Christian Anthropology and the Moral Life | September 2022 Tabletalk

As we approach the end of this month, it is good to consider the September 2022 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

The theme this month is “The Doctrine of Man,” and there are five featured articles that work out various aspects of this theme. The last article is the one I have chosen to focus on in this post, in part because it was the most recent one I read (this past Sunday). In “Christian Anthropology and the Moral Life” Dr. David VanDrunen demonstrates how the doctrine of man revealed in God’s Word also defines man’s conduct in relation to God his Creator and Redeemer.

In his introductory paragraphs he explains:

Christian writers sometimes note that doctrine and ethics go together. But while every area of theology has moral implications, the doctrine of man (anthropology) has especially powerful ramifications for the moral life. Who we are is inseparable from how we ought to live. Furthermore, how God calls us to act corresponds to the human nature He bestowed on us.

Such claims challenge the way that many people think about Christian ethics. Even many Christians are tempted to view God’s law as a bunch of rules that God has imposed on us that keep us from enjoying a lot of fun, pleasure, and profit. But God’s law isn’t arbitrary. It commands what it does for good reasons. God’s law not only reflects His own holy and righteous nature but also reflects our own nature. His moral will corresponds to the way He created us and the purposes He made us to achieve. This means that God’s law is hardly a straitjacket constraining us from enjoyable things. God’s law is genuinely good for us.

Of course, in a sinful world we’ll often have to suffer for being faithful to our Lord. But living by God’s law fits His design in making us and thus brings a true satisfaction even in the midst of life’s trials and losses. Living contrary to God’s law can leave human beings only profoundly unhappy and unsatisfied, because such a life works at cross-purposes to how God created us to live. A bird can’t find satisfaction trying to live as a horse does, and a horse can’t find satisfaction trying to live as a fish does. So it is with human beings who try to live contrary to the divine law that perfectly fits their nature and destiny.

From there he describes this biblical anthropology and morality in three areas: work, sex and gender, and race. For our purposes tonight we quote further his section on work, in part because this is such an important part of the Christian witness in our evil world right now, where work has become devalued and displaced by a thousand slothful options. May we take to heart this biblical doctrine of man and true morality as it applies to our calling to work.

Whether we labor inside or outside the home, whether our vocations earn income or not, work often consumes a great deal of our time. We might think of this merely in terms of necessity—so many bills to pay, mouths to feed, and diapers to change. Or we might think of it in terms of our moral duty to be industrious and avoid laziness, as Scripture often reminds us (e.g., Prov. 6:6–111 Thess. 4:11–122 Thess. 3:6–12). Necessity and moral duty are indeed legitimate motivations for work, but there’s something even more fundamental. From the beginning, God created human beings to be working creatures. Working hard corresponds to the nature God gave us.

One of the striking things about Genesis 1 is that it describes God as a worker. He calls all things into existence, puts them in proper order, names them, and gives them things to do. He’s no lazy, indulgent despot but a busy and productive laborer. Thus, it’s no surprise that when He created humans in His own image and likeness, He immediately gave them work to do: to exercise dominion over the other creatures, to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:26, 28). To be human is to bear God’s image, and to bear God’s image entails a call to productive labor. God’s law commands us to work because that is a genuinely human thing to do.

This explains why people who stop working for one reason or another often feel deep loss and disorientation. Those who become disabled and leave the workforce often struggle with depression. Many people who eagerly anticipate retirement begin to feel a lack of meaning in life shortly after they leave their jobs. A sense of purposelessness can strike devoted homemakers when their children grow up and leave the house. A life without work can look so attractive from a distance, in the midst of busyness and stress, but the reality turns out to be hollow.

The world has had to confront these realities in disquieting ways during the past few years as COVID-19 and government restrictions disrupted economic life. Many jobs disappeared, and others became unusually dangerous and stressful. Government checks and online streaming services proved to be poor substitutes for productive vocations. It’s little coincidence that mental health problems and drug abuse have risen dramatically. We now hear, even after the lifting of most pandemic restrictions, that the overall workforce participation rate hasn’t recovered. Especially troubling is that many prime working-age males seem to have dropped out of the workforce altogether.

These aren’t just economic or public policy issues but matters that get to the core of our human existence. God commanded us to work because He gave us a nature that longs to work. When people won’t or can’t labor, the collateral damage is bound to be great.

Source: Christian Anthropology and the Moral Life | Tabletalk

Published in: on September 27, 2022 at 9:03 PM  Leave a Comment  

Jesus: Not Ashamed of His People

As Christians we often allow our circumstances to interpret God’s character. If we are enduring a difficult season, we might be tempted to think that God is angry with us or distant. Shouldn’t we instead see our circumstances in light of God’s character? Our fluctuations don’t change him. They can’t. Our cool hearts can’t chill his eternal love. As you perceive a growing sense of your sin, zoom out. Notice the rays of his love that cannot be eclipsed. The matter is settled in eternity between the unchanging, all-powerful members of the Trinity. Moved by love, the Father elected a people (Eph.1:4) and gave them to his Son (Jon 17:6). When Jesus went to the cross, he knew whom he was purchasing. And he didn’t keep the receipt.

…Jesus is not ashamed of his people because they are the ones on whom God set his love before the foundation of the world (Eph.1:4-5). God’s people are Christ’s people (John 17:6). We are the children that God has given him (Heb.2:13). Jesus is not ashamed of his family photo because he loves every single one of us. He is well aware of our baggage. And he loves us anyway. He treats us like family. He always has and always will. Nothing we think or do could ever overturn such divine love to his children.

Erik Raymond in He Is Not Ashamed: The Staggering Love of Christ for His People (Crossway, 2022), pp.20-21. This is a title I requested for review for the Standard Bearer. If any readers are interested, they may let me know if they would like to have the book for a brief review in this Reformed magazine. In the meantime, I have started the book and am finding it spiritually rewarding.

Published in: on September 24, 2022 at 9:54 PM  Leave a Comment  

Joy and Peace in Believing – J. Newton

Joy And Peace In Believing

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in his wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation,
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new:
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
E’en let th’ unknown to-morrow
Bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing
But he will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe his people too:
Beneath the spreading heavens,
No creature but is fed;
And he who feeds the ravens,
Will give his children bread.

Though vine nor fig-tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there:
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For while in him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

Published in: on September 17, 2022 at 9:13 PM  Leave a Comment  

Friday Book Bites

On this Friday, we feature some “book bites” for you – tasty little morsels found in some books from the library of Robert C. Harbach, former PRC minister of the Word (1914-1996). As you know, I love book plates and other special treats found inside books (bookmarks, sayings, etc.), and Harbach’s books contained some real treasures, which also reveals insights into a man’s soul.

I hope you enjoy these samples as much as I did.

These interesting notes were found inside Harbach’s Essentials of NT Greek book (when he was a student at the Refomred Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia, PA). Do you see what he did with his name?

And these last two are not as personal but have a great message about the importance of God’s Word in the hands of God’s people – one of the precious fruits of the Reformation we will soon commemorate again.

Published in: on September 16, 2022 at 7:48 AM  Leave a Comment  

Answering the Foolish Wisely – August 2022 “Standard Bearer”

The August 2022 issue of the Standard Bearer contains a guest editorial by Prof. C. Griess, the title of which is “Answer a fool… do not answer a fool.” The article seeks to explain and apply the principles found in the Word of God in Proverbs 26:4-5, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”

And the specific context in which he explains and applies this passage is the recent controversy and schism in the PRC, where foolish words were (and still are) flung at the church and her members by those who left us. But, of course, the use of this passage can be found in manifold situations in which the wise (in Christ) believer finds himself or herself.

Let’s listen to part of his explanation and application and learn to walk wisely toward those who would harm the church and her saints with words.

The Fool and His Folly

To understand the text, we must first remind ourselves who the fool is according to Proverbs. Since the text puts us in the realm of the audible and written word that has attacked us, we ought to stick to the description of the fool as Proverbs displays him in his use of the tongue/pen.

According to the inspired preacher, the fool is one who turns his tongue into an instrument of his pride. With the weapon of his tongue he fights not falsehood, but he beats and pierces those who have offended his pride (14:3, 12:18). Like a drunk chiding his wife, he thinks that he is reinforcing his status in the minds of listeners, when in fact he only lays open his folly (13:6). Further, in the fool’s lips are lies which are an abomination to the Lord (12:22). He will not tell the full truth, but will vehemently protest that he is doing so. By his lies he has the immediate reward of convincing some, but his victory is momentary. If instead he would speak truth, his lips would be established forever (12:19).

The Hebrew dictionaries tell us the fool’s “lying tongue” (12:19), can be “the falsity of self-deceived prophets.”  Others have not deceived them, instead, they have deceived themselves. Yet they cast the blanket of their self-deceit also over others (Jer 23:26). The fool’s tongue also utters slander (10:18). Slander is a specific kind of lie about others and what they have said or done, taking a person’s words and making them seem to say a thing that is not the intent of the speaker nor the honest reading of his words. The fool seeks to “do mischief” (10:23) with his words. He wants to create turmoil, to ignite an uproar, for then he can exploit the fearful. His words are really the expression of rage that has consumed him (14:16). With his writing and speaking he is not interested in understanding, but merely wants to unleash what is pent up within him (18:2). His words are deceitful and crooked. He twists things to fit his agenda (4:24, 6:12, 19:1). With his mouth and pen he is attempting to lift himself up, instead of letting others exalt him if it is due (27:2). His speech therefore is like an uncontrolled fire (16:27).

So, should we give answer when one speaks or writes this way, seemingly with no shame?

It depends. “Answer…” “Answer not…”

Answer Not

We are not to answer this kind of folly if the consequence is that we are dragged into this kind of speaking or writing ourselves. Verse 4 tells us not to answer then, “lest you also be like him.” The temptation is to answer in like manner, to hurl back what has been hurled at us. It is better not to answer. In cases like this, silence may speak the most powerfully. There is a time to allow foolishness to show itself folly. When the Rabshakeh was carrying on in his folly, calling out to the inhabitants of Jerusalem that Hezekiah was deceiving them and they ought to come out and join Assyria, Hezekiah must have felt a strong desire to mount the wall as pulpit and respond. Instead, his command was, “Answer him not” (2 Kings 18:36).

In many cases, responding will spur the one spewing foolishness to keep on in his folly. His rage fuels him and answering only provides an open door for his folly to pour forth. Wisdom will not win him now. Proverbs 23:9, “Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.” He will only continue to twist your words and make baseless attacks, for his pursuit of victory leads him to set aside all other considerations. Though one wants to answer again and again to set the record straight, it only draws one into an exhaustingly endless match that does not honor the Lord and only brings one under the judgments due a fool. This may well explain the silence, at times, in recent PRCA history.

Answer

And yet…

There are occasions when an answer to folly must be risked. The inspired preacher tells us these are the occasions when the consequence of not answering is that the one playing the fool becomes “wise in his own conceit” (Verse 5). In other words, there are occasions when the foolish one is puffed up in pride, thinking he has won the day for wisdom because no answer has been given. Others, hearing him boast, start to be overcome, ensnared by the folly and propagators of it. In other words, an answer must be given when there is a risk to God’s people that they be taken in by the folly. How astounding that this can happen! People who have thoroughly imbibed the Reformed creeds can be convinced by strong personalities that their church is heretical for holding to the creeds, all the while the personalities twist the meaning of the creeds to meet their agenda!

Though it means the discomfort of stepping into the folly being spewed forth, one must answer for the sake of the erring brother and especially for the sake of the church of Jesus Christ (all the while resisting taking on the character of the folly). Watchmen on the walls of Zion may not fail to blast the trumpet of warning! An answer must be given. “When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Eze 3:20-21).

…Once an answer has been given exposing the folly for what it is, to the safety of the church and hopefully even the one wise in his own conceit, then one does not need to feel burdened to continue to engage the folly if it continues. He does not get sucked in to thinking he needs to answer every twisting and rage filled attack, lest he fuel the folly or become foolish himself. Nonetheless, an evaluation of the situation will have to be made again and again going forward.

God give wisdom!

Published in: on August 28, 2022 at 8:54 PM  Leave a Comment  

The “Four Directions” of the Lord’s Supper

Concerning how the Lord’s Supper is to be observed by believers, Derek Thomas writes the following

Third, we need to be conscious of the four directions at the supper.

Backward: Look at the cross and feel your sins and rejoice in atonement.

Upward: Where Christ’s ascended body is right now.

Forward: ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes‘ (1 Cor.11:26, emphasis added). We are pilgrims, on a journey home.

Around: We are a body, with Christ as the Head; a building (stones) with Christ as chief cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5-7).

Fourth, the supper is meant to be joyful. The cup (alluding to the third cup of the Passover ritual) is a ‘cup of blessing’ (1 Cor.10:16). The very term ‘blessing’ with covenantal overtones (cf. Num.6:24-26) is a reminder that in Christ we are promised ‘every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ (Eph.1:3).

Taken from the new book by Derek W.H. Thomas, Let Us Worship: Why We Worship the Way We Do (Ligonier Ministries, 2021), pp.125-26

Published in: on August 21, 2022 at 8:47 AM  Leave a Comment  

Is It Possible to Love Jesus but Not the Church? | Crossway Articles

People find the church ugly because their focus and their vision is on the wrong thing. It’s on the wrong person, if you will. They’re focused on those who make up the church: sinners. Albeit forgiven, still we’re sinners. In her own eyes, the church is full of spots and blemishes. When we inwardly reflect, when we look at ourselves, we as the church would be the very first people to recognize the problems, the difficulties, the spots. Yet Christ draws our attention to his bride here and now, not for veneration or worship, but that we may be astonished and lost in the wonder of his love and sacrifice on her behalf. So we have to change our focus, don’t we?

The church is beautiful because the lens through which Christ regards her is his cross—the focal point of blood, righteousness, forgiveness, union, justification, regeneration, and grace. His cross makes her beautiful. It’s not about the people. It’s not about our failures. No, his perfection makes her beautiful.

It’s his sacrificial, substitutionary, sinless blood that washes her garments white as snow. It’s nothing that we do, but it’s all that he has done. The cross of Christ makes her beautiful, not only inwardly by justification, but also outwardly by sanctification. And so from giving second birth to final glory, the righteousness of Christ creates a beautiful church. And so let me say this: it’s just simply not possible to say that we love Jesus without loving the one for whom Jesus died—the church.

Taken from the new title by Dustin Benge, The Loveliest Place: The Beauty and Glory of the Church.

Source: Is It Possible to Love Jesus but Not the Church? | Crossway Articles

Published in: on August 14, 2022 at 6:28 AM  Comments (1)  

Salt and Light in This World: Maintaining Our Distinctiveness | July 2022 Tabletalk

The July issue of Tabletalk focuses on the theme of the believer’s calling to be salt and light (Matt.5:13-16). Multiple articles address this theme from various perspectives, including that idea we know as the antithesis – the call to be spiritually separate and distinct from the world about us. Two articles speak to this, the first of which I reference here – Tom Ascol’s “Maintaining Our Distinctiveness.” He has good comments, particularly about the church’s corporate witness to the world with regard to sin.

Here is part of what he writes; find the rest at the link provided, as well as the other articles in this edifying issue.

“At the heart of this responsibility is our duty to live as faithful children of God who accurately commend His saving grace in Christ and reflect His character to the world. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15–16). This is every individual Christian’s calling, and it is the calling of every church.

“In fact, all the Scriptures cited above are in the plural. The call to holiness belongs not only to individual believers but also to local congregations. When a church fails to fulfill this calling, it undermines the very good news of salvation that it proclaims and dishonors the name of Jesus Christ.

“The church in Corinth learned this the hard way when it allowed scandalous sin to go uncorrected in its membership. Its spiritual apathy about the Lord’s reputation brought an Apostolic rebuke:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. (1 Cor. 5:1–2)

“The Corinthian believers undoubtedly thought they were being loving and nonjudgmental in the presence of this scandalous sin among their members. They were proud of their tolerance when they should have been grieved over the outbreak of such sin among them. In the rest of the chapter, Paul corrects their faulty thinking about sin, tolerance, and holiness.

“When a church tolerates unrepentant sin within its membership, it demonstrates a lack of love for the one who is sinning, for the unconverted, and for God.

A church is the context in which individual Christians are taught, strengthened, and encouraged to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Brothers and sisters who know and love us help us overcome the inevitable idiosyncrasies that attend every believer, as well as resist the regular temptations that plague us all. They help us live in faith and repentance.

“When this kind of mutual care and encouragement is commonplace in a church, the power of the gospel is put on display to unbelievers. The truth of our message is given credibility by the character of our lives, thus providing a powerful apologetic for the gospel.”

Source: Maintaining Our Distinctiveness | Tabletalk

Published in: on July 23, 2022 at 10:15 PM  Leave a Comment  

PRC Archives Feature – Photo Fun

It has been some time since we posted a PRC archives item, so today let’s take some time to enjoy a new photo that I just received last evening.

A friend (I will leave her name out since it may tip you off) gave me this photo in a bag of miscellaneous items at Prof. D. Kuiper’s PRC History class last evening. It is a picture I have not seen previously and that we did not have for our archives. Clearly it relates to radio work, so that is your tip. I believe the man on the left will be an easy guess for some of you. But that man on the right… (I have a name on the back!), well, you just have fun with that.

And then the location of this recording session too. I have my guess, but it may be wrong. Let’s see how you do and what kind of help we get.

Happy Thursday – PRC archives day!

And, by the way, I have been setting up a PRC archives table at Prof. Kuiper’s PRC history class at SW-PRC (Wyoming, MI). On display I have had related books, pamphlets, documents, and pictures. If you haven’t joined us yet, please do on August 10,17, and 24 – the three remaining classes!

If you have missed the first three, visit the link to our YouTube channel and watch them at your convenience.

Published in: on July 21, 2022 at 9:55 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Bookshelf: You Could Look It Up – The Value of Reference Works

See the source image

This interesting and instructive article passed through my emails this week, “The Bookshelf” being a regular feature of Public Discourse (an organization that publishes many profitable articles online, mostly from a conservative Roman Catholic perspective, though there are Protestants who write also).

In this ode to reference works, the author extols the virtues and value of these special books often viewed as relics of the past. But, as he demonstrates, they have continued significance, and ought to be preserved and used by today’s serious-minded reader.

I give you Franck’s opening paragraphs, encouraging you to use the link below to read the rest. You will be profited.

As far back as I can remember, my childhood home had an Encyclopedia Britannica, a late 1950s revision of its fourteenth edition, which came in its own wooden two-shelf bookcase, with a deep slot in the back that held a massive atlas. My siblings and I all used it when working on our homework, and it was a ready resource for idle browsing when one was bored or hadn’t decided what book to read next.

I suppose Britannica began my fondness for reference books—that and the Random House Dictionary my parents bought when it came out in 1966. I now have that dictionary, though the Britannica I rather sorrowfully let go after my parents passed away. In my home office today, I have one bookcase mostly filled with reference books of various descriptions—on language, history, philosophy, religion, law, and politics.

Why bother with the books? Can’t we just look up everything online nowadays, thanks to Google and Wikipedia? Not really—or perhaps not just yet—in part thanks to copyrights and paywalls. Google and other search engines often yield bizarre results, requiring the exercise of some prior knowledge and judgment to tell the wheat from the chaff. And Wikipedia, which I use frequently, is difficult to trust on anything beyond bare facts (and even those are sometimes wrong). If you want to know the date of the battle of Blenheim, fine. But if you want a reliable understanding of the War of the Spanish Succession of which it was a part, not so much. For that I would turn to the brief entry in George C. Kohn’s Dictionary of Wars. For non-paywalled online resources on specific subjects, the one that comes most readily to mind for exceeding its print rivals in expertise and comprehensiveness is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. But in general I still find reference books hard to beat.

Source: The Bookshelf: You Could Look It Up – Public Discourse

Published in: on July 16, 2022 at 6:46 AM  Leave a Comment