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.

J.Calvin on Psalm 147: “…God will not suffer his work to fail.”

calvin-preaching-genevaFor our spiritual profit as we meditate on Psalm 147 today, we may also find edification and encouragement from these thoughts of John Calvin on v.2. This is a lengthy quote, but worth keeping together, since the entire section is of great instruction and comfort to us as church in this 21st century.

May this Reformer’s comments also serve to lead us to praise our God for His work in and with His church throughout her history, including in our day. May we too remember that “God will not suffer his work to fail.”

2. Jehovah building up, etc.

He begins with the special mercy of God towards his Church and people, in choosing to adopt one nation out of all others, and selecting a fixed place where his name might be called upon. When he is here called the builder of Jerusalem, the allusion is not so much to the outward form and structure, as to the spiritual worship of God. It is a common figure in treating of the Church to speak of it as a building or temple.

The meaning is, that the Church was not of human erection, but formed by the supernatural power of God; for it was from no dignity of the place itself that Jerusalem became the only habitation of God in our world, nor did it come to this honor by counsel, industry, effort or power of man, but because God was pleased to consecrate it to himself. He employed the labor and instrumentality of men indeed in erecting his sanctuary there, but this ought never to take from his grace, which alone distinguished the holy city from all others.

In calling God the former and architect of the Church, his object is to make us aware that by his power it remains in a firm condition, or is restored when in ruins. Hence he infers that it is in his power and arbitrament to gather those who have been dispersed.

Here the Psalmist would comfort those miserable exiles who had been scattered in various quarters, with the hope of being recovered from their dispersion, as God had not adopted them without a definite purpose into one body. As he had ordered his temple and altar to be erected at Jerusalem, and had fixed his seat there, the Psalmist would encourage the Jews who were exiles from their native country, to entertain good hope of a return, intimating that it was no less properly God’s work to raise up his Church when ruined and fallen down, than to found it at first.

It was not, therefore, the Psalmist’s object directly to celebrate the free mercy of God in the first institution of the Church, but to argue from its original, that God would not suffer his Church altogether to fall, having once founded it with the design of preserving it for ever; for he forsakes not the work of his own hands.

This comfort ought to be improved by ourselves at the present period, when we see the Church on every side so miserably rent asunder, leading us to hope that all the elect who have been adjoined to Christ’s body, will be gathered unto the unity of the faith, although now scattered like members torn from one another, and that the mutilated body of the Church, which is daily distracted, will be restored to its entireness; for God will not suffer his work to fail.

Prof.R.Cammenga’s Thesis Now Available in Print: “God of Friendship”

Prof.Ronald CammengaLate last week Prof.R.Cammenga (professor of Dogmatics and OT Studies in our PRC Seminary) came through the doors of Seminary loaded with a large box filled with large black volumes. And yet, though loaded under the weight of these volumes, he was clearly enthused, for the box contained the printed (bound) copies of his recently completed thesis from Calvin Seminary, “in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Theology and successfully defended on April 29, 2013.” The certificate in the front of each volume (dated August 1, 2014) is signed by Profs.Richard A.Muller and John Bolt, the former serving as Supervisor.

The thesis Prof.Cammenga successfully defended and which was subsequently approved is titled “God of Friendship: Herman Hoeksema’s Unconditional Covenant Conception.” Those in the PRC – and many on the outside of her – will certainly recognize the significance of this work, for the Reformed and Biblical truth of the unconditional nature of God’s covenant of grace with His elect people in Jesus Christ lay at the heart of Hoeksema’s theology. This was a truth that Hoeksema distinctively developed in connection with the PRC controversies with W.Heyns (CRC) and K.Schilder (Liberated in the Netherlands), though, as Cammenga ably and clearly points out, Hoeksema stood in good company with this teaching and taught this from the beginning of his ministry, also in the Christian Reformed Church.

In the “abstract” Prof.Cammenga lays out the main theme of his thesis:

This thesis is a study of the doctrine of the covenant of grace as developed by the Protestant Reformed theologian Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965). In the thesis I will focus particularly on Hoeksema’s teaching that the covenant of grace is unconditional, both in its establishment and its maintenance. I will demonstrate that already in the early 1920s, while yet a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, Hoeksema’s understanding of the covenant was impacted by his convictions concerning election. Throughout his lifetime Hoeksema never wavered from his fundamental view of the covenant of grace in its relationship to God’s sovereign, gracious decree of election (vi).

“God of Friendship” is divided into four (4) main parts:

  1. The Covenant as a Bond of Friendship
  2. Election Applied to the Covenant
  3. Within the Tradition (here Cammenga defends the view that Hoeksema was by no means alone in his understanding of the covenant)
  4. The Unconditional Covenant (here Cammenga treats the contemporary controversies in which Hoeksema was engaged)

Prof.Cammenga affectionately dedicates this thesis to his son Daniel (1988-2004), “departed and in glory, whose parents rejoice in God’s covenant promise ‘to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee (Genesis 17:7).” Indeed, the doctrine of the covenant is no cold, abstract truth, but the source of the believer’s comfort and hope, in life and in death, for time and for eternity.

This is to inform you that a limited number of copies have been purchased and are for sale ($20) in the Seminary Bookstore. Contact the office if you would like a copy (616-531-1490).

J.Calvin on Psalm 146: “…So many reasons why we should hope in him.”

JCalvinPic1For our further meditation on Psalm 146 today, we include this commentary of John Calvin on vss.7ff., where he remarks on the character and works of God that call us to hope in Him and to praise Him. May His words encourage us to see God for Who He is and to fall down before Him in perfect (complete) trust and adoration.

7. Rendering right, etc.

He instances other kinds both of the power and goodness of God, which are just so many reasons why we should hope in him. All of them bear upon the point, that the help of God will be ready and forthcoming to those who are in the lowest circumstances, that accordingly our miseries will be no barrier in the way of his helping us; nay, that such is his nature, that he is disposed to assist all in proportion to their necessity.

He says first, that God renders justice to the oppressed, to remind us that although in the judgment of sense God connives at the injuries done to us, he will not neglect the duty which properly belongs to him of forcing the wicked to give an account of their violence. As God, in short, would have the patience of his people tried, he here expressly calls upon the afflicted not to faint under their troubles, but composedly wait for deliverance from one who is slow in interposing, only that he may appear eventually as the righteous judge of the world.

It follows, that he gives bread to the hungry. We learn from this that he is not always so indulgent to his own as to load them with abundance, but occasionally withdraws his blessing, that he may succor them when reduced to hunger. Had the Psalmist said that God fed his people with abundance, and pampered them, would not any of those under want or in famine have immediately desponded? The goodness of God is therefore properly extended farther to the feeding of the hungry.

What is added is to the same purpose — that he looses them that are bound, and enlightens the blind. As it is the fate of his people to be straitened by anxiety, or pressed down by human tyranny, or reduced to extremity, in a manner equivalent to being shut up in the worst of dungeons, it was necessary to announce, by way of comfort, that God can easily find an outgate for us when brought into such straits.

To enlighten the blind is the same with giving light in the midst of darkness. When at any time we know not what to do — are in perplexity, and lie confounded and dismayed, as if the darkness of death had fallen upon us — let us learn to ascribe this title to God, that he may dissipate the gloom and open our eyes. So when he is said to raise up the bowed down, we are taught to take courage when weary and groaning under any burden.

Nor is it merely that God would here have his praises celebrated; he in a manner stretches out his hand to the blind, the captives, and the afflicted, that they may cast their grief’s and cares upon him. There is a reason for repeating the name Jehovah three times. In this way he stimulates and excites men to seek him who will often rather chafe and pine away in their miseries, than betake themselves to this sure asylum.

What is added in the close of the verse — that Jehovah loves the righteous, would seem to be a qualification of what was formerly said. There are evidently many who, though they are grievously afflicted, and groan with anxiety, and lie in darkness, experience no comfort from God; and this because in such circumstances they provoke God more by their contumacy, and by failing for the most part to seek his mercy, reap the just reward of their unthankfulness.

The Psalmist therefore very properly restricts what he had said in general terms of God’s helping the afflicted, to the righteous — that those who wish to experience his deliverance, may address themselves to him in the sincere exercise of godliness.

J.Calvin on Psalm 145: “…We only praise God aright when we are filled and overwhelmed with an ecstatic admiration of the immensity of his power.”

JCalvinPicAs we meditate on the glory of God revealed in Psalm 145 today, we may also benefit from these thoughts of the Reformer and Biblical scholar-servant, John Calvin. Here he reflects on the opening verse, showing us the main purpose of this portion of God’s Word, namely, that we be moved by gratitude to magnify our great and gracious God.

May his words also serve to stir us up to humble thanks and praise to our wondrous God, this day and all our days.

1. I will extol thee, my God and my king.

David does not so much tell what he would do himself, as stir up and urge all others to this religious service of offering to God the praises due to his name. The design with which he declares God to be beneficent to the children of men is, to induce them to cultivate a pious gratitude, he insists upon the necessity of persevering in the exercise; for since God is constant in extending mercies, it would be highly improper in us to faint in his praises. As he thus gives his people new ground for praising him, so he stimulates them to gratitude, and to exercise it throughout the whole course of their life.

In using the term daily, he denotes perseverance in the exercise. Afterwards he adds, that should he live through a succession of ages he would never cease to act in this manner. The repetitions used tend very considerably to give emphasis to his language. As it is probable that the Psalm was written at a time when the kingdom of David was in a flourishing condition, the circumstances deserves notice, that in calling God his king he gives both himself and other earthly princes their proper place, and does not allow any earthly distinctions to interfere with the glory due to God.

This is made still more manifest in the verse which follows, where, in speaking of the greatness of God as unmeasurable, he intimates that we only praise God aright when we are filled and overwhelmed with an ecstatic admiration of the immensity of his power. This admiration will form the fountain from which our just praises of him will proceed, according the measure of our capacity.

The Revelation’s Potent, Imaginative Style

Reversed Thunder - EPetersonThis past weekend I picked up in a local thrift store a used copy of Eugene H. Peterson’s book on the NT book of Revelation, titled Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination (Harper & Row, 1988). While one may differ with Peterson’s theology at points (he is “moderate” Presbyterian), he is a good writer and one can appreciate his emphasis on profiting from the Bible’s variety of literature and style.

In this work in which he addresses the last book of the Bible and all its “last words” (his chapter headings read like this: “The Last Word on Scripture”, “The Last Word on Christ”, “The Last Word on the Church”, etc.), Peterson comments on the striking character of Revelation’s style in his introduction. Since this too relates to how words are used, not merely in literature in general, but in the Bible specifically, it is fitting for this “Word Wednesday”.

What walking through Maryland forests does to my bodily senses, reading the Revelation does to my faith perceptions. For I am quite as dull to the marvelous word of Christ’s covenant as I am to his creation. ‘O Lord, and shall I ever live at this poor dying rate?’ Not if St. John’s Revelation has its way. A few paragraphs into the Revelation, the adrenalin starts rushing through the arteries of my faith, and I am on my feet alive, tingling. It is impossible to read the Revelation and not have my imagination aroused. The Revelation both forces and enables me to look at what is spread out right before me, and to see it with fresh eyes. It forces me because, being the last book of the Bible, I cannot finish the story apart from it. It enables me because, by using the unfamiliar language of apocalyptic vision, my imagination is called into vigorous play.

To that he adds this a page later:

God’s faithfulness, new every morning, finds me heavy-lidded. I am thick-skinned to the Spirit’s breeze, dull-eared to the heaven-declared glory of God.

…Is there no vision that can open our eyes to the abundant life of redemption in which we are immersed by Christ’s covenant? Is there no trumpet that can wake us to the intricacies of grace, the profundities of peace, the repeated and unrepeatable instances of love that are under and around and over us? For me, and for many, St. John’s Revelation has done it. Old dogmas are revisioned; familiar lines of scripture are revoiced; ancient moralities are subjected to intense testings from which they emerge glistening and attractive; valued but dusty beatitudes are plunged into waters from which they reappear washed, clean, and ready for fresh use.

And, finally, he says,

I do not read the Revelation to get additional information about the life of faith in Christ. …Everything in the Revelation can be found in the previous sixty-five books of the Bible. The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know. The truth of the gospel is already complete, revealed in Jesus Christ. There is nothing new to say on the subject. But there is a new way to say it. I read the Revelation not to get more information but to revive my imagination (pp.x-xi).

Good food for thought, I believe.

And by the way, that title to the book comes from these lines about prayer from the English poet George Herbert:

Prayer [is]…

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing speare,
The six-dayes world transposing in an houre.

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.

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