdens of men and they hinder rather than help us in holding fast. It is gross disobedience to “teach for doctrines the commandments of men”. Others will remove from the testimony and water down the whole counsel of God in order to make the truth more palatable to a rebellious age. This too is forbidden. We are to maintain the whole truth and nothing but the truth: “that which ye have already, hold fast”. “Earnestly contend for the saints once delivered to the saints”.

Men also like to bind burdens on the people of God which will detract from a careful and holy profession of Christ. There were trends in the Church in Thyatira which encouraged walking closely with the world, conforming in certain areas to whatever was required in the trade guilds such as eating in the temples of idols. No doubt there were those who could justify it from the perspective of building bridges with the world but the truth is, as in our own day, that those who advocate running to the same places of sinful pleasure with the world are not extending the influence of the Church in the world but rather that of the world in the Church. Such are seeking to weaken the grip of the Christian and even wrestle out of their grasp the burden that Christ has given to them. In the natural world we often see a bird find a morsel of food, no sooner than he can make away with it in his beak he is pursued by another and then by several birds harrying and chasing to see if they can make him drop his prized meal. So it is with the Christian, no sooner does he take up a profession of the Saviour and the world, the flesh and the devil are all upon him to see if they can make him lose that which he must hold fast.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Greek Translation of the Old Testament

There is an interesting debate as to whether the quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament are from the Greek Translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagaint or whether the copies we have of the Septuagaint have been altered to fit with the New Testament quotations. John Owen and Francis Turretin did not believe that the apostles were quoting from the Septuagaint. There is a good introduction to this debate here. A fuller analysis is found here. Other contributions are here and here. There is no complete agreement on the fact that Greek translation of the Old Testament existed and was widely used at the time of Christ.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the doctrine of the Church a fundamental truth of the gospel

Rev. Stuart Robinson (1814-1881), professor of church government and pastoral theology at Danville Seminary and pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Kentucky wrote a very helpful book on the Church called The Church of God as an Essential Element of the Gospel, and the Idea, Structure, and Functions Thereof. The book has been reprinted by the OPC

Robinson shows that the church is an essential element of the gospel, and is intended by God for accomplishing the purpose of redemption. It is a full-orbed defence of the visible church and its government. He had an evident interest in tracing out the progress and development of redemption history in a way which is slightly similar to the biblical theological approach favoured today. The book expands upon a note in another book Discourses of redemption. Robinson there speaks of the need "to perceive clearly and grasp firmly the great doctrine of the Church as a fundamental truth of the gospel revelation". This is an interesting assertion given the fact that the Great Commission of Matt. 28 is given in terms of an assertion of the kingship of Christ and observing His commandments in the Church. He maintains that "the fact that the doctrine of the Church is a fundamental truth of the gospel, and is entitled to the same sort of consideration as other articles of theology" is generally overlooked. He observes that it is essential to the wellbeing of the Church given "the fact that a Calvinistic theology cannot long retain its integrity and purity save in connection with a Calvinistic ecclesiology, and for the more general fact, already referred to, of the intimate connection between a wrong theology and wrong views of the Church".

"The visible Church is an important, if not a necessary, means of revealing to men the whole counsel of God ; and, for aught we know, such is the constitution of the human mind that by no other method could have been communicated to human intelligence that peculiar feature of the purpose of God which contemplates the redeemed not as individuals merely, but as the mediatorial body of the Redeemer. In another view, the Church is an indispensable means of accomplishing the great purpose of his love to his chosen people, as an institute for the calling, training, and edifying the elect".

“It is Jehovah’s vineyard, well fenced, indeed, but oftentimes having vines therein that bring forth wild grapes. It is Jehovah’s garden, well cared-for and well tilled, but in which many of the fig-trees may be barren. It is the wheat-field, which the
husbandman has carefully sown, yet in which tares grow up with the wheat. It is the great net, as an instrument in the hand of Jehovah for gathering his chosen ones out of the great deeps of a world of sin; but the very operation by which he gathers the good must, in the nature of the case, gather the bad with them also. It is a heap of choice wheat in his threshing-floor, from which the chaff is yet to be winnowed. It is a rich vineyard, leased out for a time to husbandmen who may be wicked enough to beat away the owner’s servants,—yea, even to slay his son and heir. It is, in short, a body called out of the world, yet in which are many called more than are chosen”.

He writes that the government of the church has always been representative and through elders following the family rule of the patriarchs. "So soon as, under the covenant with Abraham chartering a distinct community of the chosen, such a community actually existed, as the shortening of human life no longer permitted a patriarchal rule, the elders, as the successors of the patriarchs, are found intrusted with the government of the Church visible. Before the national organization under Moses there were elders in charge of the covenant-people; and to them must Moses exhibit the seals of his commission as the authorized agent of the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, come to execute the stipulations of the ancient covenant. Through the elders was given to the Church the ordinance of the passover. Before them, as representatives of the Church, was the typical rock smitten. To the Church, through her elders, after solemn preparation, were the revelations of Sinai made, and these in form of a solemn covenant between Jehovah and his people. The elders partook with Moses of the solemn sacrificial feast in the Mount, as preparatory to the reception of the ecclesiastical and ritual constitution from Jehovah. The elders, with the priests, constituted the supreme ecclesiastical tribunal to which all appeals should come. Even in Israel under tho apostasy the form of government was not lost sight of, but the elders sat with Elisha. So, too, even after the fall of the nation as such, the elders met with God's prophet on the river Chebar. And in the wasted and corrupt Jerusalem the form of Jehovah's appointed court of the Church survived all regard and fear of Jehovah, and a corrupt court of the priests and elders condemned to death his prophet Jeremiah for speaking the warnings of Jehovah. When Messiah came to his own and his own received him not, the regard for the divinely-appointed form of ecclesiastical government is found still surviving, though men made void the divine law through their traditions. Priests and elders formed the council that condemned the Son of God. The elders, under the dispensation of the Spirit, still occupy their position towards the Church, appointed by the Holy Ghost to take oversight, as in the Church of old."

He further notes that "every revelation ever communicated, every ordinance appointed, every promise and covenant made of God, has been, not to and with men as men, or as constituting nations, but to and with the Church, as such,—a body organized or contemplated as the elements of an organization. In the widest sense, to the ancient Church were committed the Oracles of God. The successive revelations come not from God as Creator to men as creatures, but from Messiah as Prophet and Bang over his Church ,to his own peculiar people. The revelations of Sinai are expressly declared to have been made to the covenant-people; and when Moses wrote the words of the Lord in the book, they were formally ratified as the covenant between God and the Church. After Moses, all additional records of inspiration are given to the Church as the depository of the Oracles of God".

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spurgeon's Practical Wisdom

Spurgeon's Practical Wisdom:or Plain Advice for Plain People, by
Charles H Spurgeon, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, Large
clothbound, 328 pages

In this book, Spurgeon adopts the character of John Ploughman, an old
country farmworker, in order to teach moral and spiritual lessons in a
homely and semi-humourous plain style. The theme of these short
chapters is generally suggested by a proverb which is connected to
other similar sayings and pithy anectdotes as he proceeds. In the
course of his talks, Spurgeon covers many practical subjects such as
anger, temptation, gossip, pride, cruelty, debt, thrift, marriage and
childrearing. He defended his approach by saying "I have aimed my
blows at the vices of the many, and tried to inculcate those moral
virtues without which men are degraded. Much that needs to be said to
the toiling masses would not well suit the pulpit and the Sabbath".

This book presents "John Ploughman's Talk" and "John Ploughman's
Pictures" attractively with all of the illustrations from the original
two volumes. It is not difficult to see why the books were
outstandingly popular in Victorian times. A wider contemporary
audience might have been gained for them by the Banner of Truth in
reprinting them separately in paperback form. Though dated in their
language and illustrations, these chapters retain an appeal and will
be appreciated by readers of all ages. It is noticeable that moral as
opposed to gospel applications are more frequent. Spurgeon defended
this by saying that "it has led many to take the first steps by which
men climb to better things". One certainly goes away from reading them
humbled rather than entertained.