Augustine – Homily on John 10:1-10

SB-Oct15-2014-AugustineThe quotation below is found in the new Reformation issue of The Standard Bearer (October 15, 2014), a Reformed semi-monthly magazine published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. This special issue is devoted to the church father Augustine, and the opening meditation is an excerpt from a sermon (homily) of Augustine based on John 10:1-10.

Notice how the doctrines of sovereign grace permeate what he says in this section while acknowledging the mixed nature of the church in this present world.

12. You hear, brethren, the great importance of the question. I say then, “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” He knoweth those who were foreknown, He knoweth those who were predestinated; because it is said of Him, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified. If God be for us, who can be against us?” Add to this: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not with Him also freely given us all things?”

But what “us”? Those who are foreknown, predestinated, justified, glorified; regarding whom there follows, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Therefore “the Lord knoweth them that are His;” they are the sheep. Such sometimes do not know themselves, but the Shepherd knoweth them, according to this predestination, this foreknowledge of God, according to the election of the sheep before the foundation of the world: for so saith also the apostle, “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” 

According, then, to this divine foreknowledge and predestination, how many sheep are outside, how many wolves within! and how many sheep are inside, how many wolves without! How many are now living in wantonness who will yet be chaste! how many are blaspheming Christ who will yet believe in Him! how many are giving themselves to drunkenness who will yet be sober! how many are preying on other people property who will yet freely give of their own! Nevertheless at present they are hearing the voice of another, they are following strangers.

In like manner, how many are praising within who will yet blaspheme; are chaste who will yet be fornicators; are sober who will wallow hereafter in drink; are standing who will by and by fall! These are not the sheep. (For we speak of those who were predestinated,—of those whom the Lord knoweth that they are His.) And yet these, so long as they keep right, listen to the voice of Christ. Yea, these hear, the others do not; and yet, according to predestination, these are not sheep, while the others are.

For information on how to receive this issue or to subscribe, visit the Standard Bearer website.  Or you may visit this news item about it on the PRC website.

Biblical Dichotomies: Clean and Unclean – Benjamin Shaw

Clean and Unclean by Benjamin Shaw | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Oct 2014Part of my Sunday magazine reading included this featured article on another “biblical dichotomy” in this month’s Tabletalk. “Clean and unclean” are two more significant opposites in Scripture, and as Dr.B.Shaw demonstrates, we need to understand them properly in order to understand the gospel correctly.

This time I quote from the end of the article, urging you to start at the beginning and read it all.

By this statement (Mark 7:14-23 ~cjt), Jesus is telling the people that those laws of clean and unclean were intended to be a picture that showed them that the totality of their lives was, by nature, unclean. Uncleanness was not sin, but it was a picture of sin. As it was almost impossible to get through a day in ancient Israel without contracting some sort of uncleanness, the Lord by these laws was showing how thoroughly sin had corrupted human life. There was really no escaping it. In reality, their hope was not to avoid uncleanness. Instead, their hope was to be delivered from it. As the author of Hebrews says, the blood of bulls and goats only sanctified for the purification (or cleansing—again, an obvious allusion to the cleanness laws) of the flesh. It is only the blood of Christ that cleanses our consciences from dead works to the true service of the living God (Heb. 9:13-14).

So the next time you read through Leviticus 11-15, slow down. Read the details. Contemplate how deeply sin affected the ordinary life of the ancient Israelite. From that, be reminded how deeply, and how thoroughly, sin affects your life. Give thanks that you do not live under the burden of the shadow of the law, with its washings and its sacrifices. Rejoice that you live under the easy yoke of Christ, whose blood has cleansed your conscience from dead works and enables you to serve, from the heart, the living God.

 

The Blessed Trinity – Prayer and Praise

This morning in my home church (Faith PRC) we will hear the gospel contained in the truth of the Trinity, as taught us in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 8, Q&As 24-25. So simply stated, yet so wondrously profound. I cannot comprehend the Tri-unity of my God; but I believe it with all my head and heart because this is how He has revealed Himself to me. My one God and Father is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thinking about my post for this Lord’s Day, I found this prayer/devotion in the book The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett (Edited by Arthur Bennett; Banner of Truth, 1975). It is simply titled “The Trinity”, but it too contains profound truths concerning our Triune God.

May it lead us to contemplate with awe our amazing God, and to fall down before Him with deep praise according to the depth of His Being.

Three in One, One in Three, God of my salvation,

Heavenly Father, blessed Son, eternal Spirit,
I adore thee as one Being, one Essence,
one God in three distinct Persons,
for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and to thy kingdom.

O Father, thou hast loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me;

O Jesus, thou hast loved me and assumed my nature,
shed thine own blood to wash away my sins,
wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness;

O Holy Spirit, thou hast loved me and entered my heart,
implanted there eternal life, revealed to me the glories of Jesus.

Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee,
for love so unmerited, so unspeakable, so wondrous,
so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory.

O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion;

O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast accepted, espoused, bound me;

O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast exhibited Jesus as my salvation,
implanted faith within me, subdued my stubborn heart,
made me one with him for ever.

O Father, thou art enthroned to hear my prayers,

O Jesus, thy hand is outstretched to take my petitions,

O Holy Spirit, thou art willing to help my infirmities,
to show me my need, to supply words, to pray within me,
to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication.

O Triune God, who commandeth the universe,
thou hast commanded me to ask for those
things that concern thy kingdom and my soul.

Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold Name.

This is a video of Max Maclean reading this devotional, if you prefer to have this devotional read to you.

Over 150 Free eBooks | Monergism

Over 150 Free eBooks Listed Alphabetically by Author | Monergism.

MonergismLogoSince Monergism has updated its list of free, high quality, classic Christian ebooks, I will make you aware once again of these fine resources.

Visit the link above to browse the list alphabetically by author and add some good digital reading material to your elibrary.

And, by the way, there are also plenty of other good reading and listening materials on the Monergism site. Browse around while you are there for more good food for the soul.

Biblical Dichotomies – October “Tabletalk”

Every Jot and Tittle by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Oct 2014Though I have been using the daily devotions for a few days already (still on Romans), yesterday I began digging into the other articles of the October issue of Tabletalk. This issue has the intriguing theme of “Biblical Dichotomies”, which editor Burk Parsons explains in his introduction (see below).

The concern of this issue is that we as God’s people learn to study not simply the themes of the Bible but every word, every “jot and tittle”, as Parsons’ title indicates. And learning to see the Bible’s dichotomies helps us understand it better. All the feature articles touch on these dichotomies (“Creator and Creature”, Blessing and Cursing”, Clean and Unclean”, etc.), and I look forward to delving into them, so that I might grow in my understanding of God’s Word too.

Here is an important paragraph from Parsons’ introduction; find all of it at the link above.

Some words we come across in the Bible require that we not only examine their meaning, but also the meanings of related words. This is because a word itself is often just one part of a two-part concept—a dichotomy—in Scripture. For instance, when we come across the word blessing, we must also know the biblical and theological distinction between blessing and its opposite, cursing. Similarly, in order to fully grasp the meaning of wisdom, we must examine the meaning of foolishness. If we study one without the other, we do ourselves a great disservice in our understanding and application of the theology of God’s Word. God’s Word is truth—it not only contains the truth, it defines the truth, and it is by that truth we are sanctified. Consequently, the more we know God’s truth, the more we will grow in the grace, knowledge, and holiness of Jesus Christ, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Let us therefore study not only the major stories and theological themes of the Bible, but also every word, every jot and tittle, that we might know and love our Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, coram Deo, before the face of the God who has revealed Himself to us for our eternal good and His eternal glory.

And here is the link to the first feature article on the theme – a fine one by Dr.Douglas Kelly on “Creator and Creature”. I must give you a little slice of that one too – be sure to read it all!

There are many advantages to an intelligent grasp of the biblical doctrine of the Creator and of His creation. It shows that God alone is God, and that the Eternal One has an eternal and all-inclusive plan for everything that happens in His creation. It restores meaning and hope to life. It has the massive advantage of refusing to grant divine attributes to anything that is less than God, whether the material world, humanity, or, especially relevant these days, the would-be omnicompetent state or world order. Creation by God is always the basis of resistance to statist (or ecclesiastical) tyranny.

The biblical doctrine of creation also benefits us by showing that the God of order made a creation with orderly components, proper sequence, overall regularity, and intelligibility; these assumptions are the basis of all true science (as even non-Christian historians such as Alfred North Whitehead have argued). Genesis 1 and 2 also show us that God created all things “very good” (Gen. 1:31). This means that the material creation, including the human mind and body, are positive goods, not evils that we should seek to escape (as is taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age religions).

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 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.

J.Calvin on Psalm 148: “Nor are we to seek the cause… elsewhere than in the mere love of God.”

JCalvinPicAlso for our meditation on Psalm 148 today, we include these thoughts of John Calvin on the last verse, v.14. Here  he reflects on God’s particular blessing on His church in the midst of all His goodness on display in creation, a blessing that calls for our special praise. May his words also inspire us to bless the God Who has so richly blessed us by His grace in Christ Jesus.

14. And hath exalted the horn, etc. As we saw in the former Psalm, that the perfections of God are to be seen more conspicuously in the Church than in the constitution of the world at large, the Psalmist has added this sentence, as to the Church being protected by the divine hand, and armed with a power against all enemies which secures its safety in every danger.

By the horn, as is well known, is meant strength or dignity. Accordingly the Psalmist means that God’s blessing is apparent in his Church and among his chosen people, inasmuch as it only flourishes and is powerful through his strength. There is a tacit comparison implied between the Church of God and other hostile powers, for it needs divine guardianship as being exposed on all sides to attack. Hence the Psalmist infers that praise is to all the merciful ones of God, for they have ground given them in the singular goodness of his condescension both for self-congratulation and praise.

In calling the children of Israel a people near unto God, he reminds them of the gracious covenant which God made with Abraham. For how came the nearness, except in the way of God’s preferring an unknown despised stranger to all nations? Nor are we to seek the cause of the distinction elsewhere than in the mere love of God. Though all the world equally belongs to God, he graciously discovered himself to the children of Israel, and brought them near to him, strangers as they were from God, even as are the whole race of Adam.

Hence the words of Moses —

“When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, and distributed the peoples, he stretched forth his line to Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 32:8.)

He is to be considered, therefore, as pointing out the cause why God hath extended such signal blessings to a single people, and a people poor and despised — his adoption of them to himself.

An Able and Faithful Ministry (3) – S.Miller

Able&Faithful Ministry-SMiller_Page_1For the last two weeks we have been taking a special look at the church’s calling to prepare men for the gospel ministry. We have been doing so in connecti0n with a sermon Presbyterian  pastor and theologian Samuel Miller delivered on the occasion of the the founding of Princeton Seminary, when its first professor was installed – Archibald Alexander, on August 12, 1812.

In the second half of that sermon Miller addressed the church specifically, asking “What are the means which the church is bound to employ, for providing such a ministry (i.e., an able and faithful ministry, the description of which makes up of the first part of this sermon)? We have given the first two parts to Miller’s answer to this question, and now today we provide the third.

There will be more to come, because, as I kept reading in this third part to his answer, I noted that Miller had some great things to communicate to the church – things which are just as relevant now as they were 202 years ago.

So, bear with me – and benefit from these wise words from a godly church father in the Reformed camp:

3. A further means which the Church is bound to employ for providing an able and faithful ministry is furnishing a seminary in which the candidates for this office may receive the most appropriate and complete instruction which she has it in her power to give. In vain are young men of fervent piety, and the best talents, sought after and discovered; and in vain are funds provided for their support, while preparing for the ministry, unless pure and ample fountains of knowledge are opened to them, and unless competent guides are assigned to direct them in drinking at those fountains. This, however, is so plain, so self-evident, that I need not enlarge upon its proof.

But then Miller brings up the criticism that perhaps the church doesn’t need her own school for training pastors (theological school or Seminary) but can make use of private instructors. Miller’s answer is varied and to the point. We will begin quoting his answer to this objection today and continue it, D.V., in the weeks ahead.

First, when the Church herself provides a seminary for the instruction of her own candidates for the ministry, she can at all times inspect and regulate the course of their education; can see that it is sound, thorough, and faithful; can direct and control the instructors; can correct such errors, and make such improvements in her plans of instruction, as the counsels of the whole body may discover. Whereas, if all is left to individual discretion, the preparation for the service of the Church may be in the highest degree defective, or ill judged, not to say unsound, without the Church being able effectually to interpose her correcting hand.

 

A Church for Exiles by Carl R. Trueman | First Things

A Church for Exiles by Carl R. Trueman | Articles | First Things.

FirstThings-Sept-Oct2014In the most recent issue of First Things (August-Sept., 2014; published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life and dominated by Roman Catholic thinkers and writers – a rather striking periodical for this article) Dr.Carl Trueman (professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia) has a powerful piece on “why Reformed Christianity provides the best basis for faith today”.

The article is titled “A Church for Exiles”, and as Trueman explains, the Reformed faith has all the history, doctrines, liturgy, fortitude and stamina to endure the present circumstances faced now by the church in America, namely, exile from the public square.

You may not agree with all that Trueman states here, but I find his thinking highly significant and relevant to our situation and much in line with our own “world and life view”. There is no idle talk of “cultural transformation” here, based on a “common” grace and common ground with the world. Rather, it is a call for the Reformed church to be solidly and plainly Reformed, as God has called her to be according to His Word.

I give you but a small part of Trueman’s article here; and I strongly urge you to read all of it at the “FT” link above.

 

We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

…But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.

…We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.

This does not arise from indifference or a lack of substance, but instead from clarity and focus. Doctrinally, the Reformed Church affirms the great truths that were defined in the early Church, to which she adds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. She cultivates a practical simplicity: Church life centers on the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, prayer, and corporate praise. We do not draw our strength primarily from an institution, but instead from a simple, practical pedagogy of worship: the Bible, expounded week by week in the proclamation of the Word and taught from generation to generation by way of catechisms and devotions around the family dinner table.

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