Protestant Creeds and Confessions – Dr. Ryan Reeves

The April 2017 issue of Tabletalk covers the 17th century of church history, as noted at the beginning of this month. The second featured article, which I read yesterday, focuses on the many Protestant creeds and confessions that were composed during this period. Dr. Ryan Reeves (cf. information below) writes about the various creeds written within Lutheranism, the Reformed camp (including Dordt), and Presbyterianism (especially the Westminster Confessions).

There is plenty of edifying material here for you to read, if you wish to “brush up” on your confessional church history. I give you a portion of the section treating the Reformed creeds. Find the complete article at the link below.

REFORMED CONFESSIONS PROLIFERATE

The Reformed tradition was equally committed to the cause of confessionalization. Depending on how wide a net we cast, there were roughly forty to fifty Reformed (or Reformed-influenced) confessions written between 1520 and 1650—by far the most of any Protestant tradition. In 1523, almost immediately as the Reformed tradition began, Huldrych Zwingli drew up the Sixty-Seven Articles in order to provide an articulation of the points at stake in Zurich. This was followed by the Ten Theses of Berne (1528), the First Confession of Basel (1534), and several others as cities began to adopt the Reformed perspective. Others would follow in other countries, with the French Confession of Faith (1559) and the Scots Confession (1560).

The reason for so many Reformed confessions comes as a result of their context. The Reformed faith was always led by a band of brothers (despite the modern impression that John Calvin alone created Reformed orthodoxy). But the Reformed tradition was born in several cities and countries almost at once. From 1520 onward, city after city embraced the Reformation, often piecemeal, and quite a few even before reform came to Geneva. Therefore, there was no singular voice like Luther’s to shape the foundational documents of Reformed confessions.

As a result, church after church, community after community spent a sizable portion of their energy codifying a confession for their local churches. This is why most Reformed confessions identify with the city of their origin: this was the confession for this city, this church, not for all Reformed churches to embrace as one.

Still, as historians and theologians point out, there is a harmonization of these Reformed confessions that unites their diverse voices into a singular Reformed voice. Their differences are not so great that we cannot see their unity on issues of salvation, worship, and practice. Today, many churches recognize a basic harmony of what is called the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—a unity not of authorship but of witness to Reformed principles.

This is not to say that all Reformed confessions are identical. As the Reformed faith spread from the Swiss cantons to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and then to England and Scotland, there were noticeable differences of emphasis or application. These confessional identities formed the initial steps that would give rise to the diversity of Reformed denominations and communities as we know it today.

Dr. Ryan Reeves is assistant professor of historical theology and assistant dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Fla.

Source: Protestant Creeds and Confessions by Ryan Reeves

April Tabletalk: The Church in the Seventeenth Century

With the start of a new month, we take time to introduce you to the April 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

The April issue continues Tabletalk’s series on church history, focusing this time on the seventeenth century. Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to this theme with his editorial “Every Thought Captive.” In part, these are his comments on this significant period of church history:

We rightly celebrate the lives and ministries of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers whom the Lord used to help bring the church back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Yet the Reformation did not end with the passing of the sixteenth century. The gospel seed planted by the fifteenth-century forerunners of the Reformation was watered and tended by the Reformers in the sixteenth century. However, it is in the seventeenth century that we begin to see the full flowering of Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice. During the seventeenth century, so much of what it means to be Protestant and Reformed was codified in the creeds and confessions that we affirm and confess today.

Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the confessional, Reformed, Protestant church. The faithful men and women of the seventeenth century continued the work of the sixteenth-century Reformers by bringing every doctrine, every practice, and every thought captive to the Word of God. May they serve as a model to us as we stand on their shoulders, holding firmly to the divinely revealed truths they faithfully proclaimed for the sake of Christ’s church, kingdom, and glory.

Dr. Nick Needham has the opening article, which is an overview of the entire period and an important one to read to get the “big picture” of what God was doing in His church during this age.

We link the complete article below but give you a section of it here – that on the confessionalism of this century. Here is what Needham has to say about this aspect of the history of the 17th century:

CONFESSIONALISM

For the English-speaking world, the seventeenth century bequeathed another legacy: the documents of the Westminster Assembly, which met intermittently from 1643 to 1653. Among its products are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These were the finest fruits of British Reformed theology at that time, and they have molded the thinking and piety of Reformed English speakers ever since.

Nor has their influence been confined to Presbyterians. When English Congregationalists adopted their own confession of faith (the Savoy Declaration) in 1658, it was a slightly modified version of the Westminster Confession. Again, when English Reformed Baptists in 1689 set forth their confession it was likewise Westminster slightly modified. The Baptists even went so far as to attach a preface stating they had deliberately embraced Westminster as an act of Reformed ecumenism. To this day, these confessions live on.

What he does not mention but which others do in this issue is the work of the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians and the adopting of the Canons of Dordt, another significant confession of this period.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the daily devotions continue with the Reformation doctrines theme, this month on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone – sola gratia!

Source: Overview of the Seventeenth Century by Nicholas Needham

Rejoicing Always – H.B. Charles Jr.

tt-feb-2017As we end the month of February, we want to take a closing look at this month’s issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

This month, you may remember, the theme is “Joy,” with articles dealing with this subject from a variety of viewpoints (enjoying God, joy in our work, true joy vs. superficial joy, etc.).

One of the articles I read today before worship services is that linked below – “Rejoice Always” – by Rev. H.B. Charles, Jr. In it Charles points us to that familiar, short verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, where we are called to “rejoice always.” As he explains what this means for the Christian, Charles shows how difficult this calling is. But he also shows us the only way it can be obeyed.

This is part of what he has to say:

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul exhorts the saints to rejoice. It is a command, which makes it clear that joy is more than happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to favorable, pleasant, or rewarding circumstances. You cannot compel a person to be happy. It’s based on what happens to a person. But Christians are commanded by God to rejoice. This command to rejoice is in the present tense. It means “keep on rejoicing.” This makes 1 Thessalonians 5:16 a hard command. This divine mandate would be easier to swallow if it simply directed us to rejoice. Indeed, there are many times, reasons, and occasions that call for rejoicing. But the command is to rejoice always, not only sometimes. How does the Christian rejoice always?

And this is the beautiful answer he gives to that question:

First Thessalonians 5:16–18 features what have been called “the standing orders of the gospel.” These exhortations apply to all Christians in every place and every situation. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” These commands may be familiar. But the justification for the commands is often overlooked: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do we want to know God’s will for us in any situation? It is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. We are in spiritual rebellion if we are not joyful, prayerful, and thankful. God’s will for our lives is about more than the circumstances we face. It is about how we respond to those circumstances.

It is the will of God for us to rejoice always. But obedience to this command is not accomplished by an act of the will. It is only accomplished by faith in Christ. The believer’s unceasing rejoicing is the will of God for us “in Christ Jesus.” This is the key to the life of rejoicing. Unsaved people do not rejoice in God, pray to God, or give thanks to God. Religious people rejoice sometimes, pray when they feel like it, and give thanks when things are going well. But Christians rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is not the believer’s response because we are impervious to life’s dangers, toils, and snares. It is our response to life because we are in Christ Jesus.

That is good food for thought as we seek to live out God’s will for our lives in this coming week. Shall we not seek to “rejoice always,” no matter what our circumstances may be?

Find the rest of Charles’ article at the Ligonier link below.

Source: Rejoice Always by H.B. Charles Jr.

February “Tabletalk”: Christian Joy

tt-feb-2017With the beginning of a new month we need to introduce you to the February 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

This month the theme is simply “Joy,” with various articles dealing with “Joy in Our Work,” “Joy in Community,” “Future Joy,” and “Our Groaning Joy,” to name a few.

Editor Burk Parsons sets the tone for this issue with his introductory article “Joy in Christ Alone.” Here are a few of his thoughts on this vital subject:

Christianity is a religion of joy. Real joy comes from God, who has invaded us, conquered us, and liberated us from eternal death and sadness—who has given us hope and joy because He has poured out His love within our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us (Rom. 5:5). Joy comes from God, not from within. When we look within, we just get sad. We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ. Without Christ, joy is not only hard to find, it’s impossible to find. The world desperately seeks joy, but in all the wrong places. However, our joy comes because Christ sought us, found us, and keeps us. We cannot have joy apart from Christ, because it doesn’t exist. Joy is not something we can conjure up.

The first featured article is by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and titled “To Enjoy Him Forever,” which you may recognize as coming from the first Q&A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. As Ferguson goes on to show, this Catechism also directs the child of God to the means God has appointed for finding joy in Him.

For this Lord’s day night I would direct you to his first two – joy in salvation and joy in revelation. Here are Ferguson’s explanations of how these lead to enjoying God:

Joy in Salvation

Enjoying God means relishing the salvation He gives us in Jesus Christ. “I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). God takes joy in our salvation (Luke 15:6–7, 9–10, 32). So should we. Here, Ephesians 1:3–14 provides a masterly delineation of this salvation in Christ. It is a gospel bath in which we should often luxuriate, rungs on a ladder we should frequently climb, in order to experience the joy of the Lord as our strength (Neh. 8:10). While we are commanded to have joy, the resources to do so are outside of ourselves, known only through union with Christ.

Joy in Revelation

Joy issues from devouring inscripturated revelation. Psalm 119 bears repeated witness to this. The psalmist “delights” in God’s testimonies “as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:14; see also vv. 35, 47, 70, 77, 103, 162, 174). Think of Jesus’ words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Does He mean He will find His joy in us, so that our joy may be full, or that His joy will be in us so that our joy may be full? Both, surely, are true. We find full joy in the Lord only when we know He finds His joy in us. The pathway to joy, then, is to give ourselves maximum exposure to His Word and to let it dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). It is joy-food for the joy-hungry soul.

Once again it is evident that there is much profitable reading for the mind and soul in the latest Tabletalk. Would you like to learn more about Christian joy – the only joy there is? Then dig in to these articles! Follow the Ligonier link below the get started.

I might also add that the daily devotions this year are on Reformation themes, in connection with the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation. January’s devotions were on the doctrine of God, while February’s cover the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Source: Tabletalk: The Devotional Magazine of Ligonier Ministries

Note to Self: Read (God’s Word)

Note-to-self-ThornAs a good follow-up to yesterday’s post on the importance of daily devotions, we post this final “note to self”, titled “read”, as in “read your Bible.”

Start by reading and meditating on Psalm 119:129-135.

Dear Self,

You need to stop looking at Scripture merely as a text to dissect and start reading it as God’s Word given to you – today. Do you see how the psalmist thinks about God’s Word? For him, Scripture is a wonder that imparts wisdom, and he is thirsty for it every day. Your default is to read to know, or to study to learn in less than practical, experiential ways. You are often interested in getting into the Word, but more as an isolated discipline than the pursuit of God, and this robs you of the purpose of Scripture.

…For all your longing for God to speak, to make his will plain and his plan clear, you should be daily immersed in God’s Word. That is his voice, his will, and his plan made known to you. Consider these words, ‘Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.’ God’s face shines on you when you are learning – experientially – his Word. This means his favor and blessing are upon you, and that you have sweet communion with him through Scripture, but only when you receive it for what it is: God’s life-giving Word meant to be believed, received, and obeyed – not only dissected.

Taken from Chap.45 “Read” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 129-30.

Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time – D. Whitney

BiblestudypicIt’s a new year! Time to establish goals, resolve to get them accomplished, and dig in with renewed zeal. Including getting your (our) spiritual disciplines in order, such as devotions. Yes, family or couple devotions, but personal devotions too.

Then, again, you probably don’t need to bother with that. Why put all that stress on yourself to spend time with the Lord in His Word and prayer? You are busy and I am busy; we can’t be in two places at one time; the Lord understands that. And besides, we are already quite mature in our faith. We know the Bible pretty well and we already pray regularly with family and church. We hear some fairly meaty sermons on Sunday each week; that’s food for the week. And isn’t it legalistic to think that if I don’t have my quiet time with the Lord I should feel guilty? This year I’m going to just relax when it comes to my spiritual life. But, man, am I going to hit the gym and get this body in shape!

That’s the tongue-in-cheek approach Donald Whitney takes in his article for the rubric “Heart Aflame” in the January 2017 Tabletalk. Which is why it has the title it does: “Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time.” But to each of these poor reasons to pass on a regular devotional time, Whitney gives a solid biblical answer. And that is why you ought to read his article. So that you can determine to have a quiet time on a regular basis in 2017.

I needed this article, and I trust you do too. Read it and be motivated to start the new year with the godly resolve to be in the Word and in prayer daily.

Here is how he ends his article:

Third, even until death, the Apostle Paul wanted to saturate his soul in Scripture. In the last inspired letter he wrote, Paul pleaded with Timothy, “When you come, bring . . . the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). These writings almost certainly included a copy of the Old Testament. If a Christian as spiritually mature as the Apostle Paul required the regular intake of Scripture until death, dare we ever think we’ve “outgrown” the need for it?

Fourth, we are called to imitate spiritual heroes. In Hebrews 13:7, God commands us to remember, consider, and imitate Christian leaders of the past. We’re told, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” The consensus of the spiritual giants of Christian history that testifies to the indispensability of a believer’s devotional life should not be forgotten nor their example forsaken.

Fifth, rightly motivated devotional habits are never legalistic. Neither the strictest obedience to the Word of God nor the most zealous pursuit of holiness is ever legalistic if one’s motives are right. The measurement of legalism is not the consistency of one’s devotional practices but the heart’s reason for doing them.

Finally, you’ll likely never be less busy. If you can’t make time to meet God through the Bible and prayer now, it’s very unlikely you will when—if—life does slow down.

Significant changes in your life may indeed be needed. But think: How can less time with God be the answer?

 

Source: Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time by Donald Whitney

New Year’s Thoughts – Grace Gems

This meditation was posted yesterday (Jan.1, 2017) on the Grace Gems devotional website. It is drawn from “Morning Thoughts” by Octavius Winslow (1808-1878), and, as you will see, is fitting for the outset of a new year.

May God grant us a blessed 2017 of spiritual advance as we continue our journey to our everlasting home!

This year I may be in Heaven!

(Octavius Winslow, “Morning Thoughts”)

“You have not traveled this way before!” Joshua 3:4

How solemn is the reflection that each traveler to Zion is commencing a new and untrodden path!

New events in his history will transpire;
new scenes in the panorama of life will unfold;
new phases of character will develop;
new temptations will assail;
new duties will devolve;
new trials will be experienced;
new sorrows will be felt;
new friendships will be formed
new mercies will be bestowed.

How truly may it be said of the pilgrim journeying through the wilderness to his eternal home, as he stands upon the threshold of this untried period of his existence, pondering the unknown and uncertain future: “You have not traveled this way before!”

Reader! if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, you will enter upon a new stage of your journey by a renewed surrender of yourself to the Lord. You will make the cross the starting-point of a fresh setting out in the Heavenly race.

Oh, to begin the year with a broken heart for sin, beneath the cross of Immanuel–looking through that cross to the heart of a loving, forgiving Father!

Do not be anxious about the future–all that future God has provided for:
“All my times are in Your hands.”
“Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.”
“Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you.”

Let it be a year of more spiritual advance: “Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward.”
Forward in the path of duty;
forward in the path of suffering;
forward in the path of conflict;
forward in the path of labor; and
forward in the path to eternal rest and glory!

Soon will that rest be reached, and that glory appear! This new year may be the jubilee year of your soul–the year of your release. Oh spirit-stirring, ecstatic thought–this year I may be in Heaven!

Remembering (and Forgetting) God – December “Tabletalk”

tt-dec-2016Yesterday I began digging into the featured articles in the December Tabletalk (daily devotions continue on the gospel of Mark).  This month’s theme is a rare one – “Remembering God” – and judging from what I have read so far, it is another timely subject.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this theme with his article “God Never Forgets Us” (be sure to read it!).

The first main article I also read yesterday: “Forgetting God” by Dr. Benjamin Shaw (professor of Hebrew and OT at Greenville Presbyterian Seminary, SC). He deals with the counter reality in our lives, namely, that we are called so often to remember God because we so easily forget Him.

Today, I give you a portion of his article, urging you to read all of it at the Ligonier link below.

Yesterday in God’s house of prayer and worship we heard the reminder to remember our God. As we start the work week now, let us not forget Him in the ways Shaw mentions. Let the truth that the Lord never forgets us motivate us to remember Him in all we do.

It is easy for us as modern Christians to point the finger at the Israelites and take them to task for the fact that they forgot God. The complaining we see in the wilderness, the cycle of apostasy, judgment, and restoration that we see in Judges, the good king/bad king alternations that we see in 1–2 Kings—these all emphasize the incessant inability of the Israelites to heed Moses’ admonition to “take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 6:12). We get tired when we read through Jeremiah and chapter after chapter is devoted to enumerating the sins of Israel and telling of Israel’s coming judgment. We feel that we are superior to Israel, more spiritual, less likely to forget God.

But we, too, get distracted by the demands of our days, by the busyness of our times. We forget that as Moses warned that declining from the commandments of God displays a forgetting of God, the same applies to us. We tend to think that ignoring, or rather, not fully living up to one commandment of God is a small thing. But the result is not simply disobedience. It is the beginning of idolatry, of making a god in our own image, a god we can easily obey. But did Jesus not say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)? Yet, we find His commandments so easy to ignore. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32), Paul says, but we want to hold on to offenses and resentments. It feels good to bear a grudge. But that is not the way Christ teaches. To bear a grudge, to envy the gifts and graces of others, to covet the possessions of others—these are steps on the way to forgetting God.

Source: Forgetting God by Benjamin Shaw

Thanksgiving Day 2016

PilgrimThanksgivingFrom my wife and myself we extend to all of our readers a blessed and happy Thanksgiving Day greeting!

May we together give deep thanks to our God for every blessing in Christ our Lord, resting in contentment and joy in all of God’s goodness to us this day and throughout the year, and trusting Him for every need for every day.

Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5

For our reflection today we post this prayer/meditation from The Valley of Vision titled “Blessings.” I believe you will find it fitting for this Thanksgiving Day.

Thou great Three-One,
Author of all blessings I enjoy, of all I hope for,

Thou hast taught me
that neither the experience of present evils,
nor the remembrances of former sins,
nor the remonstrances of friends,
will or can affect a sinner’s heart,
except thou vouchsafe to reveal thy grace
and quicken the dead in sin
by the effectual working of thy Spirit’s power.

Thou hast shown me
that the sensible effusions of divine love
in the soul are superior to and distinct from bodily health,
and that oft-times spiritual comforts are  at their highest
when physical well-being is at its lowest.

Thou hast given me the ordinance of song as a means of grace;
Fit me to bear my part in that music ever new,
which elect angels and saints made perfect
now sing before thy throne and before the Lamb.

I bless thee for tempering every distress with joy;
too much of the former might weigh me down,
too much of the latter might puff me up;
Thou art wise to give me a taste of both.

I love thee
for giving me clusters of grapes in the wilderness,
and drops of heavenly wine
that set me longing to have my fill.

Apart from thee I quickly die,
bereft of thee I starve,
far from thee I thirst and droop;

But thou art all I need.
Let me continually grasp the promise,
‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’

And this music video from the PR Psalm Choir is also an appropriate song of thanks for our reflection.

A True Love Story – Grace Gems

Romans8-39This “Grace Gems” devotional was sent yesterday (July 16, 2016) and is fitting for our contemplation on this Lord’s Day. It contains not the fictions of human love stories, but the facts of God’s gospel love story.

The journey which our Divine Lover took

(Thomas Guthrie, 1803-1873)

The story of Christ’s redeeming love surpasses anything related in the pages of the wildest romances. These tell of a prince, who, enamored with a humble maiden, assumed a disguise. Doffing his crown and royal state for the dress of common life, he left his palace, traveled far, faced danger, and fared hard–to win the heart of a peasant’s daughter, and raise her from obscurity to the position of a queen!

Facts are more wonderful than fables. The journey which our Divine Lover took was from Heaven to earth. To win His bride, He exchanged the bosom of the eternal Father–to lie, a feeble infant, on a woman’s bosom. The Son of God left the throne of the universe, and assumed the guise of humanity–to be cradled in a feeding trough and murdered on a cross!

In His people, He found His bride deep in debt–and paid it all. Herself under sentence of death–He died in her place. A lost creature, clad in rags–He took off His own royal robes to cover her. To wash her–He shed His blood! To win her–He shed His tears! Finding her poor and miserable and naked, He endowed her with all His goods–and heir of all things. Everything that He possessed as His Father’s Son–she was to forever enjoy and share with Himself!