Humble Yourself Before the Word


Instead of responding angrily to God’s Word (v.19), James told his readers to receive the Word ‘in humility.’ This refers to a gentle and meek attitude that causes you to set aside your own preferences and opinions instead of stubbornly refusing to submit your will to God’s Word. Receptivity to God’s Word starts with humble submission to the authority of God’s Word. God told Isaiah, ‘But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word (Isaiah 66:2).

Jeremiah Burroughs described this submission to his congregation:

To have a congregation lie down under the Word of God which is preached to them is a most excellent thing…. God expects that you should submit your estates, your souls, your bodies, all that you are and have, to this Word. And that is another particular of the sanctifying of the name of God in hearing the Word, there must be a humble submission to it.

There is nothing better for your souls than to lie down under the Word; to lay aside your pride and any resistance and let the surgeon of Scripture work as it will (Heb.4:12).

[John] Stott writes ‘An essential element in Christian humility is the willingness to hear and receive God’s Word. Perhaps the greatest of all our needs is to take our place again, humbly, quietly and expectantly at the feet of Jesus Christ, in order to listen attentively to His Word.’ Mary serves as the model of one sitting at Jesus’ feet quietly, humbly, and submissively ‘listening to His word’ (Luke 10:39). Whenever you are listening to God’s Word preached, you should have the same humble, submissive heart as young Samuel who, when he heard God calling his name, responded, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening’ (1 Sam.3:10).

Taken from chapter 6 of Ken Ramey’s book, Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word , (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010). This chapter treats James teaching to the first-century church in James 1:19-25 and is titled “Practice What You Hear” (pp85.ff.).

Bookworm Problems



Your home is a disaster except for your bookshelves, which are immaculate. Your house is a disaster because books cover every surface. Your house is a disaster because a clean house is a sign of a misspent life, and you spend yours reading.

You’re at a killer used book sale and can’t remember if you already own a certain title. You decide you do and come home. You were wrong and regret your lost chance. You decide you don’t and come home and shelve your newly purchased third copy. You accidentally buy two of the same book at the book sale.

You have more books than shoes [Keep in mind this is a female author.]. You have more books than bookshelves. You do some quick math and realize how much money is tied up in your book collection. You suspect your books equal the gross domestic product of a small nation.

You accept that it’s time to cull your personal library. You lovingly handle each book, determining if it brings you joy. It does. They all do. You are full of bookish joy, but still woefully short on shelf space.

Taken from a new summer read I recently bought at Baker Book House. In I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, lifetime reader Anne Bogel reflects on the paradoxes of readers and bibliophiles like herself. The chapters are short and packed with great insights and encouragements about the literary life – the highs and lows, the tears and triumphs of reading.

The above quotation is taken from her third chapter, “Bookworm Problems” (pp.66-71).

Yes, these are photos of my home office and den. Bookworm problems here too.

Published in: on August 15, 2019 at 11:06 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Belgic Confession: “A Confession of the Gospel in all its riches”

This review of Prof. David J. Engelsma’s recent second volume of his Commentary on the Belgic (Netherlands) Confession (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2019) was penned by Dr. H. David Schuringa and first published in the July 24, 2019 issue of Christian Renewal. Subsequently, it was posted on the RFPA’s blog, where you will find it in its full form.

We post a portion of it here, encouraging you to read all of it, and, of course, to purchase and read the book.

The publishing of Dr. David Engelsma’s two-volume commentary on the Belgic Confession is a welcome event due not only to its meaty content but also to meager current resources. The historic confession comprises a complete dogmatics in its own right as it follows the usual outline of the loci with the doctrines of the Word, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Ecclesiology and Eschatology.

Engelsma maintains, however, that though the con­fession is doctrinal and systematic, it is not a sys­tematic theology as such but rather, “the confession of the gospel in all its riches as this gospel is known by every illumined mind and embraced by every regenerated heart” (II:366f.). That is certainly true in large measure, which in turn makes these two volumes Engelsma’s own dogmatics of sorts. What Berkhof did for Bavinck, he does for Hoeksema.

The professor provides an actual commentary in that his treatment involves a careful analysis and exposition of the revered document’s own words and phrases, with comparisons to Scripture and in con­trasts to other interpretations. His command of the subject matter—whether of the exegetical, confes­sional, historical or contemporary sort—is impres­sive as to its height, depth and breadth. Engelsma knows his stuff and where he stands. Also included are comprehensive indices of Scriptures, creeds and confessions cited voluminously throughout the rock-solid work. And RFPA is to be commended for the release of these handsome volumes.

Source: Reformed Free Publishing Association — The Belgic: “A Confession of the Gospel in all its riches”

Published in: on August 13, 2019 at 10:42 PM  Leave a Comment  

Reconciled by Grace – H. Hoeksema

2Cor2-19… be ye reconciled to God. -II Corinthians 5:20

The first part of the marvelous work of salvation to which we now call your attention is that of reconciliation. That we are saved by grace means, first of all, that we are reconciled by grace. In the wondrous work of salvation God reveals Himself as the Reconciler, full of grace and truth, rich in lovingkindness and tender mercies.

…First of all, reconciliation is the restoration of an existing relationship, whether of love, or friendship, partnership, or some other alliance. The actual existence of such a relationship is presupposed in reconciliation. This is true among men. You do not reconcile strangers. There is no bond between them; there never was; and, therefore, no bond between them can be restored. One may speak of reconciling man and wife, between whom exists the sacred bond of matrimony, when they drifted apart for some reason; or of the reconciliation of friends that are at variance for a time; or of the servant to his master, or the subject to his king. Always a relation or bond of friendship and love is understood. The same is true of God’s work of reconciliation. It presupposes the eternal covenant relation of love and friendship into which God entered with His people, a relation that is rooted in His eternal purpose of election. That covenant relation can never be destroyed for the simple reason that it rests wholly in God. God loves His people with an eternal, unchangeable love. He never ceases to love them. No matter what they may do or become, He still loves them. Though their sins be as scarlet, and though they be red as crimson, He loves them still, and will restore them to His favor and fellowship. He may be angry with His people in righteous wrath for a moment, but even in His anger He loves them. He is like a husband that loves and remains faithful to his wife, no matter how often she may play the adulteress; or like the father who, no matter how grievously his son may sin against him, still loves that son and will receive him whenever he may return. If this were not so, how could God be the Reconciler? Reconciliation is an act of infinite love, of unlimited grace, of abundant mercy. God loved His people when they were enemies. Reconciliation presupposes the eternal covenant relation of God with His people that rests in God, the I Am, the Faithful and True!

Secondly, reconciliation implies that the parties to be reconciled are at variance through some fault on the part of either or of both parties. The relationship is disturbed for a time. It cannot properly function because something intervened that makes the exercise of friendship and love impossible. There is separation. One of the parties in the matrimonial covenant was unfaithful, committed adultery; the son sinned against his father and lives in that sin; the friend offended his friend. The same is true of the relationship between God and His people. He created them in His image and took them into His blessed covenant in Adam. For Adam was the friend of God, clothed with righteousness, the object of God’s favor. He knew his God and was known of Him. He loved his God and was loved by Him. He walked and talked with God and was blessed by Him. But in and through Adam the whole human race, and with the human race God’s own elect, violated the covenant relationship. They sinned and became guilty, the objects of God’s righteous wrath, foolish and corrupt, enemies of God. And as they are in their sin and death, they cannot be and function as God’s covenant friends. Because of sin they are alienated, and they have forfeited the right to God’s favor and love. The covenant relationship has been violated and disturbed. God is terribly angry with His people in their sin, and they are in themselves worthy of death and damnation!

Thirdly, if the disrupted relationship of friendship and love is to be restored, the cause of the disruption must be removed. Among men this may take place through repentance and confession on the part of the party that had offended, and by the promise on his part henceforth to be faithful to the relationship that was violated, and through forgiveness on the part of the one that was offended. An adulterous wife may return to her husband in heartfelt sorrow, and be received by him; and if the woman gives proof of her repentance and renewed faithfulness, the reconciliation is accomplished. The prodigal son returns to his father in dust and ashes, confesses his sin and unworthiness, and his father restores him to his place in the home. But with God this is different. He cannot deny Himself. He cannot permit His holy law to be trampled under foot with impunity. He cannot simply forgive and forget. If the sinner’s relation to Him is to be restored, the cause of the separation must actually be removed, so that it is no more. But how can sin be removed? How can the guilt of sin be blotted out? How can the guilty become righteous? How can the object of God’s wrath be restored to His favor? There is one, and only one way: that of perfect satisfaction! The sinner must atone for his sin. And atonement for sin consists in perfectly satisfying the justice of God!

But of what does this atonement consist? What can so satisfy the justice of God that the sinner’s guilt is blotted out and that he is declared righteous before God? Again, there is only one answer: the sinner must freely, voluntarily, motivated by the love of God and true sorrow for his sin, bear the punishment of sin, eternal death! Mark you well, he must not merely bear the punishment and suffer eternal death, he must do so willingly; the bearing of the punishment must be an act of all his soul, and mind, and will, and heart, and strength.

…Now it is at once evident that the mere sinner can never do this. As far as he is concerned, the case is hopeless. No good works, supposing that he could perform them, will ever atone for his sin: for he is obliged to do them in the first place; and as no man can pay a back debt by paying his current bills, so man cannot atone by doing good works. But the case with the sinner is much worse. He is dead in sin. He cannot do any good before God. He stands in enmity against God, and his nature is so corrupt that he loves the darkness rather than light. He is not at all concerned about the righteousness of God. How then could he possibly bring the sacrifice that would atone for his sin? Even if he would, he could not possibly bear the punishment of eternal death, and finish it, so that he would live. But he will not seek God. He does not care to be reconciled with God. It is clear then that his case is hopeless, and that, if he must reconcile himself to God, he will never be restored to God’s favor. Reconciliation cannot be of man; it must be of God. It cannot be by works; it must be by grace!

And this is exactly the wonder of reconciliation: God reconciled us unto Himself while we were yet sinners! God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. Never change this truth into something different. Never say that Christ reconciled God to us, and us to God. That would make of Christ a third party between God and us. And although it is certainly true that Christ in His human nature is the Mediator of God and man, this Mediator is entirely of God! Nay, He is God Himself, the Son of God, begotten of the Father eternally, Who is eternally in the Father’s bosom, God of God in human flesh! In Him the strong arm of the God of our salvation reaches down into our death, in order to remove the cause of our estrangement from Him, and to restore and raise to a higher, heavenly, eternal level the covenant of friendship between Him and us.

That is the meaning of the cross: God reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son! There God was reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. There God Himself, through His Son in the flesh, satisfied His own justice. The Son of God brought the sacrifice that was required to blot out the guilt of sin and to clothe us with an everlasting righteousness. He could do so, because He was the holy child Jesus, the Lamb without blemish, and the zeal of God’s house consumed Him. He could and did willingIy, from the motive of the love of God, descend into lowest hell, to suffer the punishment of sin, to bear the wrath of God to the very end. He stood in the place of judgment, and on Him all the vials of God’s wrath against sin were poured out. And when He cried out, “It is finished!” He had completed His sacrifice, removed sin, obtained righteousness, a fact which God sealed when He raised Him from the dead. And He was able to bring this sacrifice as an atonement for the sin of all His people. For God had appointed Him to be the head of His church, representing them. For them He died. And, because it is not mere man, but the Son of God Who died on the cross, His death is abundantly sufficient to blot out the guilt of all His own!

And so the gospel is the ministry of reconciliation. It proclaims that reconciliation is an accomplished fact: the elect are surely reconciled to God. He reconciled us! We are reconciled by grace, by pure, free, sovereign grace! And it is He, too, Who sends out the word of reconciliation. For He gave unto the apostles the ministry of reconciliation, and put the very word of reconciliation in their very hearts, so that they had the power and authority to speak in the name of God the Reconciler, and so that they became ambassadors of Christ, as though God did beseech us by them: “Be ye reconciled to God!” (II Corinthians 5: 18-20) This word of reconciliation is still proclaimed among us, from the Scriptures, and through His own ministry of the Word by the preachers He Himself sends unto us.

Be ye reconciled to God!

wonderofgrace-hhTaken from chapter chapter 3, “Reconciled by Grace,” in The Wonder of Grace by Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1944), pp.26-33. This work has now been republished by the Reformed Free Publishing Association.

PRC Archives/Offices/Library Project Update – August 2019

A well lit archives room

It has been a month since we updated you on the PRC seminary building project (last one was on July 4), so tonight we will provide you with a summary of the last month.


Since our last update much has taken place. In the new addition the electricity has been supplied and all the new LED lights are providing the lighting (cf. first picture above). The new heating/cooling units have been installed in the new offices  and are operating (thanks to the power!). The final coats of paint have also been made in these archives room and the offices. All that awaits is the carpet (starting Monday, the 12th!).


In the library, all the custom trim and panel work has been completed, and now it is all stained and lacquered – a beautiful look that matches the rest of the building!


And this week the paint went on the library walls – including a nice olive color on the accent walls. What a change in the appearance!


In addition, all the new ceiling tiles were set in place this week – in the library and hallways outside the professor’s offices and in Rev.B. Huizinga’s “new” office (professor-to-be). What a wonderful color a clean white ceiling is! Now the new lighting stands out even more.


The main item missing in the library and offices and hallway yet is the carpeting, which arrived this past week and will be installed starting next week Monday.


On the outside the major news is threefold. First, a new roof was installed over the entire library, the existing offices, and the front entry. This was planned anyway this summer as part of our major building maintenance, and Bosveld has an amazing new product that will last for a long time. With all the beautiful work down below, the last thing we want is a leaky roof!


Second, our underground sprinkling system was finally repaired and restored, including new water lines and heads in the back of the building where the new addition went in (Thanks, Schepers!). Hard to believe we made it halfway through July without our watering system, but we had timely rains (the Lord’s sprinkling is always best!) and for a few weeks got creative with extra hoses and sprinklers from home.


And third, the area in the back was prepped for new grass seeding – a fresh load of topsoil was brought in and then graded, and now Kregel Landscaping has killed the weeds and will soon plant the new grass seed.


The deer and turkey have already checked out the new area in back and given their approval for future grazing and pecking.


We are thankful for all the great subs and workers involved in this project – for their skills and for their safety. The next few weeks will put all their efforts on full display, and we are more than ready to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Stay tuned for the final touches – and for an open house in the Fall sometime.

Published in: on August 9, 2019 at 10:15 PM  Leave a Comment  

Significant Additions to the PRC Seminary Library – 2nd Quarter 2019 (Part 2)

The library remodel is coming along nicely!

At the end of June, I completed the second quarter list of significant book acquisitions to the PRC Seminary library for this year. A few weeks ago I posted the first part of this list for the broader benefit of our readers (find that post here).

As noted before, part of my reason for posting this list here is not only to show you the kind of books the seminary adds to its library, but also to stimulate you to find something to read. Yes, there are books here for the layman and laywoman, for the young adults and for teenagers. Browse this list and perhaps you will find something that grabs your attention and compels you to pursue it.

In this second part of the list we will look at four (4) sections: dogmatics/theology, practical theology (2 parts), and miscellaneous. Hoping you find something of interest to read yet this summer or in the fall.

The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls

Dogmatics, Biblical Theology, Historical Theology

  • Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account / Kevin J. Vanhoozer; Daniel J. Treier. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015 (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture)
  • The Decades of Henry Bullinger / Heinrich Bullinger, 1504-1575; Joel R. Beeke; George M. Ella; Thomas Harding, 1516-1572. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books,c2004 (reprint in 2 vols.) – a gift from a friend
  • The Works of Ezekiel Hopkins: Successively Bishop of Raphoe and Derry / Ezekiel Hopkins, 1634-1690; Charles William Quick, 1822-1894. Ligonier, PA : Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995-97 (3 vols) – a gift from a friend
  • Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth / Bruce L. McCormack. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, c2008.
  • Reformed Systematic Theology: Volume 1: Revelation and God / Joel R. Beeke; Paul M.Smalley. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
  • None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God / Matthew Barrett. Grand Rapids,MI: Baker Books, 2019.
  • Chosen in Christ: Revisiting the Contours of Predestination / Cornelis P. Venema. Fearn,Ross-shire, GB: Mentor, 2019 (R.E.D.S. – Reformed, Exegetical and Doctrinal Studies)
  • From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists 1642-1704 / Samuel D. Renihan; James M. Renihan. Oxford [Eng.]: Centre for Baptist History and Heritage, 2018 (Centre for Baptist History and Heritage Studies)
  • Christ the Mediator of the Law: Calvin’s Christological Understanding of the Law as the Rule of Living and Life-Giving / Byung-Ho. Moon; David F. Wright. Milton Keynes. UK; Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2006 (Studies in Christian History and Thought)
  • The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls: Justification in Biblical, Theological, Historical, and Pastoral Perspective / Matthew Barrett; D. A. Carson; Stephen Dempster; Matthew Barrett. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
  • Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World, Volume 2: The Doctrinal Section / Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920. ; Nelson D. Kloosterman, Transl.; Ed M. Van Der Maas, Transl.; Jordan J. and J. Daryl Charles Ballor. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.
  • A Biblical Theology of the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace: Exegetical Considerations of Key Anthropological, Hamartiological, and Soteriological Terms and Motifs / George J.Zemek. Little Rock, AR: George J. Zemek, 2005.
  • 40 Questions about Calvinism / Shawn D. Wright; Benjamin L. Merkle, editor. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2019.
  • Humble Calvinism: And If I Know the Five Points, But Have Not Love… / J. A. Medders;Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr; C. H. (Charles Haddon) Spurgeon, 1834-1892. UK: The Good Book Company, 2019.

Image result for maturity sinclair ferguson

Practical Theology (1) – Christian Living, Family, Marriage, Missions, Prayer

  • Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life / Sinclair B. Ferguson.
    Edinburgh; Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2019.
  • Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age / Tony Reinke. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
  • Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation / Daniel M. Doriani, 1953-. ; Bryan Chapell. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019.
  • Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament / Mark Vroegop; Joni Eareckson Tada. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
  • Untangling Emotions / J. Alasdair Groves; Winston T. Smith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
  • A Model for Marriage: Covenant, Grace, Empowerment and Intimacy / Jack O. Balswick; Judith K. Balswick. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, c2006.
  • The Missionary Expansion of the Reformed Churches / John A. (John Anderson) Graham, 1861-1942; A. H. Charteris. Edinburgh: R. & R. Clark, 1898.



Practical Theology (2) – Church Government/Leadership, Counseling, Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, Sermons, Worship

  • Preaching to Be Heard: Delivering Sermons That Command Attention / Lucas O’Neill. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.
  • The Worlds of the Preacher: Navigating Biblical, Cultural, and Personal Contexts / Scott M. Gibson, editor; Bryan Chapell; Haddon W. Robinson. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018.
  • Singing the Congregation: How Contemporary Worship Music Forms Evangelical
    Community / Monique M. Ingalls. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation / Winfield H.
    Bevins; Scot McKnight. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019.
  • The John MacArthur Handbook of Effective Biblical Leadership / John MacArthur; Mark Dever; Steven J. Lawson. Eugene OR: Harvest House, 2019.
  • Saint Peter’s Principles: Leadership for Those Who Already Know Their Incompetence /Peter A. Lillback; Albert R. Mohler, Jr. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019.
  • The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors / Albert N. Martin. Montville, NJ: Trinity Pulpit Press, 2018 (Pastoral Theology – Volume 2)
  • Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and
    Doctrine / Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

Misc. (Apologetics, Culture, Education, Music, Politics, Science, Work, World Religions,etc.)

  • The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation / Rod Dreher. New York, NY: Sentinel, 2017.
  • A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers / Kate L. Turabian; Wayne C. Booth; Gregory G. Colomb; Joseph M. Williams. (9th ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Periodicals (Old & New)

  • The Reformed Review (Western Theological Seminary, RCA, Holland, MI), Vol.9 and
    up, 1956- (donated by a friend)

God’s Work Only, God’s Glory Alone – A. Kuyper

So, you who fear the Lord in all righteousness, give him the glory due his name.

Curtail your estimation of your own contribution; cut them down to their actual, trivial size. Peek behind the curtain of external appearance; look at the miraculous, comprehensive, and majestic work of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Consider the work of the Son of righteousness in your heart. It is grace that causes the beginning, germinating, and ripening of that work in you. It is to his glory.

That’s when you’ll find peace – peace, because now you’ll be honoring God!

That’s when you’ll be better able to let go of what has been entrusted to you than you’ve been able to do up until now. That’s when you’ll be able to focus much more on what only God can do. That’s when you’ll immediately put far less of a premium on your own work, realizing that when you turned the ground over, you only pushed the spade in halfway. You’ll realize that you sowed bad seed in your child’s heart and did a far from perfect job at weeding. You’ll find peace when you’re converted, perfected, and gripped by God’s power in this way.

Furthermore, you’ll also discover that you’ve been delivered from your fears. It will no longer be the case that when you sow today, you’ll moan and groan tomorrow because you don’t see a stem or blade. Calm and content, you’ll know that the Holy Spirit is busy at work. You’ll know that because he is, things will flourish in an orderly way: ‘first the bud, then the flower, and then the full head of grain.’

That’s because God’s doing the work. He’s the real worker! The blessed, saving work of God belongs to him alone – in its beginning, its progress, and its completion. This is what you first failed to see in your unfaithfulness, but what you now confess to your comfort.

honey from the rock-ak-2018Taken from the new translation by James A. De Jong of Abraham Kuyper’s Honey from the Rock (Lexham Press, 2018), pp.193-94.

This particular meditation (#61 of Volume 1) is titled “He Himself Does Not know” and is based on Mark 4:26,27, “And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” [And throughout Kuyper also refers to the next verse, “For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”]

J. Newton on How Calvinists Ought to Carry on a Controversy

Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but also over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armour, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

Consider Your Opponent

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defence of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. “If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.”

If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

Consider the Public

By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million. There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion to have any settled system of their own, and yet are pre-engaged in favour of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine, but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments.

The scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

Consider Yourself

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

Taken from The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX “On Controversy”

Published in: on August 2, 2019 at 8:29 AM  Comments (1)  

A Reader’s Tears – A. Bogel

Sometimes a great book makes us feel the loss of what could have been – a dream, a baby, a future. Several years ago I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent Abraham Lincoln biography Team of Rivals. I knew the basic outline of his life from history class; American students know that story’s sad ending. But Goodwin’s version astonished me, making me feel, for the first time, an overwhelming sense of how much was lost that night at Ford’s Theatre – by his family, yes, but also by the nation and the world. [I had a similar experience last year while reading Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln.]

Goodwin demonstrates how important Lincoln was to the cause of what was right, painting a vivid picture of what he accomplished in office, of what he was carefully working toward after the Civil War, and of why the man himself was desperately needed. And then they killed him. When she described what happened that awful night in Ford’s Theatre and across the city, I felt like I was there, and for the first time I understood the scope of the disaster and how it affects me even now. I didn’t expect her history to make me weep, but it did – because Goodwin made me feel its weight.

Sometimes a book prods you to grieve with its characters. You’re immersed in the story, so much so that you feel what they’re feeling. When a beloved character experiences loss – of someone they love, of a friendship, of their innocence – you feel their pain. When he grieves, you grieve with him. Sometimes you grieve the characters themselves; they die, you feel like you’ve lost a friend, and you weep.

…I don’t relish crying over a book, but I’ll say this; it’s not easy to earn a reader’s tears – and if an author writes well enough to earn mine, I’m in.

Pass the tissues. It’s time to read.

rather-be-reading-bogel-2018Taken from a new summer read I recently bought at Baker Book House. In I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, lifetime reader Anne Bogel reflects on the paradoxes of readers and bibliophiles like herself. The chapters are short and packed with great insights and encouragements about the literary life – the highs and lows, the tears and triumphs of reading.

The above quotation is taken from her third chapter, “I’m Begging You to Break My Heart” (pp.32-36).

If you think this is only a woman’s reaction, think again. Men can and do experience such emotions through reading too, even if we don’t want to admit it. Just this weekend I was brought to tears through reading a section of Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance (a powerful section where he treats the death of his “Mamaw” [grandma] who had had such a profound influence on him.) Ah, yes, the power of words and stories are great, and it is part of the experience of reading to be taken in by them.

Published in: on July 29, 2019 at 10:36 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Wonder of Grace: Chosen by Grace

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.- Ephesians 1:4

…This doctrine [God’s sovereign, eternal election of some sinners to be saved in Christ Jesus] is of fundamental importance and of great practical significance
Quite properly, it has been called the cor ecclesiae, the heart of the church. The whole system of the doctrine of salvation by grace is built on it as its foundation, stands or falls with this truth. If you deny or distort this basic truth, you may, perhaps, inconsistently continue to speak of salvation by grace for a time, but ultimately you will surely lose all the great doctrines of salvation. Deny it, and you cannot maintain the truth of total depravity: for if to some extent you present salvation as contingent upon the will and choice of the sinner, you must ascribe to him some remnant of goodness in virtue of which he is able to make the right determination and choice. Refuse to accept the doctrine of sovereign election, and you must ultimately deny the truth of vicarious atonement. For if Christ’s death is substitutional, those for whom He died are certainly justified and reconciled to God. But it is evident that all men are not saved. Hence, you must choose between two alternatives: Christ represented the elect, or in His death He did not really pay for the sins of those for whom He died. Election and vicarious atonement are inseparably connected. The same is true of the relation of election and all the blessings of salvation which are bestowed on us in Christ Jesus our Lord, of calling and faith, of justification and sanctification, of hope and love, of preservation and perseverance. Either these are all blessings of grace, and then they flow from sovereign election; or they depend upon the will and work of man, and then they are not of grace. The doctrine of election is of central importance for the whole system of the truth of salvation.

But this truth is also of immense practical significance. It is the indispensable condition for all true religion. For all true religion is God-centered. And this is true only of that religion that has its ultimate source in God’s sovereign election. For it alone confesses that God is all and that man is absolutely nothing. There remains nothing for man to boast. All his own goodness, good will, works, religion, piety are cast into the dust as having no value before God. For we are saved according as we are chosen. And we are chosen, not because we distinguished ourselves from others, not because of any goodness or willingness on our part, but solely because it pleased God to distinguish us, and only by grace. God is all! We bring nothing to Him, He gives all to us. We have nothing to boast. Let Him that glorieth glory in the Lord!

Besides, this doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation and is the source of all true comfort and assurance. It dare not be objected to this doctrine that this truth offers no comfort to poor sinners: for nothing could be farther from the truth. True, this doctrine has no consolation for the impenitent wicked. But we ask: is there any form of presentation of the gospel that could possibly comfort the wicked and ungodly? There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked! But is there a more comforting gospel than that of God’s gracious election for the penitent, the seeking soul, the hungry and thirsty, the weary and heavy laden? He may be assured that he will be received and be saved: for his penitence, seeking, hunger and thirst, are the fruit of electing grace. Moreover, when we look about us in the world, full of confusion and madness, of corruption and apostasy, is there any assurance anywhere, except in the truth of God’s sovereign election, that His work shall not fail, that His church shall surely be gathered, and His kingdom shall be established and manifested in glory? Salvation is of the Lord: it shall surely be accomplished even unto the end! Let all the powers of darkness rave and rage and rise up against the living God and His Anointed, we know that even their ravings and fury can only be subservient and conducive to the realization of God’s sovereign purpose of salvation. The gates of all hell cannot overwhelm the church! Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Taken from chapter chapter 2, “Chosen by Grace,” in The Wonder of Grace by Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1944), pp.18-25. This work has now been republished by the Reformed Free Publishing Association.

Published in: on July 28, 2019 at 7:21 AM  Leave a Comment