An Able and Faithful Ministry (6) – S.Miller

Able&Faithful Ministry-SMiller_Page_1Over the course of the last month since the PRC Seminary opened its doors for another year of instruction, we have been examining the thoughts of Presbyterian pastor and Seminary professor (Princeton) Samuel Miller as contained in his address,“The Duty of the Church to Take Measures for Providing an Able and Faithful Ministry”. This sermon was delivered on August 12, 1812 on the occasion of the installation of Archibald Alexander as the first professor of the new Princeton Seminary.

In the last few weeks we noted that in his last point on what the church can and ought to do to ensure “an able and faithful ministry” – namely, start its own Seminary school specifically for training pastors – Miller included some additional ideas that relate to why the church ought to have its own minister training school.

We finish quoting from this section today, posting a portion that speaks to the importance of united Seminary education for the promotion of godly friendships and fellowship on the part of the students – a blessing that serves them well both when they are in school and throughout their ministry.

Here then are Miller’s closing thoughts in this section:

It is important to add, that when the church provides for educating a number of candidates for the ministry at the same seminary, these candidates themselves may be expected to be of essential service to each other. Numbers being engaged together in the same studies will naturally excite the principle of emulation. As “iron sharpeneth iron” (Prov. 27:17), so the amicable competition, and daily intercourse of pious students, can scarcely fail of leading to closer and more persevering application; to deeper research; to richer acquirements; and to a more indelible impression of that which is learned, upon their minds, than can be expected to take place in solitary study.

Nor is it by any means unworthy of notice, that when the ministers of a church are generally trained up at the same seminary, they are naturally led to form early friendships, which bind them together to the end of life, and which are productive of that mutual confidence and assistance, which can scarcely fail of shedding a benign influence on their personal enjoyment, and their official comfort and usefulness. These early friendships may also be expected to add another impulse to a sense of duty, in annually drawing ministers from a distance to meet each other in the higher judicatories of the church; and, which is scarcely less important, to facilitate and promote that mutual consultation respecting plans of research, and new and interesting publications, which is, at once, among the safeguards, as well as pleasures, of theological authorship.

I can personally testify to this profit in our own PRC Seminary, as I observe the students interacting with one another. And, I might add, I also see the benefit of such godly friendships among our pastors. May this too continue – for the good of these men, for the profit of the church of Christ, and for the glory of Jesus her Head.

The Church’s Heating Plant – C.H.Spurgeon

CHSpurgeonPicI stumbled on this quote on prayer today while cataloging a new book for the Seminary library. It is indeed a great illustration of the church’s “heating plant.”

Five young college students were spending a Sunday in London, so they went to hear the famed C.H. Spurgeon preach. While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented.

The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.

Peter D.Wegner, Using Old Testament Hebrew in Preaching: A Guide for Students and Pastors. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2009 (110). You may also find this illustration on this website.

The Pillar of the Truth – Steve Timmis

The Pillar of the Truth by Steve Timmis | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

pillarsAs I finished reading the special articles in this month’s Tabletalk yesterday, I also read this fine one by Steve Timmis. In it he explains the truth of I Timothy 3:15, that the church is the “pillar and ground of the truth.”

I hope it reminds you, as it did me, just how important the church – and the life of her members – are for the support and spread of the gospel.

Here are the opening paragraphs. Find the rest at the Ligonier link above.

At first reading, 1 Timothy 3:15 seems somewhat disconcerting. In it, Paul is explaining to Timothy why he is writing to him. It concerns the church: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

Did you catch what he wrote? “The church … a pillar and buttress of the truth.” As sound evangelicals, we know that Paul has to have that backwards, don’t we? Surely, the gospel is that which gives solidity and shape to the church? Isn’t the church built on the gospel and the product of the gospel?

Yes, undoubtedly yes. But that’s not the point Paul is making in this context. He wants Timothy to get the church in Ephesus back on gospel tracks because she has departed from the gospel. The Pastoral Epistles are not simply manuals for church order. They are an urgent call to arms. Timothy needs to go to war because the gospel is at stake in this city and region.

But critical to this strategy is the church herself. The church, formed by the gospel, is for the gospel, and by her life and witness, she commends the gospel and is the primary apologetic for the gospel before the world. John Stott, in his commentary on 1 Timothy and Titus, put it well when he wrote, “The church depends on the truth for its existence; the truth depends on the church for its defence and proclamation.”

In essence, Paul’s letter to Timothy shows us just how important the gospel is for the church, but equally how important the church is for the gospel. Which, given the comment by Jesus in Matthew 5, isn’t at all disconcerting. Just as Israel under the old covenant commended Yahweh to the surrounding nations by her covenant life, so the church of the new covenant commends Christ by her covenant life.

J.Calvin on Psalm 150: “We may worship God, until… we sing with elect angels an eternal hallelujah.”

JCalvin1Today, for our further reflection on Psalm 150, we also turn to the thoughts of the Reformer John Calvin on vss.1 and 6. These are wonderful concluding words on the OT Psalter. May they too serve to feed our souls, inspiring us to magnify our God with great and majestic praises in all our worship.

1. Praise God in his sanctuary.

…The Psalmist, in order to awaken men who grow languid in God’s praises, bids them lift their eyes towards the heavenly sanctuary. That the majesty of God may be duly reverenced, the Psalmist represents him as presiding on his throne in the heavens; and he enlarges upon the same truth in the second verse, celebrating his power and his greatness, which he had brought under our notice in the heavens, which are a mirror in which they may be seen.

If we would have our minds kindled, then, to engage in this religious service, let us meditate upon his power and greatness, which will speedily dispel all such insensibility. Though our minds can never take in this immensity, the mere taste of it will deeply affect us. And God will not reject such praises as we offer according to our capacity.

6. Whatever breathes, etc.

…As yet the Psalmist has addressed himself in his exhortations to the people who were conversant with the ceremonies under the law, now he turns to men in general, tacitly intimating that a time was coming when the same songs, which were then only heard in Judea, would resound in every quarter of the globe.

And in this prediction we have been joined in the same symphony with the Jews, that we may worship God with constant sacrifices of praise, until being gathered into the kingdom of heaven, we sing with elect angels an eternal hallelujah.

 

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 150

Psalm 150On this final Lord’s Day of September we come to the end of the book of Psalms in our Sunday worship preparation devotionals, as we take a brief look at Psalm 150.

And while the Psalms are indeed a spiritual biography of the children of God, allowing us to see into the souls of the saints as they go through all of life’s experiences and express themselves with regard to these varied experiences, the Psalms are not really about God’s people. The book of Psalms is about God – all about God. God and His glorious character; God and His glorious works. God and His majestic work of creation. God and His sovereign work of providence. God and His might acts of salvation. God and His mercy and grace and faithfulness to His people in Jesus Christ and for His sake. Yes, God is the heart and soul of the Psalms!

And so the Psalms are all about praising this glorious God. This is a book of “Hallelujahs” – “Praise the Lord”. And as we have been seeing, this theme is coming to a climax at the end of the book of Psalms. Once again I quote from the Nelson Study Bible as it aptly describes this last psalm: “Psalm 150, a psalm of praise, is a development of the Hebrew word hallelujah, meaning ‘Praise the Lord.’ How fitting that this book of praises – the meaning of the name of the Book of Psalms in Hebrew – ends in repeated commands to praise the Lord” (1029).

Psalm 150, like Psalm 148, is a call to universal praise. That is, the psalmist calls for all creatures to praise the Lord – from those in heaven to those on earth – everything that has breath. And he calls for them to do this using all the means God has given, especially instruments of music. So that this too is a call to worship the Lord – in the sanctuary of His creation and in the sanctuary of His church.

As we prepare to enter that sanctuary of God this day, let us hear this call to praise our glorious God. Let us think on God and His glorious character. Let us ponder His mighty works – around us, as well as for us and in us. And as those who have received breath from God – even new breath from the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ – let us respond with glad and grateful “hallelujahs.”

Psalm 150

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 149 through music, I encourage you to listen to one of the versifications of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “A Summons to Praise” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
In His temple God be praised;
In the high and heavenly places
Be the sounding anthem raised.

2. Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah
For his mighty acts of fame;
Excellent His might and greatness;
Fitting praises then proclaim.

3. Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah
With the trumpet’s joyful sound;
Praise with harp and praise with viol,
Let His glorious praise abound.

4. Hallelujah!  Praise Jehovah,
With the flute His praises sing;
Praise Him with the clanging cymbals,
Let them with His praises ring.

5. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
All that breathe, Jehovah praise;
Let the voices God hath given
Joyful anthems to Him raise.

RFPA Annual Meeting TONIGHT – The Importance of Reading Church History

Reformed Free Publishing Association — THIS WEEK! – RFPA Annual Meeting: The Importance of Reading Church His.

Just a reminder that the RFPA’s annual meeting is TONIGHT in Grandville PRC. Those in the Grand Rapids area – and beyond – are encouraged to attend, whether you are an association member or not. You may always join tonight!

RFPA 2014 Meeting

Certainly part of the interest in the meeting is the inspirational speech. Following up on last year’s great speech on the importance of reading, Rev.C.Spronk (Peace PRC, Lansing, IL) will give a talk on “The Importance of Reading Church History”.

Below is part of the notice of the meeting found on the RFPA website. Visit the link above for more information. But know too, that the meeting will be live-streamed from Grandville PRC via their website.

In the Nicene Creed the church confesses that there is only “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” This means that the Christian faith and life of the true church of Jesus Christ as she is manifested today in various denominations and congregations is rooted in the church of the past. Times may have changed but the church today shares with the church of the past the same Lord, the same faith, the same battle, the same hope, and the same purpose—to bring glory to name of our great God. The church must be conscious of her past history in order to be sure that she is continuing on the right path. In other words the study of church history is important.

The study of church history is all the more important because of the constant attack of enemies who seek to knock her off of the “old paths.” Satan desires that the members of the church be ignorant of their history. Lack of interest in church history plays into the evil one’s hands. Church history can then be distorted and used to spread false doctrine and support wicked behavior, as is often attempted today. The study of church history is an important part of the battle of faith she must wage to remain faithful to God.

Hope to see you there!

An Able and Faithful Ministry (5) – S.Miller

Able&Faithful Ministry-SMiller_Page_1Over the course of the last month since the PRC Seminary opened its doors for another year of instruction, we have been examining the thoughts of Presbyterian pastor and Seminary professor (Princeton) Samuel Miller as contained in his address, “The Duty of the Church to Take Measures for Providing an Able and Faithful Ministry”. This sermon was delivered on August 12, 1812 on the occasion of the installation of Archibald Alexander as the first professor of the new Princeton Seminary.

In the last few weeks we noted that in his last point on what the church can and ought to do to ensure “an able and faithful ministry” – namely, start its own Seminary school specifically for training pastors – Miller included some additional ideas which relate to why the church ought to have its own minister school. We continue to quote from this section today, posting a portion that speaks to the importance of united church Seminary education for the unity and peace of the church – another (perhaps obvious but) great point!

Further, when the church herself provides the means of instruction for her own ministry (at a public seminary), she will, of course, be furnished with ministers who have enjoyed, in some measure, a uniform course of education; who have derived their knowledge from the same masters, and the same approved fountains, and who may, therefore, be expected to agree in their views of evangelical truth and order. There will thus be the most effectual provision made, speaking after the manner of men, for promoting the unity and peace of the church.

Whereas, if every candidate for the holy ministry is instructed by a different master, each of whom may be supposed to have his peculiarities of expression and opinion (especially about minor points of doctrine and discipline), the harmony of our ecclesiastical judicatories will gradually be impaired; and strife, and perhaps eventually schism, may be expected to arise in our growing and happy church.

The Centrality of the Church – Sean Michael Lucas – September “Tabletalk”

The Centrality of the Church by Sean Michael Lucas | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - Sept2014The third feature article on this month’s Tabletalk theme (“The Church and the Parachurch”) is the above-linked one by Dr.Sean M.Lucas, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Hattiesburg, MS.

While also defending the proper place of parachurch organizations, Lucas emphasizes “the centrality of the church” in the purpose and work of the Lord in saving and building up His people. He uses the analogy of the church as our spiritual mother to bring out his main points:

  • “Love Mother First”
  • “Mother’s Means” (as in means of grace)
  • “Mother’s Helpers” (here is where he defends the place of organizations alongside the church institute)

I again appreciated and benefited from this article on the theme. I leave you with a quote from the first part of it, encouraging you to read the rest for your own spiritual profit.

For those to whom [God] is Father the church may also be Mother,” John Calvin observed in hisInstitutes (4.1.1). A few paragraphs later, he teases out what this metaphor means. God uses the church to bring us into spiritual life in the same way a mother conceives children in her womb; He continues to use the church to sustain us in the Christian life just as a mother cares for children all her days. “Our weakness,” Calvin writes, “does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives.” The church serves a maternal purpose.

But Calvin goes even further with this metaphor: “Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.” Those who will not find their place in the church are those who are rejected by God Himself, no matter what they may claim. The church is God’s appointed place and means for sustaining believers in the Christian life; outside her ministry, there is ordinarily no possibility of salvation.

These claims strike postmodern evangelicals as odd. After all, all someone needs to do to hear the gospel taught or preached is go online or open a phone app. Some of the contemporary church’s most effective preachers can be heard at any point 24/7, sponsored by their own parachurch organizations. The community that the church offers can also be found in a variety of venues, whether on Facebook or discussion boards or in various parachurch ministries. The idea that the church is the place for the forgiveness of sins and salvation, spiritual growth, and the means of grace seems naive at best and controlling at worst.

J.Calvin on Psalm 149: “…Praise is their continued exercise.”

JCalvinPic1To benefit further from the Word of God in Psalm 149, we also post here the comments of the great Reformer John Calvin on vss.1 and 2. It may be noted that Calvin places this Psalm in the post-exile period of Israel’s history, that is, after the return from captivity. Keep that in mind as you also profit from his thoughts.

 1. Sing to Jehovah a new song.

The object, I think, of the Psalmist, is to encourage them to expect the full and complete deliverance, some prelude of which had been suddenly and unexpectedly given in the permission to return. As the Church was not fully restored at once, but was with difficulty and only after a long period brought to a state of vigor, comfort such as this was much needed. The Spirit of God would also furnish a remedy for evils which were afterwards to break out; for the Church had scarcely begun to respire when it was again harassed with various evils, and oppressed by the cruel tyranny of Antiochus, which was followed up by a dreadful dispersion.

The Psalmist had good reason therefore for animating the godly to look forward for the full accomplishment of the mercy of God, that they might be persuaded of divine protection until such time as the Messiah should arise who would gather all Israel. He calls this a new song, as we have noticed elsewhere, to distinguish it from those with which the saints commonly and daily praised God, for praise is their continued exercise.

It follows that he speaks of some rare and unusual benefit, demanding signal and particular thanksgiving. And I am disposed to think that whoever may have been the author of the Psalm, he alludes to that passage in Isaiah, (Isaiah 42:10,) “Sing unto the Lord a new song,” when he speaks of the future restoration of the Church, and the eternal kingdom of Christ.

 

2. Let Israel rejoice in his Maker.

He insists upon the same point, that the Lord’s people should rest firmly persuaded that their family had not been chosen out in vain from the rest of the world, but that God would be mindful of his covenant, and not allow the mercies which he had extended to them to fail or become extinct. Although they had been temporarily deprived of the inheritance of the land of Canaan, which was the pledge of their adoption, the Psalmist calls God their Maker, and king of the sons of Zion, to remind them that when adopted to a pre-eminency above other nations, this was a species of new creation.

So in Psalm 45:6, the Israelites are called “the work of God’s hands,” not merely because they were like other men created by him, but because he had formed them anew, and distinguished them with a new honor, that, of being separated front the whole human race.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 149

Psalm 149As our glorious Savior and King calls us once again this day to worship Him in “the congregation of saints”, we may prepare ourselves by considering the fourth “Hallelujah” psalm, Psalm 149. As you read through this portion of God’s Word, you will find it to be a joyful summons to praise the Lord, and as such, fitting for our public worship today in God’s house with His people.

In fact, v.2 specifically enjoins us to praise the Lord in public with our fellow saints, a point the Nelson Study Bible points out nicely: “One of the primary emphases in the Book of Psalms is that the praise of God is to take place in the center of the worshiping community. Praise unites the people of God (33:1-3)”.

Yes, and what a blessing it is that we are still able to do this openly and unhindered in our land! Let us not take this for granted, but thank our God for it. And let us gladly take advantage of every opportunity to gather with God’s people in praise our God! This Lord’s Day again affords us such opportunities.

The call to praise and worship the Lord, also as we have it here in Psalm 149, includes the fact that we must do so in joy. Notice that element too as you read this psalm (especially vss.2,5). God will not have us stand before Him with grumpy spirits, offering up grudging praise. He will not have us sing a new song with an old man soul, nor dance before Him with dragging feet and drooping hands.

No, He is the God of joy, the happy and blessed God, and in our worship He will have us match what He is, in spirit and in behavior. So let us rejoice and be joyful in our singing and dancing and playing (of instruments) this day (vss.2-3). Let us skip and sing, from renewed and thankful hearts. Why? Because God takes pleasure in us (Can you imagine that?!)! Because He will beautify the meek with salvation (v.4)! Yes, be clothed with Christ and you will have joy, boundless and endless joy!

You will also notice a “twist” in Psalm 149. The worshiping people of God go from joyful praise to swinging a two-edged sword and executing vengeance and judgment on the heathen (vss.6-9). What is going on? Why this? Because the church of Christ is at all times in this present world also the army of God. Always she is surrounded by her and His enemies, who hate and oppose her and Him. And against these foes she must do battle, fighting in the Lord’s name. As she marches into her holy warfare singing God’s praises, she is also to swing His sword of judgment.

While in the OT that warfare took on a physical form, with real swords and literal vengeance (as in the church’s conquest of Canaan), now the NT church swings the sword of the Lord’s Word, chiefly the preaching of the gospel among the nations. Yet, also when we sing God’s Word (as in these psalms!), we are wielding the “sword of the Lord” and executing His judgments against unbelieving enemies.

Let us be mindful of that too as we worship today. Worship is serious and dangerous business. Not only because we stand in the presence of the sovereign, all-glorious King of heaven and earth. But also because we are the instruments of His judgments on the wicked. May that humble us, so that we sing God’s praises and swing His sword only under the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 149

Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.

2Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.

4For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.

5Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.

6Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand;

7To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people;

8To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron;

9To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 149 through music, I encourage you to listen to one of the versifications of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “The Promise of Victory” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

 

1. O praise ye the Lord
And sing a new song,
Amid all His saints
His praises prolong;
The praise of their Maker
His people shall sing,
And children of Zion
Rejoice in their King.

2. With timbrel and harp
And joyful acclaim,
With gladness and mirth,
Sing praise to His Name;
For God in His people
His pleasure doth seek,
With robes of salvation
He clotheth the meek.

3. In glory exult,
Ye saints of the Lord;
With songs in the night
High praises accord;
Go forth in His service
And strong in His might
To conquer all evil
And stand for the right.

4. For this is His word:
His saints shall not fail,
But over the earth
Their power shall prevail;
All kingdoms and nations
Shall yield to their sway.
To God give the glory
And praise Him for aye.

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