“What makes sin sin” by John Piper | Tolle Lege

“What makes sin sin” by John Piper | Tolle Lege.


From the wonderful book reading blog “Tolle Lege” (“Take up and read”) comes this quote from pastor John Piper. Worth printing and posting, so that we may keep this always before our mind’s eye.


“What makes sin sin is not first that it hurts people, but that it blasphemes God. This is the ultimate evil and the ultimate outrage in the universe.

The glory of God is not honored.
The holiness of God is not reverenced.
The greatness of God is not admired.
The power of God is not praised.
The truth of God is not sought.
The wisdom of God is not esteemed.
The beauty of God is not treasured.
The goodness of God is not savored.
The faithfulness of God is not trusted.
The promises of God are not relied upon.
The commandments of God are not obeyed.
The justice of God is not respected.
The wrath of God is not feared.
The grace of God is not cherished.
The presence of God is not prized.
The person of God is not loved.

The infinite, all-glorious Creator of the universe, by whom and for whom all things exist (Rom. 11:36) – who holds every person’s life in being at every moment (Acts 17:25) – is disregarded, disbelieved, disobeyed, and dishonored by everybody in the world. That is the ultimate outrage of the universe.

–John Piper, “The Greatest Thing in the World: an Overview of Romans 1-7,” as cited on www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-greatest-thing-in-the-world-an-overview-of-romans-1-7 (accessed February 23, 2012).

“A wall of books is a wall of windows.” -Leon Wieseltier

Leon Wieseltier: Washington Diarist: Voluminous | The New Republic.

A marvelous tribute to traditional books and libraries by the literary editor of The New Republic (posted Feb.22, 2012). Listen to these words:

This is the other variety of significance that attaches to books, the subjective sort, which transforms them into talismans. Many books are read but some books are lived, so that words and ideas lose their ethereality and become experiences, turning points in an insufficiently clarified existence, and thereby acquire the almost mystical (but also fallible) intimacy of memory. In this sense one’s books are one’s biography. This subjective urgency bears no relation to the quality of the book: lives have been changed by kitsch, too. What matters is that one’s pores be opened, and that the opening be true. “What is the Ninth Symphony,” Karl Kraus declared, “compared to a pop tune played by a hurdy-gurdy and a memory!”

THE LIBRARY, like the book, is under assault by the new technologies, which propose to collect and to deliver texts differently, more efficiently, outside of space and in a rush of time. If ever I might find a kind word for the coming post-bibliographical world it would be this week, when I have to pack up the thousands of volumes in my office and reassemble them a short distance away—they are so heavy, they take up so much room, and so on; but even now, with the crates piled high in the hall, what I see most plainly about the books is that they are beautiful. They take up room? Of course they do: they are an environment; atoms, not bits. My books are not dead weight, they are live weight—matter infused by spirit, every one of them, even the silliest. They do not block the horizon; they draw it. They free me from the prison of contemporaneity: one should not live only in one’s own time. A wall of books is a wall of windows. And a book is more than a text: even if every book in my library is on Google Books, my library is not on Google Books. A library has a personality, a temperament. (Sometimes a dull one.) Its books show the scars of use and the wear of need. They are defaced—no, ornamented—by markings and notes and private symbols of assent and dissent, and these vandalisms are traces of the excitations of thought and feeling, which is why they are delightful to discover in old books: they introduce a person. There is something inhuman about the pristinity of digital publication. It lacks fingerprints. But the copy of a book that is on my shelf is my copy. It is unlike any other copy, it has been individuated; and even those books that I have not yet opened—unread books are an essential element of a library—were acquired for the further cultivation of a particular admixture of interests and beliefs, and every one of them will have its hour….

Could it have been said better? Makes me never want to go back to my Kindle. Ah, the tug on my heart between technology and tradition. But then the modern book was itself the product of new technology. I’ll keep my Kindle and strike a balance 🙂

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 11:52 AM  Leave a Comment  

Cheap Grace, Costly Grace, and Common Grace (1)

Our loosely organized book reading club meets tomorrow night for the second time. This year we may be called the “BBC” – Bonhoeffer Book Club – because all our readings are being done in the German pastor/theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We went through his Letters and Papers from Prison and now we are working our way through The Cost of Discipleship (first published in German in 1937; first English edition appeared in 1948). It has been a number of years since I read this title. I believe it was assigned to a class I had at Calvin College back in the late 1970’s. But I remember being impressed with it then, and I am more so now.

And because 35 plus years have gone by, my perspective has changed. Reading it then I was struck by the call he makes to costly discipleship (really the theme of the book). This is the “costly grace” of which he wrote, which he believed the church in his day had thrown away for a form of “cheap grace” – a grace without repentance, without godliness, without sacrifice, and therefore without true commitment to Jesus Christ. Here in his own words is how he describes this “cheap grace”:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate (p.36).

In contrast to that, Bonhoeffer said the following about “costly grace”:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again….

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

…Costly grace confronts us with a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (p.37).

That distinction – indeed great gulf! – between cheap grace and costly grace still strikes me, and is a much-needed message in our own day. And when it comes to this call of Bonhoeffer, most modern Reformed and evangelical Christians give a hearty “amen”. But what strikes me even more now as I read The Cost is the call Bonhoeffer makes to live the antithesis, that spiritual separation between the believer and the ungodly world and between the church and the unbelieving world. Repeatedly throughout this book he chastises the church and the professing Christian for giving in to the spirit and ways of the world, all the while claiming to be following Christ. And repeatedly he calls the church and the believer to live the life of spiritual difference from the wicked world. Not indeed, world-flight, but world-fight! Living In the world, we live not OF the world. That too is costly grace.

And that makes me think about “common grace” too. It seems to me that many Reformed and evangelical Christians do not want to take this part of Bonhoeffer’s call in The Cost. I mean his call to live the antithesis. Because they have this “sacred cow” called “common grace”, which no one may touch and no one may sacrifice. Abraham Kuyper with all his supposed “wisdom and wonder” about “transforming” culture by common grace gets all the attention, while Bonhoeffer with his call to spiritual separation gets left on the shelf – at least on this part of his teaching. I ask you, which is the cheap grace and which is the costly grace? I think you can guess where I am in this, and where I believe Bonhoeffer was. But more on this tomorrow, D.V. I’ll have some more quotes on the antithesis then.

Israeli Library Uploads Newton’s Theological Texts

Israeli Library Uploads Newton’s Theological Texts – ABC News.

ABC News posted this news item Thursday, Feb.15, 2012. It is an interesting report about Israel’s National Library digitalizing and posting online a number of works by Sir Isaac Newton, famed Christian scientist who is also noted for his theological studies and writings. Here’s part of the story; read the rest of the story at the ABC News link above and visit the digital collection here:

He’s considered to be one of the greatest scientists of all time. But Sir Isaac Newton was also an influential theologian who applied a scientific approach to the study of scripture, Hebrew and Jewish mysticism.

Now Israel’s national library, an unlikely owner of a vast trove of Newton’s writings, has digitized his theological collection — some 7,500 pages in Newton’s own handwriting — and put it online. Among the yellowed texts are Newton’s famous prediction of the apocalypse in 2060.

Newton revolutionized physics, mathematics and astronomy in the 17th and 18th century, laying the foundations for most of classical mechanics — with the principal of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion bearing his name.

However, the curator of Israel’s national library’s humanities collection said Newton was also a devout Christian who dealt far more in theology than he did in physics and believed that scripture provided a “code” to the natural world.

“Today, we tend to make a distinction between science and faith, but to Newton it was all part of the same world,” said Milka Levy-Rubin. “He believed that careful study of holy texts was a type of science, that if analyzed correctly could predict what was to come.”

Fighting Sin with Biblewashing and Singing

I have been preparing for a panel discussion on “Battling Temptation” at Byron Center PRC’s upcoming men’s conference (next weekend, March 8-9!) and doing some readings from various sources. But I also came across a couple of fine articles in this month’s Tabletalk while finishing up the issue. Both are special weekend devotionals, and both touched on how we learn to battle the continued presence of sin in our lives.

Writing about how the devil uses clever marketing tools to get us to “buy into” sin, David Murray had this to say about how we fight these attempts to “brandwash” and “brainwash” us:

God has provided His Word to protect and purge us from the Devil’s brainwashing. The Bible helps us see the existence of diabolical brainwashing. It gives us a second sense, an ability to discern, a faculty of seeing that enables us to distinguish reality from perception.

The Bible also teaches the easiness of brainwashing. It explains and demonstrates how weak and seducible we are. That’s painful and humbling. But at least it puts us on the alert; it shows us our need of outside help.

The Bible analyzes the elements of brainwashing. It uncovers a number of the Devil’s strategies and by fearful examples. It helps us detect his first advances before he gets a foothold in our minds.

The Bible underlines the evil of spiritual brainwashing. We don’t just risk losing a few dollars as a result of succumbing to a marketing technique. We risk losing our own souls. The stakes could not be higher.

The Bible shows the way of escape from the Devil’s brainwashing. When we hear the world’s cry, ‘Conform! Conform! Conform!’ we turn to our Bibles and read not only ‘do not be conformed’ but also ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind’ (Rom.12:2). In fact, if we read the Bible with faith and prayer, our minds will be so renewed that we can eventually say with the Apostle Paul: ‘We have the mind of Christ’ (I Cor.2:!6).


And then in his weekend devotional for this past weekend, Mark E. Ross wrote about fighting sin with singing, i.e., singing the song of David in Psalm 40:

Recurring sins and the problems they bring, as well as problems of unknown origin that others might cause us, seem to mock the newness of our life in Christ. We hear the exclamation of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17: ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ Yet too often we find ourselves with Paul in Romans 7:19: ‘For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.’ We cry out: ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (v.24).

It is right here that we must join with David in Psalm 40. Where did he go when he found himself once again assailed by foes without and tormented by sins within? He cried out to the Lord. Looking back, he recalled the great deliverances of the past, singing of them (vv.1-10). Set in poetry and supported by music, the memory of what God had done was preserved in his heart and mind. It provided a foundation on which he could face the problems of the present and deal with the uncertainties of the future.

“Reading between the Lines: Rare Books from the Hope College Collection”

Exhibition: “Reading between the Lines: Rare Books from the Hope College Collection” | Hope College.

Here’s an excellent opportunity for those in West Michigan to view some rare books and learn about the history and production of books. Hope College in Holland, MI is having a month-long exhibit at its DePree gallery titled “Reading Between the Lines”. The exhibit opened last Friday and runs through March 23. I also notice a special presentation by the curator this coming Friday afternoon (Can you guess where I might be?). Besides, this is a Dutch deal – no cost whatsoever! Here are further details from Hope’s “events” page:

Titled “Reading between the Lines: the History and Production of Books Highlighted by the Hope College Rare Book Collection,” the exhibition will open on Friday, Feb. 24, and continue through Friday, March 23.  Related activities on Friday, March 2, will include a curators’ talk from 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. followed by a reception in the gallery.

The public is invited to all of the exhibition events.  Admission is free.

“Reading between the Lines” features rare books dating from the 15th through 20th centuries, and reflects on the art and technique of printing across time as well as on the origins and roles of the pieces.  The exhibition was curated and designed by Hope students participating in the “Special Projects in Art History” class taught in the fall semester by Dr. Anne Heath-Wiersma, who is an assistant professor of art and director of the De Pree gallery.

The approximately 40 works in the De Pree gallery exhibition have been drawn from the 1,400 in the college’s Rare Book Collection, which is housed in the Van Wylen Library.  The library’s collection contains a mix of books related to art, history, literature, mathematics, science and theology.

Published in: on February 27, 2012 at 11:55 AM  Leave a Comment  

PR Psalm Choir: Psalm 65, Psalter #171 Video

For our music meditation on Psalm 65 today, I am indebted again to Josh Hoekstra, director of the PR Psalm Choir, who put together a new video for us on this psalm, using beautiful images and the music of the PR Psalm Choir singing #171 from the 1912 Psalter, the songbook  used for public worship in the PRC. I have also linked to this video on the PRC website at this place (scroll down until you get to #171). Click on the video below and enjoy private and family worship through this means.



These are the full lyrics to Psalter # 171, based on Psalm 65:

171.  God in Nature.   Psalm 65.  7s and 6s. (3 stanzas)

1. Thy might sets fast the mountains;
Strength girds Thee evermore
To calm the raging peoples
And still the ocean’s roar.
Thy majesty and greatness
Are through all lands confessed,
And joy on earth Thou sendest
Afar, from east to west.

2. To bless the earth Thou sendest
From Thy abundant store
The waters of the springtime,
Enriching it once more.
The seed by Thee provided
Is sown o’er hill and plain,
And Thou with gentle showers
Dost bless the springing grain.

3. The year with good Thou crownest,
The earth Thy mercy fills,
The wilderness is fruitful,
And joyful are the hills;
With corn the vales are covered,
The flocks in pastures graze;
All nature joins in singing
A joyful song of praise.


And since we are taking a closer look at the 1912 Psalter during this centennial year, I found this information on the cyberhymnal.org website about the composer and writer of #171, George James Webb (1803-1887):

Webb be­gan his ca­reer as an or­gan­ist in Fal­mouth, Eng­land. In 1830, he em­i­grat­ed to Bos­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts, where he played the or­gan at the Old South Church for al­most 40 years. He al­so played the or­gan and be­longed to the Bos­ton Church of the New Je­ru­sa­lem. He and Low­ell Ma­son found­ed the Bos­ton Acad­e­my of Mu­sic, as well as col­lab­o­rat­ing on their Mu­sic­al Lib­ra­ry. Webb al­so com­posed sev­er­al chor­al and or­gan works, in­clud­ing “Prel­ude in Eb” and “Post­lude in A.”

Webb’s best known tune, “Webb,” (which is the tune in our Psalter – cjt) came from a sec­u­lar song he wrote, called “’Tis Dawn, the Lark is Sing­ing”; this song was per­formed at a mus­ic­al show on a ship cross­ing the At­lan­tic Ocean.

J.Calvin on Psalm 65

For our further meditation on Psalm 65, especially the first part which is so fitting for worship, we quote these words of John Calvin on v.2, where we find great encouragement for prayer and for approaching God in worship:


With the verse which we have been now considering, that which follows stands closely connected, asserting that God hears the prayers of his people. This forms a reason why the vow should be paid to him, since God never disappoints his worshippers, but crowns their prayers with a favorable answer. Thus, what is stated last, is first in the natural order of consideration. The title here given to God carries with it a truth of great importance, That the answer of our prayers is secured by the fact, that in rejecting them he would in a certain sense deny his own nature. The Psalmist does not say, that God has heard prayer in this or that instance, but gives him the name of the hearer of prayer, as what constitutes an abiding part of his glory, so that he might as soon deny himself as shut his ear to our petitions. Could we only impress this upon our minds, that it is something peculiar to God, and inseparable from him, to hear prayer, it would inspire us with unfailing confidence. The power of helping us he can never want, so that nothing can stand in the way of a successful issue of our supplications. What follows in the verse is also well worthy of our attention, that all flesh shall come unto God. None could venture into his presence without a persuasion of his being open to entreaty; but when he anticipates our fears, and comes forward declaring that prayer is never offered to him in vain, the door is thrown wide for the admission of all. The hypocrite and the ungodly, who pray under the constraint of present necessity, are not heard; for they cannot be said to come to God, when they have no faith founded upon his word, but a mere vague expectation of a chance issue. Before we can approach God acceptably in prayer, it is necessary that his promises should be made known to us, without which we can have no access to him, as is evident from the words of the apostle Paul, (Ephesians 3:12,) where he tells us, that all who would come to God must first be endued with such a faith in Christ as may animate them with confidence.


Taken from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 65

Psalm 65 is the next Psalm for us to consider as we prepare ourselves for worthy worship of our Triune God in Jesus Christ. Whereas many of the previous psalms of David have had the theme of persecution and prayer, Psalm 65 is very simply a song of praise to the Lord. In it David declares the glory and greatness of God as the God of salvation and as the God of creation and providence, who faithfully provides for all the needs of His people. Because God is such a God, David pronounces Him worthy of worship and announces the blessedness of the man who is called to draw near to this God.

As you will see, this is a familiar song, with the first part of the psalm showing us how fitting it is for us to take as we gather for worship today (including our confession of sin and unworthiness, v.3); and with the second part (vss.9ff.) reminding us of how fitting the psalm is for Thanksgiving time (when it is often used for this purpose) and for Spring planting time (Prayer Day, soon to be held). May our worship reflect the beauty and power of this praise song, as it exalts our great God and Father in Christ.

Here then is the Word of God to us in Psalm 65:


Psalm 65

Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed.

2O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.

3Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.

4Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.

5By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea:

6Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power:

7Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.

8They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.

9Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.

10Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof.

11Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.

12They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side.

13The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.

The President & The Prophet: Obama’s Unusual Encounter with Eric Metaxas – Mark Joseph

The President & The Prophet: Obama’s Unusual Encounter with Eric Metaxas – By Mark Joseph – The Corner – National Review Online.

On another religious-political note, it seems our President was recently upstaged by evangelical author Eric Metaxas at the National Prayer breakfast held on Feb.2, 2012. The National Review Online carried this story earlier this month (Feb.7, 2012) after Metaxas, author of the new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (T.Nelson, 2010) spoke openly about those who profess to be Christian but in reality deny Christ – the kind of “Christian” Metaxas himself used to be. I heard Metaxas speak at Calvin College for their January series this year, and it sounds like his speech at the prayer breakfast was very close to what we heard. He is a gifted speaker and seems to be a sincerely committed Christian, though I do not know his precise church affiliation or theology. We can applaud the boldness of his convictions as they were displayed in this speech before our President. It reminded me of the passage in Ps.119:46: “I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.”

Here is part of the story as reported by the “NR”; you may read all of it at the link above. And if you wish to watch a video of Metaxas’ speech, you may find it here. If you want to visit Metaxas’ own website for more on this speech, including some nice pictures, go here.


If the organizers of the national prayer breakfast ever want a sitting president to attend their event again, they need to expect that any leader in his right mind is going to ask — no, demand — that he be allowed to see a copy of the keynote address that is traditionally given immediately before the president’s.

That’s how devastating was the speech given by a little known historical biographer named Eric Metaxas, whose clever wit and punchy humor barely disguised a series of heat-seeking missiles that were sent, intentionally or not, in the commander-in-chief’s direction.

Obama has been under pressure for some time now to somehow prove his Christian bonafides, for it’s no secret that millions of Americans doubt his Christian faith. A Pew Poll taken in 2010 found that only one third of Americans identified him as a Christian, and even among African-Americans, 46 percent said they were unsure of what religion he practiced.

Obama came to the prayer breakfast with a tidy speech that was clearly designed to lay those doubts to rest. He spoke of his daily habit of prayer and Bible reading, his regular conversations with preachers like T. D. Jakes and Joel Hunter, and even told a story of the time he prayed over Billy Graham.

But before the president could utter a word, it was Metaxas who delivered a devastating, albeit apparently unintentional critique of such God-talk, recounting his own religious upbringing which he described as culturally Christian yet simultaneously full of “phony religiosity.”

“I thought I was a Christian. I guess I was lost,” he matter-of-factly stated.

Standing no more than five feet from Obama whose binder had a speech chock full of quotes from the Good Book, Metaxas said of Jesus:

“When he was tempted in the desert, who was the one throwing Bible verses at him? Satan. That is a perfect picture of dead religion. Using the words of God to do the opposite of what God does. It’s grotesque when you think about it. It’s demonic.”

“Keep in mind that when someone says ‘I am a Christian’ it may mean absolutely nothing,” Metaxas added for good measure, in case anybody missed his point.

The eerie feeling that Metaxas was answering Obama on a speech he had yet to give continued, as he spoke about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the Christian religion. Moments after Metaxas finished his speech and sat down, Obama took great pains to describe the other great religions of the world as mirroring his own Christian faith.

“I believe in God’s command to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’” Obama noted. “I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and every set of beliefs — from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writings of Plato.”

Translation: Christianity is great and so are the other major religions, which essentially teach the same stuff.