While there are many interesting insights in this interview about planting and maintaining a Reformed church in the heart of the Middle East, I truly appreciated the way Furman answered two questions in particular. I post them here, encouraging you to follow the link above to learn more about this church in Dubai.
Yesterday I finished the main articles on this month’s Tabletalk theme, dealing with the 14th century of the church. The fourth and final article is written by Dr.Peter Lillback, president and professor of historical theology at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia.
His article carries the above title – “Into the Mystic” – and treats the significant movement of mysticism during this century of the church’s history. This too is “must” reading, for mysticism is always found in the church, – today too – and always presents unique challenges to the church’s doctrine and life, as Lillback properly points out.
I give you a part of the end of his article and encourage you to read all of it at the Ligonier link above.
Also for our meditation on and profit from Psalm 143 this day we consider these comments of God’s Reformer, John Calvin. Here he reflects on v.2, where we learn again the importance of confessing our sins and casting ourselves upon God’s mercy in Christ. May these words too point us to the only gospel of comfort and hope in Jesus Christ.
2. And enter not into judgment, etc.
I have hinted already why he proceeds to pray for pardon. When overtaken by adversity, we are ever to conclude that it is a rod of correction sent by God to stir us up to pray. Although he is far from taking pleasure in our trials, it is certain that our sins are the cause of his dealing towards us with this severity. While those to whom David was opposed were wicked men, and he was perfectly conscious of the rectitude of his cause as regarded them, he freely acknowledged his sin before God as a condemned suppliant.
We are to hold this as a general rule in seeking to conciliate God, that we must pray for the pardon of our sins. If David found refuge nowhere else than in prayer for pardon, who is there amongst us who would presume to come before God trusting in his own righteousness and integrity? Nor does David here merely set an example before God’s people how they ought to pray, but declares that there is none amongst men who could be just before God were he called to plead his cause.
The passage is one fraught with much instruction, teaching us, as I have just hinted, that God can only show favor to us in our approaches by throwing aside the character of a judge, and reconciling us to himself in a gratuitous remission of our sins. All human righteousnesses, accordingly, go for nothing, when we come to his tribunal. This is a truth which is universally acknowledged in words, but which very few are seriously impressed with. As there is an indulgence which is mutually extended to one another amongst men, they all come confidently before God for judgment, as if it were as easy to satisfy him as to gain man’s approval.
In order to obtain a proper view of the whole matter, we are first to note what is meant by being justified. The passage before us clearly proves that the man who is justified, is he who is judged and reckoned just before God, or whom the heavenly Judge himself acquits as innocent. Now, in denying that any amongst men can claim this innocence, David intimates that any righteousness which the saints have is not perfect enough to abide God’s scrutiny, and thus he declares that all are guilty before God, and can only be absolved in the way of acknowledging they might justly be condemned.
Had perfection been a thing to be found in the world, he certainly of all others was the man who might justly have boasted of it; and the righteousness of Abraham and the holy fathers was not unknown to him; but he spares neither them nor himself, but lays it down as the one universal rule of conciliating God, that we must cast ourselves upon his mercy.
Pastor/author Tim Challies recently posted this helpful article on how to read different books differently (July 21, 2014). As his title indicates, he identifies seven ways in which we read a variety of books.
Take the time to read this entire post – it’s brief and you will find it will guide you in how to read in better ways – without feeling guilty about the “skimming” and the “failed” reading! But by all means do some “pillaging” when you find a good book! :)
Here’s the first part of the post:
Reading is kind of like repairing a bicycle. Kind of. For too long now my bike has been semi-operational. It has one brake that just doesn’t want to behave and all my attempts to fix it have failed. Why? Well it turns out that I haven’t been using the right tool. To get the bike working I need to use the right tool. And when it comes to reading, well, you’ve got to use the right tool—you’ve got to know what kind of reading to do. Here are seven different kinds of reading.
Studying. Studying is reading at its best, I think, but reading that can and should be done with only the choicest books. Life is too short and there are simply too many books to invest a great deal of time in every one of them. And this is where so many readers go wrong—they spend too much time and invest too much effort in books that simply don’t deserve it. When you study a book, you labor over it, you read it with highlighter in hand, you flip back and forth, you try to learn absolutely everything the book offers. Only the smallest percentage of books are worthy of this level of investment, so choose carefully which books you study. (Suggestions: Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen or The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul)
Another part of my Sunday reading was this article from the July Standard Bearer (the “Synod 2014″ issue) by Prof.R.Cammenga. Writing under the rubric “Taking Heed to the Doctrine”, Cammenga is currently treating the doctrine of Scripture, specifically its “Revelation, Inspiration, and Infallibility”.
He has been treating these subjects under a sub-section titled “What the Bible Says About the Bible”, and is up to “the Testimony of the Psalms” (and with Psalm 119 in particular). Here are a few wonderful sections from this article that define what God’s Word is – and is for us as Reformed Christians who base all we believe and all we practice on this holy Book.
The Bible is a book like no other book. The Bible is the word of God. …The Bible is the word of God as a whole, and the Bible is the word of God in all its parts. From beginning to end, the Bible is God’s word. What it says, God says. From Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21, God is speaking. In every book, in every chapter, in every verse, we are confronted with ‘Thus saith the Lord.”
This is what the Bible teaches about itself. The Bible proclaims itself to be the word of God. What is true of the Bible as a whole is also true of the Old Testament.
…Psalm 119 sets forth every important truth regarding the word of God. The truth of the word of God from A to Z is set forth in Psalm 119. This is very significant. The longest chapter in the lengthiest book of the Bible is not devoted to an exposition of the truth about marriage, the family, the church, the Trinity, or the coming of Christ. But this acrostic psalm is devoted to the truth of God’s word itself. This is of great significance. And undoubtedly the significance is that foundational to all truth and every individual truth revealed in Scripture is the truth that the Bible is God’s word. The psalm is an ode to God’s word. In the psalm, God’s word is exalted. And the psalm makes plain the central place that God’s word occupies in the church and in the life of the believer individually.
This is the main, really the only subject, of Psalm 119. In nearly every one of the 176 verses of the psalm, God’s word is referred to. Nearly every verse of the psalm contains a reference to God’s word, by means of one of the synonyms for God’s word that appears throughout the psalm… (pp.422-24).
Yesterday I read the next main article on the theme of this month’s Tabletalk. It carries the above title, treating the chaos and confusion that reigned in the papacy of the Western church in the 14th century.
R.Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary (West-CA), sees this as a teaching lesson to show that Rome’s contention of a clear succession of popes from Peter to the present day is invalid, as well as unbiblical.
I believe you will profit from knowing this side of the church’s history during this century. You will find Clark’s full article at the Ligonier link above. Here is a portion of it to get you started.
This article appeared in the featured list from “The Aquila Report” this week (dated July 15, 2014). It is actually a reprint of an article Dr.Ligon Duncan wrote for Tabletalk magazine back in 2007. But it is worth republishing and repeating because what Duncan wrote seven years ago remains relevant. In fact, even more so now!
As we end our week and anticipate the Lord’s Day tomorrow, may we continue to be committed to the “ordinary” means of grace. Which, are in reality, extraordinary, because they are the means by which God saves us through Christ and keeps us in Christ.
Below is a quotation from the heart of Duncan’s article. To read all of it – and it is all good reading! – visit the link found above.
Ordinary means of grace-based ministry is ministry that focuses on doing the things God, in the Bible, says are central to the spiritual health and growth of His people, and which aims to see the qualities and priorities of the church reflect biblical norms. Ordinary means ministry is thus radically committed to biblical direction of the priorities of ministry. Ordinary means ministry believes that God has told us the most important things, not only about the truth we are to tell, but about the way we are to live and minister — in any and every context. Hence, God has given us both the message of salvation and the means of gathering and building the church, in His Word. However, important understanding our context is, however important understanding the times may be (and these things are, in fact, very important), however important appreciating the cultural differences in the places and times we serve, the ordinary means approach to ministry is first and foremost concerned with biblical fidelity. Because faithfulness is relevance. The Gospel is the message and the local church is the plan. God has given to his church spiritual weapons for the bringing down of strongholds. These ordinary means of grace are the Word, sacraments, and prayer.
They may seem weak in the eyes of the worldly strong. They may seem foolish in the eyes of the worldly wise. But the Gospel message is the power of God unto salvation, and the Gospel means are effectual to salvation. These are the Spiritual instruments given by God with which Christian congregational Spiritual life is nurtured, the Spirit’s tools of grace and growth in grace appointed by God in the Bible.
In connection with my previous post on the interest in and study of the Heidelberg Catechism by a group of prisoners in Texas, we turn to our Wednesday word feature – a day late, I realize, but I had a busy day yesterday and couldn’t get to any blog posts.
When I recently saw the name of a prison include the old word “penitentiary” (as in United States Penitentiary), it struck me that this word is related to the word penitent (“to be repentant, sorry or ashamed for having done wrong”) and penitence (“the state of being penitent; repentance” – Webster’s New World Dictionary: College Edition). These words are all derived from the Latin, as you will see below from the Dictionary.com listing.
And while the Roman Catholic Church has robbed the word of much of its meaning with its doctrine of penance and its tribunal for dealing with sinners (see one of the definitions below), we Reformed Christians know that repentance (or conversion) is a vital part of the true Christian’s (convert’s) life. We cannot be saved without it.
And when God’s sovereign, irresistible grace is given to miserable sinners such as ourselves and takes hold of us in the depths of our being (hearts!), we are made repentant! By His power we are turned from sin and unto the living God, so that we are made sorry for our sins and we confess them openly and with shame to the Lord. And in this way, we find the blessedness of full and free forgiveness in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
As I read prisoner letters, I am humbled and thankful to know that such repentant sinners who are in state penitentiaries are in aptly named places. For by God’s grace they too are penitents; they know the gift of repentance. With changed hearts and minds, they are changing their lives too. For the glory of God. Let us praise God for His amazing grace – in them – and in us!
[pen-i-ten-shuh-ree]noun, plural pen·i·ten·tia·ries.1. a place for imprisonment, reformatory discipline, or punishment, especially a prison maintained in the U.S. by a state or the federal government for serious offenders.2. Roman Catholic Church . a tribunal in the Curia Romana, presided over by a cardinal (grand penitentiary) having jurisdiction over certain matters, as penance, confession, dispensation, absolution, and impediments, and dealing with questions of conscience reserved for the Holy See.adjective3. (of an offense) punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary.4. of, pertaining to, or intended for imprisonment, reformatory discipline, or punishment.5. penitential.
1375–1425; late Middle English penitenciarie
priest who administers penance, prison
A few months ago I did a post informing you of a sort of “prison ministry” in which the Seminary has become involved. Today I would like to follow up on this since we have been getting a steady stream of letters from the men in a prison in Texas (Darrington Unit).
And what is striking again about these letters is that the men involved in a special study are fired up about the Reformed faith as it is expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism! We had sent them twenty copies of it (as contained in our “Three Forms of Unity” booklet), and now they are requesting further study materials.
Since I have a box of old copies of Rev.H.Hoeksema’s work on the “HC” (the original series of Triple Knowledge published by Eerdmans in the 1940s), I plan to send these to them, along with some other “extra” free books I have collected from various sources, including RFPA titles. If you should have any old editions of classic Reformed and PR-authored books you would like to donate to this cause, let me know.
Below are a couple of quotes from recent letters from prisoners in that Texas facility.
At present we have a group of guys who have come together to teach the Heidelberg Catechism in the day-rooms on the cell blocks. This study began on one cell block and has now spread to four. As we realize the way in which the Lord is blessing these efforts we are also realizing the necessity to be able to teach the Catechism effectively on each cell block. We have little resources outside of the catechism itself to guide us in this area. Those of us who do the teaching are all students of the seminary (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which recently started holding classes in this unit. According to several contacts there, Calvin Seminary has also been there to investigate the possibility of offering courses. -cjt) and we have the opportunity to meet each week in preparation for how the following Lord’s Day from the Catechism will be taught. We are hoping to gather a couple of resources to be shared among us in order to aid our efforts (Then follows a list of three titles the men seek. -cjt).
…From your emphasis on the importance of teaching and preaching the Catechism (The men have been reading our PRT Journal! -cjt) we are hoping that it owuld be possible to somehow provide these things in support of our efforts here. Any other direction would be a great help as well (I am thinking that some of our catechism materials on the “HC” might be useful – workbook, etc. -cjt).
And a brief note of thanks from one of the “leaders” in this group:
God has blessed the last sending of the Three Forms of Unity you sent to us at Darrington Unit…. Thank you for your help. Please know that your reformed brothers are doing their work in spite of the Arminian, Baptist agenda here. We have named our Reformed study with the Three Forms as ‘Reforming the Mind.’ The men are growing in the Lord. It is a blessing to watch the men grow. Thank you and God bless.
The July issue of Tabletalk focuses on the history of the church during the 14th century, as we noted a week ago. When we introduced this issue, we also pointed you to the opening article on this theme, in which Dr.N.Needham gives a wide view of this period.
In the second main feature article, Dr. Stephen J.Nichols provides a more focused presentation of a significant figure from this period of church history, namely, John Wycliffe, under the above-linked title.
His article is a great survey of Wycliffe’s person and work, and shows why he is called the “morning star of the Reformation”. If you have forgotten who this man was and why his work is so important to the church of Jesus Christ, this is a great way to refresh yourself in getting better acquainted with Wycliffe.
I give you the beginning of Nichols’ piece here. Find all of it at this link (or the one above).