Comfort in Life and Death

As you have noticed, I have been absent from these “pages” for a week. That was due to circumstances surrounding care for our ailing mother, whom God delivered out of this vale of tears and shadow of death and ushered into everlasting glory this past Monday morning.

A private family funeral and committal service was held yesterday morning and a public memorial service last evening, both in dad and mom’s home church, Hope PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

moms-obituary-2017

Watching one’s mother die is one of the hardest experiences in life but, when she is in the Lord and has the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ in her heart, it is one of the most precious experiences in life. We praise God for His mercy to our dear mother, and for His sustaining, comforting grace to us as a family.

Today’s “Grace Gems” devotional was timely and comforting, as this is the way mom always taught us to live – one day at a time, without fear or worry for the next. I pray it comforts your heart as it did mine, whatever your circumstance may be today.

One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life!

(J.R. Miller)

“As your days–so shall your strength be!” Deuteronomy 33:25

One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life
, is to live one day at a time. Really, we never have anything to do any day–but the bit of God’s will for that day. If we do that well–we have absolutely nothing else to do.

Time is given to us in days. It was so from the beginning. This breaking up of time into little daily portions means a great deal more than we are accustomed to think. For one thing, it illustrates the gentleness and goodness of God. It would have made life intolerably burdensome if a year, instead of a day–had been the unit of division. It would have been hard to carry a heavy load, to endure a great sorrow, or to keep on at a hard duty–for such a long stretch of time. How dreary our common task-work would be–if there were no breaks in it, if we had to keep our hand to the plough for a whole year! We never could go on with our struggles, our battles, our suffering–if night did not mercifully settle down with its darkness, and bid us rest and renew our strength.

We do not understand how great a mercy there is for us in the briefness of our short days. If they were even twice as long as they are–life would be intolerable! Many a time when the sun goes down–we feel that we could scarcely have gone another step. We would have fainted in defeat–if the summons to rest had not come just when it did.

We see the graciousness of the divine thoughtfulness in giving us time in periods of little days, which we can easily get through with–and not in great years, in which we would faint and fall by the way. It makes it possible for us to go on through all the long years and not to be overwrought, for we never have given to us at any one time–more than we can do between the morning and the evening.

If we learn well the lesson of living just one day at a time, without anxiety for either yesterday or tomorrow, we shall have found one of the great secrets of Christian peace. That is the way God teaches us to live. That is the lesson both of the Bible and of nature. If we learn it, it will cure us of all anxiety; it will save us from all feverish haste; it will enable us to live sweetly in any experience.

Is God unfair to save sinners only through Jesus? – August “Tabletalk”

TT-August-2017The August issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine) has as its theme, “Giving An Answer,” focusing on the Christians’ calling to be faithful witnesses to and apologists of the gospel of our Lord based on 1 Peter 3:15.

I read a couple more of the featured articles yesterday before worship services, including James N. Anderson’s “Is There Only One Way of Salvation?” Part of his defense of the gospel of exclusive salvation through Christ alone involves answering the objection that God is unfair not to save sincere followers of other religions.

I appreciated his great answer to this issue (which included the truth that because salvation is by grace alone God is under no obligation to save anyone) and post part of it here, so that you too may have a good defense of salvation in Jesus only.

The unfairness objection also reflects flawed assumptions about who gets to define salvation. Surely, it is up to our Creator – not us – to diagnose our problem and prescribe a remedy for it. The pluralist treats salvation as if it were like a hair treatment: you should be able to choose your color, your style, and so on, all according to your own preferences. Whatever works for you.

But what if salvation is more like a medical treatment for a fatal disease? If there is only one medication that can actually cure the illness, it would be extremely foolish to advocate ‘medical pluralism’ – a have-it-your-way approach to treatment – and it would be bizarre to accuse your doctor of unfairness for prescribing the only remedy that works.

And so Anderson makes the application to salvation from sin:

The point should be obvious: the prescription must fit the diagnosis. If the basic human problem is as the Bible describes it – that we’re sinners standing under the judgment of God, unable even to begin to make an adequate atonement for our sins – then only Christianity presents a solution that adequately addresses the problem. No other religion offers a perfect mediator between God and man who removes the enmity between us and our Creator by bearing the penalty for our sins in our place (Rom.5:6-11; 2 Cor.5:18-21; I Tim.2:5-6) [p.17].

Do we truly believe that? And are we, then, prepared to “give an answer” to those who may ask us about our precious Savior?

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of the Holy Spirit

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016One of the books we are making our way through this year of remembering the Reformation (500th anniversary!) is Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016).

Each chapter touches on a significant doctrine rediscovered by the Reformers, showing why the return to that particular truth was important for that time and why it is still important for the church today. I have been pleased with and profited by each chapter so far.

The next chapter I read last night is Chapter 7, which treats the Reformation’s rediscovered doctrine of the Holy Spirit under the title, “The Spirit: Can We Truly Know God?” With ample quotes from the magisterial Reformers, the authors show just how significant the truth concerning the Third Person of the Holy Trinity was for that time – and still is.

Here is just a sample of what they say:

Deep heart metamorphosis instead of superficial behavioral change, personal communion with God instead of abstract blessing, and joy-inducing assurance: these were some of the vital benefits of the Reformers’ theology of the Holy Spirit.

But in fact the Reformers’ view of the Spirit really permeated everything they fought for. If he is the giver of life, then salvation must be by grace alone. If he, the Spirit of adoption, freely unites to Christ, salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone – and must be about knowing God with the security of the Son. In fact Calvin showed that the Spirit even keeps us from placing any other authority over that of Scripture, so protecting the principle of Scripture alone. We believe Scripture, he argued, not finally because the church tells us to or because intelligent men persuade us that we can, but because the Spirit opens our eyes and witnesses to us that Scripture is indeed God’s own Word.

Then after quoting Calvin on that point, the authors state this:

The fact that the Spirit is found in every doctrine the Reformers fought for should not be surprising. All the life-giving truths of the Reformation are life-giving because they are to do with him, the giver of life. [pp.140-41]

One more quotation I must share is this little gem from William Tyndale about the Spirit and the fruit He produces in believers – appropriate for the summer season:

Where the Spirit is, there it is always summer, and there are always good fruits, that is to say, good works.

*Nota bene: This book is still available for review if there are interested parties.

Your Mind and the Quest for Holiness – J. Stott

mind-matters-stottThere is, however, a second kind of mental discipline to which we are summoned in the New Testament. We are to consider not only what we should be but what by God’s grace we already are. We are constantly to recall what God has done for us and say to ourselves: ‘God has united me with Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus obliterated my old life and given me an entirely new life in Christ. He has adopted me into his family and made me his child. He has put his Holy Spirit within me and so made my body his temple. He has also made me his heir and promised me an eternal destiny with him in heaven. This is what he has done for me and in me. This is what I am in Christ.’

Paul keeps urging us to call these things to mind. ‘I want you to know,’ he writes. ‘I don’t want you to be ignorant.’ And some ten times in his letters to the Romans and Corinthians he utters his incredulous question, ‘Don’t you know?’ Don’t you know that by being baptized into Christ you were baptized into his death? Don’t you know that you were the slaves of the one to whom you have yielded yourselves in obedience? Don’t you know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ?

The apostle’s intention in this battery of questions is not just to make us feel ashamed of our ignorance. It is rather to prevail upon us to recall these great truths about ourselves, which in fact we know very well, and to talk to ourselves about them until their truth grips our mind and molds our character. This is not the self-confidence of Norman Vincent Peale. Peale’s way is to get us to pretend we are other than we are. Paul’s way is to remind us what we truly are, because God has made us that way in Christ.

Taken from Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (Inter-Varsity Press, 1972) by John R. W. Stott. Specifically, this is drawn from Chap.3, “The Mind in the Christian Life” and the section “The Quest for Holiness,” where Stott points us to the significant role of the Christian’s mind in his sanctification (pp.41-42).

Who Speaks in the Psalms? – R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017I am enjoying reading through the brief but packed chapters of W. Robert Godfrey’s new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017).

In chapter 5 he asks and answers the question, Who are the speakers in the Psalms? In other words, who are the subjects of these powerful, passionate songs and poems?

This is how he answers, in short form:

  1. David the king – the preeminent psalmist, as the “sweet psalmist of Israel”
  2. Israel as the people of God – David not only speaks to them but for them.
  3. Christians – the NT Israel of God, the church.
  4. Jesus the King – in whom Israel’s kingship and this songbook is fulfilled

It is that last point that Godfrey takes pains to demonstrate, from Jesus’ own words and the gospel records, as well as from the NT epistles, especially Hebrews.

Here is how he states it at the beginning of that section:

We should conclude that the Psalms are not only for the king, for Israel, and for the church, but that all the Psalms are also the songs of our great King, Jesus the Christ. David’s kingship and kingdom pointed forward to the coming of Christ and are fulfilled in Him. Jesus Himself declared that the Psalms are about Him: ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’ (Luke 24:44). Throughout our study, we will see over and over again how Christ fills and fulfills the Psalter [p.23].

A bit further in this chapter, after showing how the NT book of Hebrews teaches the truth of this, the author says,

The example of the book of Hebrews encourages us to see all the Psalms as the words of Jesus, both as He is the divine King and Savior of His people and as He is their human king and representative. Here is the way we must read the Psalms. Jesus’ connection to and love of the Psalter should surely inspire ours.

This approach does not separate the Psalms from their origin in the history of Israel or from the experience of God’s people. Rather, it reminds us that all of Israel’s history pointed to and is fulfilled in Christ and that all of the experiences of God’s people are taken up and sanctified in Christ. Israel’s history is our history as the people of God. As the people of God, we can sing the Psalms and enter into every element of them because we are in Christ [pp.27-28].

Regeneration: God’s Sovereign Act – D. Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I continue to make my way through is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011). I had put it aside for a few months to read some other things, but returned to it yesterday to read a couple more chapters from Section 3 on God’s way of salvation.

Phillips has back-to-back chapters on justification and regeneration as the ways in which God deals with our sin problem – the guilt of it and the filth of it, respectively. Both are good chapters, laying out the Scripture’s teaching on these two aspects of God’s saving work.

Today I quote from the chapter on regeneration, what he calls the “second towering truth – born from above (“How God deals with our bad nature”). In that connection he proves the plain biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty in this work, in the face of what much of modern Evangelicalism teaches about the relation between regeneration and faith:

Though I realize this knocks heads with a lot of evangelicals’ notions (including the view I myself cherished for many years), I do now know any other honest way of handling John 1:12-13: ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ There we have the certain fact that all who are born again believe in Jesus Christ. But their new birth is expressly traced – not to anything they had inherited from their parents, nor to any exercise of their own will or any decision they made, but to the kingly grace and work of God.They believed savingly in Jesus because God had given them new birth before their embrace of Christ.

Later in this chapter, after pointing to other Scriptures that prove this proper relation, Phillips concludes with this:

So which the chicken, which the egg? [that is, which is first, faith or regeneration] Because I see all of Scripture (and these specific passages among others) giving God all the glory, and tracing regeneration to God’s action preceding our faith, it does not shock me to find that the Bible teaches that regeneration precedes and necessarily provokes saving faith.

To which we give our hearty “Amen”!

Gospel Truth: Justification as Imputation – D. J. Engelsma

gospel-truth-justification-DJE-2017In chapter eight of his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes plain that the saving act of God in justification involves imputation. He explains:

Justification is imputation. It is the divine act of imputing, or reckoning, the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the guilty but elect sinner. To the account of the elect sinner, God imputes the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. This righteousness consists of Jesus’ lifelong obedience to the will of God and of his atoning suffering and death. The believing sinner experiences this imputation as the forgiveness of his sins – the lifting of sin’s guilt, which guilt exposes the sinner to God’s punishment of sins – and as the sinner’s standing before God the judge as one who has fully accomplished all that the law of God demands of him – the possession of perfect obedience to the ten commandments of the law of God.

But that is not all that the believer experiences through this gracious act of God:

Removed is all shame, the deep shame of being a sinner. Bestowed is honor, the genuine honor of being a righteous man or woman.

Gone is fear, the worst of all fears, namely, being an object of the wrath and curse of God and therefore facing the certain punishment of eternal damnation in hell. Present, by justification, is confidence, the all-important confidence of being the object of God’s favor, ending in eternal life and glory in body and soul in the day of Jesus Christ [pp.108-109].

Later in that chapter Engelsma warns about the danger of corrupting this central gospel truth of justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness:

Confusion of sanctification with justification, confusion of God’s work of imparting obedience with his act of imputing righteousness, is necessarily corruption of the gospel of grace. This confusion is not harmless. It prevents the publican from going down to his home justified. It is attempted robbery of the people of God of their joy and peace. It detracts from the obedience of Jesus Christ as the complete righteousness of the believing sinner, as though the obedience of the sinner must be added to the obedience of Jesus for the sinner’s righteousness with God [pp.112-13].

In the end this is the issue:

In the saving act of justification, it is all or nothing. Either Jesus’ obedient life and atoning death are all of the sinner’s righteousness with God (by justification), or if Jesus’ obedience must be complemented by so much as one small work of the sinner himself (as an infused righteousness), Jesus’ obedience is of no account for the sinner’s justification whatsoever [p.113].

What Are the Themes of the Psalter? R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017In the fourth chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), author W. Robert Godfrey addresses the themes of the OT book of Psalms.

In “Recurring Themes in the Psalms” he points out that “a great aid to our study of the Psalms is recognizing the major themes that occur over and over again in the Psalter. Certain basic themes unite the Psalms and underscore essential truths about God and His care for His people” (p.16).

From there he seeks to answer the question, What is the great theme that dominates the Psalter? Here is his answer:

John Calvin in his five-volume commentary on the book of Psalms suggested that the great theme of the Psalter is the providence of God, specifically God’s preservation of His own. Hesitant as I am to try to improve on Calvin, I would expand on his thought by saying that the great theme of the Psalter is God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous. God is always good in ways completely compatible with His holiness. And in His goodness, He never fails in His love and care for those who belong to Him [p.16].

And what about the personal, subjective side to this grand theme? What about the response of these righteous ones who are so loved and cared for by the good God? This is what Godfrey adds:

As this truth of God’s goodness and love is celebrated throughout the Psalter, the regular response of God’s people is clear: they praise Him. When we really think about who God is and what He does for us, the only possible reaction is praise. Indeed, the book of Psalms derives its Hebrew name, the Book of Praises, from this principal reaction – praise – to the principal theme – God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous [pp.16-17].

Do you agree with the author? Is this the central message you find in the precious book of God’s Word? And if you do, do you and I also response with praise – personal and private, as well as corporate and public?

Today, in the house of our great and glorious, good and loving Father we have the opportunity again to see and hear this theme, and to respond in thankful praise. Shall we do this? Let us. For our God is worthy.

The Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]

“The Benefit of Christ” – The Most Influential Book You Have Never Read – S. Carr

In this year of noting and celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we may well judge that nothing significant came out of Italy for the Protestant cause. We might think that, with Italy being the bastion of Roman Catholicism, no Reformers arose and no reforming work was carried on. But this would be a mistake and would short-change the work of God’s mighty grace in His church, also in this Catholic stronghold. Shall we forget men such as Peter Martyr Vermigli and Bernardino Ochino?

As noted author (especially of children’s literature) Simonetta Carr points out in this brief article posted on the “Place for Truth” website (under “Cloud of Witnesses”), there was another influential Italian man – Benedetto da Mantova (1495-1556), “an obscure Benedictine monk,” who penned a very significant book for that time – perhaps “the most influential book you have never read,” or even heard of.

Listen to what Carr has to say about this man and his book:

It was 1543. North of the Alps, Protestant reformers were busy publishing books. In Rome, the papacy was busy banning them. Still, the publishers in Venice, a proudly independent republic with a reputation of opposition to the pope, were persistent. That year’s best-seller was an Italian essay by a characteristically long name: Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesù Cristo crocifisso verso i cristiani (Most useful treatise on the benefit of Jesus Christ crucified for Christians). It was called, for short, IlBeneficio di Cristo (The Benefit of Christ).

A Much Hated Best-Seller

According to the Italian theologian Pier Paolo Vergerio (1498-1565), the book sold 40,000 copies in six years in Venice alone – an impressive number at that time. It was an immediate success, especially among the group of Italian reformers – including high-ranking nobles and cardinals – who had been unsuccessfully trying to fight Rome’s corruption and promote a return to the original Scriptures (ad fontes). In this 70-page treatise, they found a concise explanation of important doctrines on which the church had not yet reached an official consensus, such as justification by faith alone.

Want to know more about Benedetto and his banned book? Read on at the link below. Or read The Benefit of Christ yourself at this link.

And marvel at and celebrate what God worked through this minor Italian reformer. Ah, the power of the pen – and the truth of the gospel!

Source: The Benefit of Christ – The Most Influential Book You Have Never Read – Place for Truth