Into the Mystic – Peter Lillback

Into the Mystic by Peter Lillback | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July 2014Yesterday 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.

The Scriptures teach us to test the spirits because false teaching emerges from the fallen hearts of mankind, including our own. Salvation is not man-centered, whether in terms of feelings, choices, ideas, or visions. All truth and wisdom are gifts of divine grace and are found in Christ. Our pursuit of God must be Christ-centered and based upon the revealed Word of God.

Thus, biblical Christianity, especially with its restoration in the Reformation, rejects unfettered mystical experiences in favor of the scriptural revelation of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the fallen nature of man means that we must reject our inner impulses as our primary spiritual guides and instead practice humble reliance on the Word and Holy Spirit. When we meditate, we should meditate upon Scripture. When we seek extraordinary experiences, we should consider the extraordinary miracles that God has performed in history and recorded in His Word. When we seek to know God, we should know the Scriptures that speak of Him (John 5:46), pray to our loving Father, and participate in the church and sacraments.

We should thereby embrace the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27), remembering that neither our minds nor our feelings will lead us to God without the true “inner” experience of the Holy Spirit’s grace in Christ grounded in His inspired Word.

 

J.Calvin on Psalm 143: “…We must pray for the pardon of our sins.”

JCalvin1Also 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.

What the Bible Says About the Bible (Psalm 119) – R.Cammenga

SB cover-July 2014-SynodAnother 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).

Amen – W.Langerak

In the July issue of The Standard Bearer (the “Synod 2014″ issue), Rev.W. (Bill) Langerak penned another fine word study from the Bible, this time on the word “Amen.”

It is a fitting word for us as we worship the Lord this day and use this little word often in our prayers and songs. And do not forget that every sermon we hear ends with this vital, verbal witness. For it is not the word of man we hear, but the Word of God. “Thus saith the Lord.” It truly is! And so let it be!

Click on the image below to enlarge it for easier reading.

Amen-SB July 2014 - WL

 

And to accompany this article, we include this video of a performance of the “Amen” chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

 

 

The Ordinary Means of Growth

The Ordinary Means of Growth.

means of graceThis 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.

 

New and Noteworthy in the Seminary Library

It has been some time since I highlighted a few new books that have come into the PRC Seminary library, so today I selected four that I have setting on the “new and noteworthy” shelf in the library. All of them are recent publications (2013 and 2014). I will simply note them with some basic information from the publisher and also include links for them.

These are all processed and ready for checkout should you decide you want to make use of these for some good summer reading! :)

To find these books and more, visit our online library catalog.

1. Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton (Crossway, 2014; 271 pgs., paper). This is the fifth volume in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series edited by Stephen J.Nichols and Justin Taylor and published by Crossway. The publisher adds this note concerning this title:

John Calvin, a man adored by some and maligned by others, stands as a legendary figure in Christian history. In Calvin on the Christian Life, professor Michael Horton offers us fresh insights into the Reformer’s personal piety and practical theology by allowing Calvin to speak in his own words.

Drawing not only from his Institutes and biblical commentaries, but also from lesser-known tracts, treatises, and letters, this book will deepen your understanding of Calvin’s theology and ministry by exploring the heart of his spiritual life: confident trust and unwavering joy in the sovereign grace of God.

Taking God at His Word - DeYoung-20142. Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway, 2014; 138 pgs., hardback. Our copy includes a study guide as well.). This what Crossway says about this little volume:

Can we trust the Bible completely?
Is it sufficient for our complicated lives?
Can we really know what it teaches?

With his characteristic wit and clarity, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians andnon-Christians. This book will help you understand what the Bible says about itself and the key characteristics that contribute to its lasting significance.

Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage you to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s Word.

Reading Bible with Luther-Wengert-20133. Reading the Bible with Martin Luther: An Introductory Guide by Timothy J. Wengert (Baker Academic, 2013; 134 pgs., paper). Baker introduces this title with these words:

Prominent Reformation historian Timothy Wengert introduces the basic components of Martin Luther’s theology of the Bible and examines Luther’s contributions to present-day biblical interpretation. Wengert addresses key points of debate regarding Luther’s approach to the Bible that have often been misunderstood, including biblical authority, the distinction between law and gospel, the theology of the cross, and biblical ethics. He argues that Luther, when rightly understood, offers much wisdom to Christians searching for fresh approaches to the interpretation of Scripture. This brief but comprehensive overview is filled with insights on Luther’s theology and its significance for contemporary debates on the Bible, particularly the New Perspective on Paul.

Holy Communion - HOld-20134. Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church by Hughes Oliphant Old; edited and introduced by Jon D. Payne (Tolle Lege, 2014; 919 pgs., hardback). Just as Old has written an extensive history of preaching, now he has done so with the history of the Lord’s Supper in the Reformed church world. This is a significant work, as these words of the publisher indicate:

All across the United States, Protestant churches have forgotten their sacramental roots.  The Lord’s Supper has often been reduced to an empty memorial if it is even celebrated at all, and the contemporary Protestant church suffers greatly from this lapse.

In Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, Hughes Oliphant Old uncovers the central importance of Holy Communion in the Reformed tradition.  Beginning with Calvin and moving into modern times, Old pinpoints and explains the most pivotal developments in Reformed eucharistic theology—from the true nature of the communion elements to preparatory services and seasons.  Along the way, he shows that our doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is not merely an intellectual exercise; it has profound influence on the church’s life and operations—on her piety.

This volume is both a scholarly exploration of Reformed tradition and a pastoral call to the contemporary church to rediscover the most potent truths and edifying practices of our Christian forefathers.  In our day of debilitating liturgical innovations, Holy Communion proves yet again that God’s truth on any subject is timeless and evergreen.  Before we can display Christ fully in our day, we must recover a full commitment to biblical worship—in the Word preached as well as the Word made visible in the Lord’s Supper.

“In Christ Alone”: Resurrection “in undiluted monergism” – S.Ferguson

As mentioned here last week, I have been reading through Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone for part of my Sunday reading. Last night I read the next chapter, which treats Jesus as “The Resurrection and the Life”. Ferguson’s focus is on Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. In connection with that, he brings out three main points, one of which is the clear display of Jesus’ divine and saving power.

In Christ Alone - SFergusonAs he writes on this, Ferguson points out that Jesus, the “giver of new life”, accomplishes this resurrection from the dead by “His spoken word”. And this raises the question as to whose work this really is. He makes it plain, as you will see.

This has often puzzled theologians. The gift of new life is a sovereign act of God. It is monergistic, not synergistic, in character.  God alone is the agent; we do not cooperate in receiving new life. Yet, according to Scripture, it is through the Word of God that we receive this new life (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23).

Question: Surely the instrumentality of the Word (to which we actively respond) implies an activity on our part? Do we not, in this sense, contribute something to being born anew?

Answer: No more than Jesus’ command implies that Lazarus contributes life energy to his own resurrection. Lazarus comes out of the tomb because Jesus raises him from the dead, not in order that he might be raised from the dead. In him, our Lord’s words are fulfilled: ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live’ (John 5:25). When prayer to the Father and the word of command to the dead come from the lips of Jesus, His voice opens deaf ears and raises the dead.

What was true then remains so now (which is why we join prayer and preaching), and will continue to be at the last, when by His powerful command Christ once again will raise the dead (1 Thess.4:16). In undiluted monergism, He called the galaxies into being , and He gives life to the dead in the same way (Rom.4:17).

Recommended Reformed/Christian Book Shopping Sites

Monergism Books :: Reformed Books – Discount Prices.

MonergismLogoIt has been some time since we referenced the Reformed book ministry of Monergism, an online store which operates through Amazon.

Yesterday, after they published their latest email newsletter with two “Top 10″ lists (theology books and Christian living/sanctification books), I was prompted to do a post today to point you in their direction for good resources in all categories of Christian reading.

In fact, the Monergism link above will take you to their “reader’s guide” page, where you will find suggested readings in various categories, including books for children.

Be sure to sign up for their email newsletter, so that you may receive their specials, including many free ebooks.

Here are the first five of the top 10 theology books Monergism recommended:

Top 10 Books on Theology

 

Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin
The book was written as an introductory textbook on the Protestant faith for those with some learning already and covered a broad range of theological topics from the doctrines of church and sacraments to justification by faith alone. It vigorously attacked the teachings of those Calvin considered unorthodox, particularly Roman Catholicism, to which Calvin says he had been “strongly devoted” before his conversion to Protestantism. The over-arching theme of the book–and Calvin’s greatest theological legacy–is the idea of God’s total sovereignty, particularly in salvation and election.

The Economy of the Covenants, by Herman Witsius
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day. Reformed theology has always understood the biblical doctrine of the covenant to be the theological framework which best unifies Scripture, making it a consistent hermeneutic. In this two volume work, Witsius, presents the reader with a fully biblical and experiential doctrine of the divine covenants; opening up their nature, stipulations, curses, and blessings. Anyone interested in Reformed theology should read this book, for it is Reformed theology at its best.

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, by Francis Turretin
The best systematizer of the reformed doctrine in the world! This is a wonderful set, with a good translation, well arranged, theologically sound and deep but devotional/experimental as well. A great addition to the library of the serious students of the God’s Word!

The Westminster Standards
The Westminster Standards is a collective name for the documents drawn up by the Westminster Assembly (1643–49). These include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Westminster Larger Catechism, the Directory of Public Worship, and the Form of Church Government,[1] and represent the doctrine and church polity of the English and Scottish Reformation. The Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechism have been adopted as doctrinal standards by a number of Reformed and Presbyterian Christian denominations.

Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther
The Bondage of the Will is fundamental to an understanding of the primary doctrines of the Reformation. In these pages, Luther gives extensive treatment to what he saw as the heart of the gospel. Free will was no academic question to Luther; the whole gospel of the grace of God, he believed, was bound up with it and stood or fell according to the way one understood it. Luther affirms our total inability to save ourselves and the sovereignty of divine grace in our salvation. He upholds the doctrine of justification by faith and defends predestination as determined by the foreknowledge of God.

And here are the first five of the top 10 books on Christian living they recommended:

Top Ten Books on Piety, Sanctification, Spiritual Growth

 

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:
Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ
by Walter Marshall – Perhaps the best human-authored book on sanctification ever produced.

The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal
Critical work! Sanctification occurs because the human soul has been united to Christ and participates in the divine nature. A person is a Christian because of what Christ has done for us, not what we do for ourselves. The Christian life is the same as He and continues to live and intercede for us. He is our sanctification.

The Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly
Written originally in 1611, The Practice of Piety is a powerful work on Christian piety and practical living. Deeply influential on the Puritan movement, The Practice of Piety systematically investigates piety, beginning with a detailed account of God and Christ. In it, Bayly contrasts the “misery” of someone not reconciled to Christ with the happiness of the “godly man” who is reconciled to God. Bayly diagnoses the various problems that keep people from experiencing true piety, offering solutions to each so that one may remain pious in one’s everyday life. However, the majority of The Practice of Piety is various meditations and prayers for believers, which Bayly intended to advance piety. Extremely practical and personally enriching, The Practice of Piety is bound to change the way one lives.

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes
If you lack assurance, are hurting, weak and suffering under the burden of sin, read this book, and by reading you will be amazed how helpful this is to yourself and your ministry to others.

The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
Truly an amazing book. John Owen never dissapoints. Our favorite Puritan author. In a related work, Owen’s treatment of the Holy Spirit is the finest we have ever read.

Another great resource for good books for the Christian family is Grace and Truth Books. Sign up to receive their email newsletter also.

RBO HeaderAnd, of course, do not forget the Reformed Book Outlet for local Reformed book shopping. Located right here in Hudsonville, MI, the RBO carries a wide variety of sound books and music for your spiritual growth and edification too.

Two “New” and Noteworthy Books: “Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel” and “Believing Bible Study”

In this post I wish to highlight a couple of “new” books that have come into our Seminary library and which are of interest to our audience. I put “new” in italics because both of these titles are reprints of previous editions, with one being updated and revised once again.

PrintThat title is David J. Engelsma’s Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel: An Examination of the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980, 1994, 2014; 224 pgs.). As you will note, this is the third edition, and this edition contains further additions and enhancements (such as pictures and descriptions of those whose positions are stated in the book). In his preface to this edition Engelsma sets forth the continued need for this book after thirty years:

Does it still address a significant, lively issue in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches and among theologians who regard and present themselves as Calvinists?

The truth defended in the book is sovereign, particular grace in the preaching of the gospel. The book contends that this truth is fundamental to the theology of the Reformed faith in its entirety, that is, to scripture’s gospel of salvation by grace alone and to the authoritative confession of the gospel by the Reformed creed, the Canons of Dordt.

The charge against the truth, by nominally Reformed theologians and churches, that the book refutes is hyper-Calvinism. This is the charge that the doctrine of particular grace in the preaching of the gospel is, or necessarily leads to, the error of preaching only to the elect, including calling only the elect to repent and believe.

The heresy that the book exposes and condemns is the teaching that the promiscuous preaching of the gospel with its unrestricted call to all hearers to repent and believe is, in fact, the saving grace of God to all who hear the preaching, reprobate ungodly as well as elect. It is the false doctrine of universal, impotent, saving grace with its concomitant error that the efficacy of the saving grace of God in the preaching, and therefore the salvation of sinners, depend not on the grace of God made effectual by the Holy Spirit, but on the acceptance of an offered salvation by the sinner himself.

The heresy that the book exposes  parades shamelessly in the Reformed community of churches, seminaries, and book stores, like a brazen whore in the seductive ‘come hither’ scanty garb of the well-meant offer of salvation.

It is my conviction, as evidently that also of the publisher, that the truth defended by the book continues to call for defense in 2013 (xv-xvi).

This edition also contains the Foreword of Dr.John H. Gernstner found in the previous edition. You are encouraged to obtain this new edition and to read and study carefully its apologetic. Not only if you are a PRC member who needs to be informed again of this essential element of our Reformed faith, but also if you are a Reformed Christian who needs better to understand the nature of the preaching of the gospel, especially because of the rampant error of the free offer and its counterpart, hyper-Calvinism.

BelievingBible Study-EFHills-2014-front_Page_1The second book of note in this post is one we received as a gift from Russell H. Spees, friend of the PRC Seminary and of the late Dr.Ted Letis, and President/Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies. The book is titled Believing Bible Study (3rd ed., Christian Research Press, 2014) by Dr. Edward F. Hills (1912-1981), who served as a mentor to Dr.Letis and from whom Letis grew in his passion for and defense of the Traditional text (textus receptus, or “received text”) in the church. Hill was also an ardent defender of the King James Version (Authorized version) of the Bible as the best English translation for the church today (See his The King James Version Defended: A Christian View of the New Testament Manuscripts, 1956).

In his cover letter with the book, Spees states:

IBTS was pleased to work with the Hills family (Christian Research Press) to provide a digital reprint of Dr. Hills’ sequel to his “King James Version Defended.”

We thank the Hills family for faithfulness in keeping Dr.Hills in print. We acknowledge Mr.Paul Watson for his design of the book cover. We thank our supporters for prayer support and certainty of God’s hand in the project. We thank our Sovereign God for preserving his Holy Word to and for us.

To get a taste of Hills’ starting point in this work I quote his opening paragraphs in chapter 1, Believing Bible Study, Old Testament”:

The man who is well pleased with himself, with his prospects, and his whole manner of life will never read the Bible believingly. His entire outlook must be changed before believing Bible study becomes possible. For this reason God often uses the hard experiences of life to prepare His children for believing Bible study. Bereavement, childlessness, loneliness, longings that have never been satisfied, ambitions that have never been fulfilled, vain regrets over lost opportunities, the severe limitations of poverty, the pain and weakness of sickness, and the approach of death – these are the things that bring men low. These are the harrows which God uses to soften hardened hearts. These are the hammers with which He is wont to bend proud necks and make men willing to read His holy Book believingly.

Reader, if you are perishing in the furnace of affliction, or if you are walking in darkness with no light, or if your heart i s fretted with anxieties and corroding cares, or if your will is bound under wretched slavery to sinful lusts, or if your soul is chilled with the fear of death and the unknown, then the Bible is the Book, the only Book for you. For the Bible will show you how your sins may be overcome by the power of Christ and how you may enter into everlasting life through the door of hope and obtain your inheritance in the everlasting glory. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgives us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I include here the cover (front and back) because of the information about the book and its author which may be found there. A search revealed that the book is not yet available on the IBTS website or Amazon. But it may be ordered  through this address (Christian Research Press, P.O. Box13023, Des Moines, IA 50310-0023; phone: 515-249-4304) or by emailing: email@kjv-ibts.org or Christianresearchpress@yahoo.com.

BelievingBibleStudy-EFHills-2014-back_Page_1

 

Proper Gospel Associations and Pursuing Lost Sheep – June “Tabletalk”

Gospel Association by Iain Campbell | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT June2014The fourth and final article on this month’s Tabletalk theme (“Guilt by Association” – principles of associating with other Christians and churches) is the one linked above. Written by Dr.Iain Campbell, pastor of a Free Church of Scotland congregation, this article looks at the positive side of Christian associations. That is, why should we seek to be yolked to other believers and churches and what should be our basis for doing so.

While, again, there will be points of disagreement, Campbell does provide some basic principles and guidelines which are helpful. I give you a small part of his article here and encourage you to read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

In the life and work of the church, it is tempting to think that those who are not worshiping and evangelizing with us are in some way not really worshiping or evangelizing at all. Yet the principle that Jesus enunciates requires application and living out in our work and witness day by day. Behind it lie three significant realities.

First, none of us is able to fulfill the Great Commission on his own. Christ’s command to the church that follows Him and professes His Lordship is for the church to make disciples from all nations. The Apostles who originally heard that commission were small in number but had the promise and prospect of growth. The Great Commission grows with the church; we are all in it together.

Second, the enemies of our enemies are sometimes our friends. There are only two camps. Jesus would repeat this principle in a slightly different way in Luke 11:23: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Whatever divisions or subgroups there may be in the church, ultimately it is a case of being either for Jesus or against Him.

Third, in all the work of the kingdom of God, it remains true that “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam. 17:47). We are only instruments in the hands of the Captain of our salvation, and we are entirely dispensable. God can do His work without us, even though He ordinarily opts to do it through us. When we think of the work of the kingdom, therefore, we ought always to think of it not in terms of what we do but in terms of what God is doing by us and through us.

Yet, it is we who are to strive, engage, fight, strategize, and go forward in the name of the Lord. We cannot do it on our own—we must do it alongside our friends. They may hold different church credentials, but in the matter of the gospel, they are on our side. We are all, to use Paul’s phrase, “fellow-workers,” both with God (1 Cor. 3:9) and with each other (Phil. 4:3).

Another profitable article I read is “Finding the Sheep That Refuses to be Found”, an article penned by Dr.T.Witmer about striving to recover straying church members – and family members. This one hit home for more than one reason. I pray it will encourage you not to give up on lost sheep. Here is a small excerpt from him:

Family members of sheep under discipline are often individuals who desperately need the support of their fellow believers. For example, in one situation of which I am aware, a husband deserted his wife and family and was under the discipline of the church. His wife was determined to wait for him to repent and was praying that the Lord would touch his heart. Unfortunately, there were voices from many others who were telling her to “dump the bum” and “get on with your life.” She needed the support of others who encouraged her perseverance. The Lord answered her prayers as her husband repented, they were reconciled, and he was restored to the church.

Third, pray for them. This is the most important thing that you can do for the impenitent. After all, it is the Lord’s work to soften the hearts of hard-hearted sinners. There are different kinds of prayers to pray in this situation. Obviously, you want to pray that the Lord will change their hearts to bring them to repentance. There have been occasions where I have also prayed that the Lord would do whatever was necessary circumstantially to bring the impenitent face-to-face with their sin. On one occasion, I told an individual that I was praying “that the Lord would make him miserable until he repented.” He brushed off” my comments until he suddenly lost his job and his health began to deteriorate. When I saw him later, he asked if I was still praying for him that way. I said that I was. He asked me to stop it, but I said that I couldn’t stop until he repented. The good news is that he did repent. Plead with the Lord for the lost sheep, and don’t give up.

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