Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (4)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieOver the past few Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter (April 18 and 20 this year) we are doing a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. During this special season of reflection on the passion and victory of our Savior we are using as our source the little book  Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009).

Chapter seven (7) of this work contains a precious sermon of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Then Did They Spit in His Face”, based on Matthew 26:67. This verse reads (in the KJV): “Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands.” This refers, of course, to that part of Jesus’ suffering when he was being tried by Caiaphas and the leaders of the Jews.

I have to remark here that I don’t believe I have ever heard (or read) a sermon specifically on this passage or on this part of our Lord’s suffering. Spurgeon’s treatment of this verse is powerful, pointing us both to the wickedness of man and the mercy of the Savior. I can only quote a portion of his sermon, but I choose that part where Spurgeon calls attention to the power of sin as it lies in our hearts and works in our own lives.

There are two or three thoughts that come to mind when I think that these wicked men did actually spit in Christ’s face – in that face which is the light of heaven, the joy of angels, the bliss of saints, and the very brightness of the Father’s glory. This spitting shows us, first, how far sin will go. If we want proof of the depravity of the heart of man, I will not point you to the stews of Sodom and Gomorrah, nor will I take you to the places where blood is shed in streams by wretches like to Herod and men of that sort.

No, the clearest proof that man is utterly fallen, and that the natural heart is enmity against God, is seen in the fact that they did spit in Christ’s face, did falsely accuse him, and condemn him, and lead him out as a malefactor, and hang him up as a felon that he might die upon the cross. Why, what evil had he done? What was there in his whole life that should give them occasion to spit in his face? Even at that moment, did his face flash with indignation against them? Did he look with contempt upon them?

Not he; for he was all gentleness and tenderness even toward these his enemies, and their hearts must have been hard and brutal indeed that ‘then did they spit in his face.’ He had healed their sick, he had fed their hungry, he had been among them a very fountain of blessing up and down Judaea and Samaria; and yet, ‘then did they spit in his face.’ Humanity stands condemned of the blackest iniquity now that it has gone as far as to spit in Christ’s face.

O my brothers, let us hate sin; O my sisters, let us loathe sin, not only because it pierced those blessed hands and feet of our dear Redeemer, but because it dared even to spit in his face! No one can ever know all the shame the Lord of glory suffered when they did spit in his face. These words glide over my tongue all too smoothly; perhaps even I do not feel them as they ought to be felt, though I would do so if I could.

But could I feel as I ought to feel in sympathy with the terrible shame of Christ, and then could I interpret those feelings by any language known to mortal man, surely you would bow your heads and blush, and you would feel rising within your spirits a burning indignation against the sin that dared to put the Christ of God to such shame as this. I want to kiss his feet when I think that they did spit in his face (pp.44-46).

May these thoughts humble us to the dust and lead us to godly repentance for our own spitting on Jesus’ face in so many ways (as Spurgeon also points out in the sermon). And may it drive us to the merciful Savior Who shed His blood for such sin-spitting sinners.

Book Alert! RFPA Releases “1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church” by M.Kamps

1834-HdeCock-MKampsLast week the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) released its latest publication, and it is a unique and significant volume. 1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church by Marvin Kamps is the story of a godly Dutch Reformed churchman who seceded from the apostate state church in the Netherlands in the early 19th century to form the church anew according to the Word of God and the Reformed confessions.

It is a story that needs to be told, not only because it is not well-known (much of it being hidden behind the Dutch language and limited English resources), but also because it set the stage for subsequent reformation in the church in the Netherlands and beyond (America, e.g.). Much of the present Reformed church world with its roots in the Netherlands can trace its heritage back to Hendrik De Cock and the secession he led out of the Dutch state church. And of course, because many Reformed churches have long-departed from this heritage, the story of De Cock and his restoration of a truly Reformed church needs to be uttered as a call to return to the “old paths” of the gospel of sovereign grace and true worship.

Here is part of the author’s conviction as expressed in the “Preface”:

The Reformed churches today that are faithful to their name are the continuation of the reformation of 1517 and 1834. These reformations of the church were a return to the Bible. Often it is said that the significance of 1834 is that it constituted a return to the Canons of Dordt. Although this is true, it is an incomplete statement. My thesis is that in 1834 De Cock and his congregation returned to the Bible and therefore to the Reformed creeds. Many will disagree with this understanding of 1834. Let the reader judge.

And then he issues this challenge to us:

Do we share in the Secession fathers’ confession, witness, struggle, and walk before God? Do we today treasure De Cock’s spiritual legacy as our spiritual father? Are the Reformed creeds still our heartfelt confession? Or have we consciously rejected that confession of the fathers and returned to the apostate teachings and way of life championed by the false church?

This is a beautifully-produced book (490 pages), complete with pictures from the age as well as seven appendices containing significant translations of original documents relating to the 1834 reformation in the Netherlands.We take the opportunity to thank Mr.Kamps for his diligent work resulting in such an important book.

We hope this book is widely received and welcomed, not only by those of Dutch Reformed heritage but by all who have come to know and love the Reformed faith and by all who love and want to learn from the history of Christ’s church in the world.

How the Scots Changed the World (including the Sabbath) – Aaron Denlinger

How the Scots Changed the World by Aaron Denlinger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014The third main feature article in this month’s Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine) is penned by Dr.Aaron C. Denlinger, professor of historical and systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.

You will recall that this month’s issue is devoted to “John Knox & the Scottish Reformation’, since this year is the 500th anniversary of Knox’s supposed birth. Denlinger’s subject is the above-linked article, “How the Scots Changed the World”, and it is another interesting and instructive piece.

Of particular interest to me was his last section where Denlinger treats the Scottish Reformers’ influence on the sabbath. I quote from that part of his article, encouraging you to read all of it. We Dutch Reformed folk can trace a similar influence on the sabbath to the Reformation in the Netherlands; but we are thankful for the Scottish Presbyterian impact on the Lord’s Day too.

The Sabbath

The early modern Kirk was notable for its emphasis upon keeping the Sabbath holy, coupled with a strong distaste for observing any other “holy days.” Insistence upon observing the Sabbath in fulfillment of the fourth commandment was, again, a characteristic of Reformed thought more broadly, though it may have had deeper roots in Scotland than elsewhere. For example, legislation passed under the eleventh-century Scottish Queen Margaret, intended to reform the church and nation, stressed the people’s obligation to keep the Sabbath.

Unique to the Kirk at the time of the Reformation, however, was the insistence that no other days be credited with religious significance. In fact, when asked in 1566 to review the Second Helvetic Confession, a respected document penned by the Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, the Scots felt compelled to offer qualified appreciation of the text, calling attention to their disapproval of the confession’s tolerance for the celebration of Christmas, Pentecost, and Easter, “feast days” with no warrant in Scripture.

The Kirk, to be sure, never entirely succeeded in discouraging Christmas festivities in Scotland, and rarely have churches or Christians elsewhere in the world embraced the Kirk’s argument for the complete eradication of a Christian calendar, and thus the refusal to attribute religious significance to any day beyond Sunday.

Nevertheless, the Kirk’s general privileging of a weekly rhythm for work and Sabbath rest over a liturgical calendar year orienting believers toward various seasons and days defined by Christ’s earthly ministry has affected attitudes toward both worship and work throughout the world. Fewer holy days translates, not only linguistically but also socially and historically, into fewer holidays. What sociologists have called “the Protestant work ethic”—an orientation in historically Protestant countries toward good, honest, hard work—is arguably the fruit of not only a general emphasis in Reformation thought on the godliness of every vocation but also a peculiar insistence in Scotland that believers should pause every Sunday for worship and respite, and more or less work the rest of the time.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (1)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieFor the Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter we plan to do a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. For my own devotional reading during this time of reflection I recently purchased the little book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009). I plan to use this book as a guide, pulling quotations from it.

This is how the author introduces this collection:

In the pages that follow, gifted theologians and Bible teachers will help us to stop and longer at the cross. I’ve drawn from the writings and sermons of classic and contemporary writers and teachers to create meditations that will draw us into an experience of the passion of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

How we need to have our hearts broken again by our sin that put Jesus on the cross. How we need to have our confidence grounded by what Jesus accomplished on the cross. And how we need to have our hope anchored in the promise of resurrection. I pray that is what you will experience as you read this book. May Jesus draw you and keep you near his cross (“Preface”, p.10).

MLuther-preaching-1The first meditation Guthrie has in her book is an excerpt from a sermon of Martin Luther titled “True Contemplation of the Cross”. From this I pull a few paragraphs today.

Let us meditate a moment on the passion of Christ. Some do so falsely in that they merely rail against Judas and the Jews. Some carry crucifixes to protect themselves from water, fire, and sword, and turn the suffering of Jesus into an amulet against suffering. Some weep, and that is the end of it. The true contemplation is that in which the heart is crushed and the conscience smitten. You must be overwhelmed by the frightful wrath of God who so hated sin that he spared not his only begotten Son. What can the sinner expect if the beloved Son was so afflicted? It must be an inexpressible and unendurable yearning that causes God’s Son Himself so to suffer. Ponder this and you will tremble, and the more you ponder, the deeper you will tremble.

The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble. If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble. Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we of ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instills its.

…The greater and more wonderful is the excellence of his love by contrast with the lowliness of his form, the hate and pain of passion. Herein we come to know both God and ourselves. His beauty is his own, and through it we learn to know him. His uncomeliness and passion are ours, and in them we know ourselves, for what he suffered in the flesh, we must inwardly suffer in the spirit. He has in truth borne our stripes. Here, then, in an unspeakably clear mirror you see yourself. You must know that through your sins you are as uncomely and mangled as you see him here (pp.11-14).

Also for our meditation I include this beautiful poem written by Thelma Westra, a member of our Faith PRC (Jenison, MI), found in the collection of her poetry titled Poems of Praise (self-published). This one is titled “He Who Was Sinless” (p.131):

‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us:’
Turning depravity into salvation
For sinners deserving only damnation.
Who but Jehovah could plan such a thing?
Jehovah of hosts, the conquering King.
It pleased Him to sacrifice His only Son
Because of His love for the wholly undone;
He loved us and changed us by mercy and grace
Into sanctified children – His chosen race.
We now glorify Him, exalting His name,
And into eternity, still will proclaim
The wonder He wrought, and the joy that He brought:
With the blood of His Son, His people He bought!
‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us!’

 

John Knox – Sinclair Ferguson & For the Glory of God – R.C.Sproul

John Knox by Sinclair Ferguson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014As was pointed out last Monday, this month’s Tabletalk is devoted to “John Knox and the Scottish Reformation”. Dr.Sinclair B.Ferguson writes the second main feature article in this issue, with the focus simply on Knox himself. You may find his full article “John Knox” online here, and I certainly encourage you to read his fine description of Knox the Reformer.

But there are two other articles I would like to reference on my blog today. The first is Dr.R.C.Sproul, Sr.’s lead article “For the Glory of God”. In this article Sproul points out that of the five solas of the Reformation the last one is the most important – Sola Deo Gloria: To God alone belongs the glory. The other four serve to preserve this one, he writes. From here he goes on to show why the glory of God is so important.

At the end of this article Sproul makes some points that I thought were excellent for our Sunday worship, as well as for our daily witness in this world. I post them here in the hope that they also serve to drive home to us a basic but an all-important truth.

Every day in America, we hear one of the great pernicious lies about God, namely, that we all worship the same god. We are told that whatever we call him or it—Allah or Yahweh or Tao or Buddha—it doesn’t matter. We all worship the same thing. To that I reply, “No, we don’t.” The scary part about religion in general is that it underscores man’s guilt before God, but then goes on to create ineffective solutions to this guilt. The impetus for creating alternatives to the religion that God reveals in nature and in Scripture is idolatry. But even if we boldly confess this truth, we must be on guard against idolatry even within the Christian community. Because we are fallen creatures, we can be religious and be idolaters at the same time. All of us can remake God in our own image, downplaying or ignoring those aspects of His character we do not like. If we do that, we are withholding the glory that belongs to God alone.

The whole goal of our salvation is to bring us to a place where we worship God and we honor Him as God. The great danger is that we make ourselves the center of concern, and we steal the glory of God. In all that we do, the driving passion of the Christian must always be Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory. And the only way for this passion to be realized is to honor God as God, to understand Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word and not according to the mere opinions of fallen creatures.

J.Calvin on Psalm 131: “All the senses…, were subjected to the restraints of humility.”

Calvin PreachingFor our further reflection on Psalm 131 today, we include these comments of John Calvin on v.1. May they also point us to the way of humility of heart before God, whether we are in worship of Him or in the service of our daily callings.

1. O Jehovah! My heart has not been elated

David had been made head over God’s people, and in order to prove that he was their lawful prince, entitled to the allegiance of the faithful, he is desirous to show that he had not been influenced, in anything which he had attempted, by ambition or pride, but had submitted himself with a quiet and humble spirit to the divine disposal.

In this he teaches us a very useful lesson, and one by which we should be ruled in life — to be contented with the lot which God has marked out for us, to consider what he calls us to, and not to aim at fashioning our own lot, to be moderate in our desires, to avoid entering upon rash undertakings, and to confine ourselves cheerfully within our own sphere, instead of attempting great things.

He denies that his heart had been lifted up, for this is the true cause of all unwarranted rashness and presumption in conduct. Is not pride what leads men, under the instigation of their passions, to dare such presumptuous flights, to hurry on recklessly in their course, and throw the whole world into confusion? Were this loftiness of spirit checked, the consequence would be, that all men would study moderation of conduct. His eyes were not lifted up; there were no symptoms of pride in his looks or gestures, as elsewhere (Psalm 18:28) we find proud looks condemned.

Something more than this, however, may be intended: That while he put a restraint upon the risings of ambition in his heart, he was careful that his eyes should not lend their assistance to the heart in any covetous aspirations after greatness. All the senses, in short, as well as his heart, were subjected to the restraints of humility.

“Give Me Scotland, or I Die” – J.Knox/Burk Parsons

Give Me Scotland, or I Die by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014Today we can introduce the March issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ devotional periodical. This being the 400th anniversary of the supposed year of John Knox’s birth, “TT” has devoted this month’s issue to “John Know & the Scottish Reformation”. Which makes this an interesting and significant issue.

The story of Knox and the Reformation in Scotland has all the elements of the Reformation in other countries, but with its own unique twists and turns according to the sovereign will and hand of God: incredible bravery and boldness on the part of the Protestants, brazen resistance on the part of the Roman Catholics, political intrigue, and agonizing yet joyous martyrdom.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to the subject of Knox and the Reformation in Scotland under the above title. I encourage you to read it so that you may see in brief what was at stake in this part of the Reformation and how God used Knox to claim this land and its church for Him. After you have read this, go on to read the first main feature article, “The Scottish Reformation” by Stephen J. Nichols. It is a good read and will help you see the “big picture” of what God was doing in Scotland.

Here is an excerpt from Parsons’ article introducing this issue:

Perhaps more than anything else, John Knox is known for his prayer “Give me Scotland, or I die.” Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church. As is evident from his preaching and prayer, Knox believed neither in the power of his preaching nor in the power of his prayer, but in the power of the gospel and the power of God, who sovereignly ordains preaching and prayer as secondary means in the salvation of His people.

Although Knox had been imprisoned and enslaved, and though he was often infirm and under threat of persecution, he consistently lived out his theology, believing that “one man with God is always in the majority.” As such, the prayers of one man heard at the throne of God were a threat to the throne of Scotland. During the time of the sixteenth-century Scottish Reformation, Knox’s ministry of preaching and prayer were so well known that the Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”

J.Calvin on Psalm 130: “…the sinner… shall find him (God) ready to be reconciled towards him.”

JCalvinBibleFor our further meditation on Psalm 130 let us also read and take to heart these words of John Calvin on v.4. While we focus on this part of Calvin’s exposition of the psalm, it would also be worth your while to read his thoughts on v.3 at the CCEL website. May his words also point us to the only One in Whom we have hope as sinners, so that by faith we come to Him and cast ourselves upon Him in Jesus Christ.

4. But with thee there is forgiveness.

This verse leads us farther. Though all men confess with the mouth that there is no human being in the world whom God may not justly adjudge to everlasting death, should it so please him, yet how few are persuaded of the truth which the Prophet now adds, that the grace of which they stand in need shall not be denied them? They either sleep in their sins through stupidity, or fluctuate amidst a variety of doubts, and, at length, are overwhelmed with despair. This maxim, “that no man is free from sin,” is, as I have said, received among all men without dispute, and yet the majority shut their eyes to their own faults, and settle securely in hiding ­ places to which, in their ignorance, they have betaken themselves, if they are not forcibly roused out of them, and then, when pursued close by the judgments of God, they are overwhelmed with alarm, or so greatly tormented as to fall into despair.

The consequence of this want of hope in men, that God will be favorable to them, is an indifference about coming into the Divine presence to supplicate for pardon. When a man is awakened with a lively sense of the judgment of God, he cannot fail to be humbled with shame and fear. Such self-dissatisfaction would not however suffice, unless at the same time there were added faith, whose office it is to raise up the hearts which were cast down with fear, and to encourage them to pray for forgiveness. David then acted as he ought to have done when, in order to his attaining genuine repentance, he first summons himself before God’s judgment seat; but, to preserve his confidence from failing under the overpowering influence of fear, he presently adds the hope which there was of obtaining pardon.

It is, indeed, a matter which comes under our daily observation, that those who proceed not beyond the step of thinking themselves deserving of endless death, rush, like frenzied men, with great impetuosity against God. The better, therefore, to confirm himself and others, the Prophet declares that God’s mercy cannot be separated or torn away from himself. “As soon as I think upon thee,” he says in amount, “thy clemency also presents itself to my mind, so that I have no doubt that thou wilt be merciful to me, it being impossible for thee to divest thyself of thy own nature: the very fact that thou art God is to me a sure guarantee that thou wilt be merciful ”

At the same time let it be understood, that he does not here speak of a confused knowledge of the grace of God, but of such a knowledge of it as enables the sinner to conclude with certainty, that as soon as he seeks God he shall find him ready to be reconciled towards him.

J.Calvin on Psalm 129 – “…the Church …has always labored under the cross.”

As we meditate on Psalm 129 today, we may also use these comments of John Calvin on vss.1-2 to help us understand and use this part of God’s Word properly. May his thoughts spur us on to patient trust in the Lord and to hopeful endurance of all persecutions now and in the future.

JCalvinPic11.They have often afflicted me from my youth. This Psalm was probably composed at a time when the Church of God, reduced to a state of extreme distress, or dismayed by some great danger, or oppressed with tyranny, was on the verge of total destruction. This conjecture, I conceive, is supported by the adverb of time, now, which appears to me to be emphatic. It is as if the Prophet; had said, When God’s faithful ones are with difficulty drawing their breath under the burden of temptations, it is a seasonable time for them to reflect on the manner in which he has exercised his people from the beginning, and from age to age.

As soon as God has given loose reins to our enemies to do as they please we are distressed with sorrow, and our thoughts are wholly engrossed with the evils which presently harass us. Hence proceeds despair; for we do not remember that the patience of the fathers was subjected to the like trial, and that nothing happens to us which they did not experience. It is then an exercise eminently fitted to comfort true believers to look back to the conflicts of the Church in the days of old, in order thereby to know that she has always labored under the cross, and has been severely afflicted by the unrighteous violence of her enemies.

…In this dark and troublous state of matters, the Prophet encourages the faithful to fortitude, nor does he address himself to a few of them only, but to the whole body without exception; and in order to their sustaining such fierce assaults, he would have them to oppose to them a hope inspired by the encouraging consideration, that the Church, by patient endurance, has uniformly proved victorious. Almost every word is emphatic. Let Israel now say, that is, let him consider the trials of the Church in ancient times, from which it may be gathered, that the people of God have never been exempted from bearing the cross, and yet that the various afflictions by which they have been tried have always had a happy issue.

…He now adds, that their being subjected to this rigorous training was not without good reason, inasmuch as God had not ceased, by a continued course, to make use of these calamities for subduing them to himself. If the exercises of the Church, during her state of childhood, were so severe, our effeminacy will be very shameful indeed, if in the present day, when the Church, by the coming of Christ, has reached the age of manhood, we are found wanting in firmness for enduring trials. Matter of consolation is laid down in the last clause, which informs us that the enemies of Israel, after having tried all methods, never succeeded in realizing their wishes, God having always disappointed their hopes, and baffled their attempts.

These quotes are taken from the website Christian Classics Ethereal Library. You may read more of Calvin’s comments on this psalm here.

J.Calvin on Psalm 128: “…Having it as chief desire to see the Church of God in a flourishing condition.”

To further promote our meditation on Psalm 128 today, let us also consider these comments of John Calvin on v.5, where he too ties together family blessedness with the blessedness of the church. May his words also serve to encourage us to walk in the fear of the Lord in our homes and in the church.

JCalvinPic5. Jehovah shall bless thee from Zion.

…The persons described are said to be blessed from Zion, to lead them to call to remembrance the covenant into which God had entered with them, for he had graciously promised to be favorable to the observers of his law; and these principles of godliness they had imbibed from their infancy. The Prophet, therefore, declares that it is no novel doctrine or something before unheard of which he adduces, the law having long ago taught them that it is made manifest even by the temporary benefits conferred on those who serve God, that the pains taken in serving him are not thrown away; and he affirms that of this they shall actually have the experience.

What is added concerning the good of Jerusalem is to be regarded as enjoining upon the godly the duty not only of seeking their own individual welfare, or of being devoted to their own peculiar interests, but rather of having it as chief desire to see the Church of God in a flourishing condition. It would be a very unreasonable thing for each member to desire what may be profitable for itself, while in the meantime the body was neglected.

From our extreme proneness to err in that respect, the Prophet, with good reason, recommends solicitude about the public welfare; and he mingles together domestic blessings and the common benefits of the Church in such a way as to show us that they are things joined together, and which it is unlawful to put asunder.

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