Blessed Are Those Who Mourn – Matt Smethurst

As we noted before, this month’s Tabletalk is devoted to the Beatitudes our Lord spoke during His ministry on earth (cf. Matt.5).

Each of these beatitudes are given a brief explanation and application in the issue, and for today we quote from the article of Matt Smethurst on the second beatitude, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

Here is in part what he has to say:

Deep Dive

Imagine awaking on the Fourth of July to a text from a friend: “Meet me for fireworks at 11 a.m.” You’d think it was a typo. Why? Because fireworks aren’t impressive in the noonday sky. The darker the sky, in fact, the more stunning the display. In the same way, the brilliance of grace must be set against the blackness of sin. As the Puritan Thomas Watson said, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

For the world, grieving sin is regressive and constricting; for the Christian, it is the pathway to joy. Imagine the implications. If Matthew 5:4 is true—if Jesus really meets repentance with comfort, not condemnation—then no longer do you need to fear being exposed. No longer do you have to present an airbrushed version of yourself to fellow redeemed sinners. No longer do you need to fear studying your heart and plumbing the depths of your disease. If exploring sin brings you to the deep end of the pool, exploring mercy will take you to the Mariana Trench. And awaiting you at the bottom of the dive is not a black hole but a solid rock.

Scarred Savior

In the final analysis, the Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from its speaker. Jesus prayed many prayers during His incarnation, but never once did He pray a prayer of confession. He didn’t have to. He mourned over many sins, but never once did He mourn over His own. He didn’t have any.

Ultimately, our comfort is anchored in the reality that Jesus doesn’t just mourn sin; He conquers it.

Source: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn by Matt Smethurst

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (6)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

So we don’t lose the “big picture”, let’s keep in front of us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-5; on this Sunday morning we consider #6 – “Do what the Bible says.”

Again, you will readily note the progression of thought. Based on what preaching is, it is good and necessary to attend weekly services where the Word of God is expounded faithfully. There, in the local body of gathered believers, we are to listen carefully to God’s message to us.

But that is not enough. We must also DO what the Word calls us to do – and I might add, BE what the Word calls us to be. We must put on the character of Christ and put on the conduct of Christ. Then, we are truly Christ-like – the purpose of the preaching with regard to ourselves.

With that in mind, Ash begins this section by pointing to and quoting two important passages of God’s Word – James 1:22 and 2 Timothy 3:16, which we reference here:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

On the basis of these passages, the author adds these pertinent comments:

We mustn’t expect sermons to entertain us. We live in a culture of entertainment; we can generally find amusement at the press of a remote control button. One reason people have stopped coming to listen to sermons is that, if they come for entertainment, they can find better entertainment elsewhere. It is rare for a sermon to rival the special effects of a Batman or a Bond…. Most preachers are bound to fail, and mistaken to try.

Nevertheless, from time to time people will come to some preachers to be entertained. Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist preach, even though John condemned Herod’s wrong marriage.

…There was a time when the people loved coming to hear Ezekiel preach; somehow it was as entertaining as listening to a popular love song [cf. Ezek.33:32]….

We see this today in the Christian sub-cultures of celebrity preachers. There are a few preachers whose style and manner is so good that we can listen to them for hours. …We might shop around churches until we find a style of preaching to suit our taste, because our aim is to be entertained, rather than to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness.

And, having said that (are we not all convicted by the reality that this pervasive culture influences us too?!), Ash concludes with this:

However, it is a great mistake to think we have it in us to obey [the Word]. On our own we cannot obey. We are slaves to sin, unable to help ourselves. We cannot even repent without God working repentance (eg: 2 Timothy 2 v 25). It is God who opens our hearts to respond to His message, and not just at the start of the Christian life (Acts 16 v 14). We need to pray for God to open our hearts week by week to His truth (pp.18-19).

May we listen up! today with that prayer on our lips.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (2)

listen-up-ashThe last few weeks we have begun to examine a short booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009) and is penned by Christopher Ash.

Once more let’s get before us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

Tonight, to help us prepare for hearing the Word of God tomorrow, let’s “listen up” as Ash instructs us in that second ingredient“Admit God knows better than you.” As you will see, also this “ingredient” has to do with the authority of the message the faithful preacher of God’s Word brings; but more than that, it also has to do with the content of that message.

…What we really want [Ash means, by nature] is for the Bible to tell us we’re ok, what we’ve done is ok, and what we believe is ok.

But it isn’t ok. It’s not at all ok. Far from coming to the Bible as a clean sheet, I come to the Bible as a thoroughly messed-up person, unable to think straight, speak right or act as I ought. That means I must expect the Bible to call me to repentance and not reassure me that I’m ok. It will never make me comfortable or complacent in my sin.

…Faithful Bible teaching will always cause offence.

…The voice of God spoken by a faithful Bible teacher will get under my skin. It will cut to the core of my being (Hebrews 4 v 12, 13). It will challenge me to ‘get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted’ in me (James 1 v 21). And I mustn’t expect to like it. Sometimes I may even feel insulted.

Concerning which the author concludes:

To listen humbly is to be realistic about this. What is more, it is to recognise that there is more than one way to evade the challenge of the Bible. The simple way is just to say: ‘The Bible is wrong. I don’t agree with it, and that’s all there is to say.’ But the more common way in Christian circles …is to find a clever way to reinterpret the Bible so that I can persuade myself that, although I must admit it looks as if it challenges me, in fact it doesn’t. This preserves my impression of piety while safeguarding my rebellion against God….

Which brings this closing point: “…To listen humbly is to admit that the Bible is right and I am wrong, that God is God and I need to change” (pp.7-8).

Will we listen humbly to the Word preached tomorrow and let it convict us that God is right about us and we are wrong?

Note to Self: Repent

Start by reading and meditating on 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Dear Self,

You will never be done with repentance – at least, not until death or Christ’s return. While it is something you should be doing frequently, it is not something you just ‘get used to.’ Repentance requires a daily intentionality. And let’s be honest; you will have more to repent of by the end of the day than you can possibly remember. So, where should you start?

…It will be helpful to think of repentance in three parts: revulsion, resolution, and repetition. Revulsion is finding something offensive or distasteful. In this case, it is seeing the heinousness of sin and pulling back from it. Sin, your sin in particular, should make you recoil. …Revulsion will come only when you see the holy, just, and good character of God in contrast to yourself. Until you understand that your sin, all of it, is a self-destructive rebellion against God that betrays your purpose and denies his worthiness, you will not experience revulsion.

Resolution is purposing to walk in righteousness, delighting in God’s law, laying off the old self, and walking in newness of life. Repentance is more than feeling sorry for what you are and have done. It is having the resolve to live for the glory and pleasure of God.

Repetition is the ongoing nature of this work. Without repetition, it is all for nothing, for as long as you continue to sin, you need to repent.If your repentance is not continual, it means, at the very least, that you are simply choosing some sins to deal with, while ignoring others.

…The deepness and consistency of your repenting will have a direct impact on the liveliness of your faith and the brightness of your confidence. This is not because you repent so well, but because in repenting you know the darkness and trouble of your own sin, and the great work of grace in Jesus that overcomes it all.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.30 “Repent” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 99-100.

Consecration and Worship – Valley of Vision

ValleyofVisionIn preparation for our Sunday worship (personal, family, and corporate) this prayer/meditation from the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Banner of Truth, c.1975) is fitting for us to consider.

It is titled “Consecration and Worship.” May it lead us to humble thoughts of ourselves and high thoughts of our glorious, blessed God.

MY GOD,

I feel it is heaven to please thee,
and to be what thou wouldst have me be.
O that I were holy as thou art holy,
pure as Christ is pure,
perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!

These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book,
and shall I break them? must I break them?
am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?

Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner,
that I grieve this blessed God,
who is infinite in goodness and grace!

O, if he would punish me for my sins,
it would not wound my heart so deep
to offend him;
But though I sin continually,
he continually repeats his kindness to me.

At times I feel I could bear any suffering,
but how can I dishonour this glorious God?
What shall I do to glorify and worship
this best of beings?

O that I could consecrate my soul and body
to his service,
without restraint, for ever!
O that I could give myself up to him,
so as never more to attempt to be my own!
or have any will or affections
that are not perfectly conformed to his will
and his love!

But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.
O may angels glorify him incessantly,
and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower
before the blessed King of heaven!

I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise;
But when I have done all I can to eternity
I shall not be able to offer more than
a small fraction of the homage
that the glorious God deserves.
Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.

 

The Gospel Solution for Our Society – Rev.K. Koole

StandardBearerThe September 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer is now out, and in it Rev. K. Koole has an editorial addressing the need our current society has (and has always had!) for the true gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

He speaks to the bitter enmity, division, and violence that are openly on display in our land, and speaks to the root problem and the only solution: man’s enmity against God and repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is how Rev. Koole addresses the problem:

One can talk about ‘loving the neighbor’ all one wants, loving even those who seem to be your enemy and returning good for evil, but for all that, one has not proposed the Biblical solution for ungodly man.  Such is not the solution that is going to resolve the enmity that permeates our society.

Why not?

Because the root of the problem in our society so filled with violence and division and with hatred and abuse of others is not the lack of love for the neighbor; rather it is rooted in our society’s hatred for God and for God’s good commandments

And when the news media begins to ask us what we think the problem is in our society and what’s the solution, before we start talking about people learning to love their neighbors in a more Christian way, we must point the questioners and reporters to God and our society’s relationship to almighty God.

We must remind those who interview us that we are living in a society that has turned its back on God, denying any truthfulness in Him, and that in a most public and arrogant way.  There is, they say, no God to whom we must answer.  So who cares one iota about His laws?

And where that spirit rules and becomes embedded into a nation’s laws, judgments will follow matter of course.

That’s the problem, the evil let loose in our society.  And our society is reaping a harvest of thorns.  When you go to war against God (and have no humility before Him), you will, matter of course, go to war against your fellow man.

So it is today.

And this is what he has to say about the only solution:

So, what is the solution?

Our answer:  as things stand now, as our society despises Jehovah God, there isn’t any!  At least not along the lines society is looking for, namely, men learning to love their neighbors as themselves and living in unity and peace.  There is only one solution in the end, namely, repentance from the sins of despising the things of God, and turning in faith in Christ Jesus.  Otherwise, all this call for love, and learning to live in love, is doomed to failure.  It’s nice talk, but it is not Biblical Christianity.

Our answer must be along those lines.

There is plenty of other good content in this issue as well. For information on subscribing to the “SB, visit the homepage linked above.

Sunday Meditation: Divine Mercies

ValleyofVisionOur Sunday worship (personal, family, and corporate) thoughts for reflection come from the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Banner of Truth, c.1975).

We have been slowly working our way through the first section titled “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and this next one is taken from there too. It is simply titled Divine Mercies.”

May it help lead us into great thoughts of God and His mercies to us in His Son, even as we confess our manifold sins to Him in humble contrition.

Divine Mercies

 THOU ETERNAL GOD,
Thine is surpassing greatness, unspeakable
goodness, super-abundant grace;
I can as soon count the sands of ocean’s ‘lip’
as number Thy favors towards me;
I know but a part, but that part exceeds all praise.
I thank Thee for personal mercies,
a measure of health, preservation of body,
comforts of house and home, sufficiency of food
and clothing,
continuance of mental powers,
my family, their mutual help and support,
the delights of domestic harmony and peace,
the seats now filled that might have been vacant,
my country, church, Bible, faith.
But, O, how I mourn my sin, ingratitude, vileness,
the days that add to my guilt,
the scenes that witness my offending tongue;
All things in heaven, earth, around, within, without,
condemn me—
the sun which sees my misdeeds,
the darkness which is light to thee,
the cruel accuser who justly charges me,
the good angels who have been provoked to leave
me,
Thy countenance which scans my secret sins,
Thy righteous law, Thy holy Word,
my sin-soiled conscience, my private and
public life,
my neighbors, myself—
all write dark things against me.
I deny them not, frame no excuse, but confess,
‘Father, I have sinned’;
Yet still I live, and fly repenting to Thy outstretched
arms;
Thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
Thou wilt not condemn me, for He died in
my stead,
Thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin,
for He leveled all,
and His beauty covers my deformities.
O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging
to His cross,
hiding in His wounds, and sheltering in His side.

Review Books – Two New Crossway Titles

Recently I received two requested review books from Crossway publishers, and today I make them available to our readers who may be interested in writing a brief review for the Standard Bearer.

"Free Grace" Theology

The first is “Free Grace” ‘Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel, written by Wayne Grudem (paper, 159 pp.). This book is a fresh look at an old error that often creeps into the church, that salvation by grace means salvation without a change of life (genuine repentance) and without demands on a person’s heart, mind, and walk (godly obedience).

In the more recent past, this error was known as the “lordship controversy,” but now it has a “new” name – “free grace theology.” It may be pointed out that this error also shows itself wherever antinomianism is promoted. As Grudem points out in his introduction, he wrote this to point out properly the nature of the gospel, true Christian assurance, and the nature of saving faith.

The publisher offers this description:

Must the gospel message include a call for people to repent of their sins? “No,” say Free Grace advocates. Is evidence of a changed life an important indication of whether a person is truly born again? “No, again,” these advocates say.

But in this book, Wayne Grudem shows how the Bible answers “Yes” to both of these questions, arguing that the Free Grace movement contradicts both historic Protestant teaching and the New Testament itself.

This important book explains the true nature of the Christian gospel and answers the question asked by so many people: “How can I know that I’m saved?”

If this book is of interest to you and you are willing to write a review on it, please contact me here or by email.

Eight Women of Faith

The second book is Eight Women of Faith, penned by Michael A. G. Haykin (paper, 160 pp.), and takes a look at eight significant women who played an important role in church history.

Crossway gives this summary:

With the majority of books about church history centering on the lives and accomplishments of men, it is easy for contemporary Christians to forget the vital role that women have played in the history of Christianity. Drawing from journal entries, personal letters, and other historical documents, historian Michael Haykin reminds Christians of women from previous generations who have helped shape the church. This book affords readers deep insights into how women such as Jane Austen, Sarah Edwards, and Anne Steele responded to challenges in society, came to embrace key doctrines, and made crucial contributions to the life of the church.

For obvious reasons, it would be nice to have a woman do the review on this book. Any interested ladies?

As always, the books are your to keep.

Save

The Prayers of J. Calvin (28)

JCalvin1On this last Sunday of July 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-seventh lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 7:5-11, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:11, “Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD”:

And he [God] adds, ‘In this house, which is called by my name,’ that is, which has been dedicated to Me; for to call God’s name on the Temple means nothing else but that the Temple was consecrated to Him, so that He was there worshiped.

When God is truly worshiped, they who seek Him find that He Himself is present by His grace and power. As then God commanded the Temple to be built for Him, that He might there be worshiped, He says His name was there called, that is, according to its first and sacred appointment.

Absurdly indeed did the Jews call on His name, for there was in them no religion, no piety: but according to God’s institution, His name was called upon the Temple, as He had consecrated it to Himself. Hence, God reminds them of the first institution, which was holy and ought to have continued inviolable: ‘Know ye not, that this place has been chosen by Me, that My name might there be invoked? Ye stand before Me in the holy place, and ye stand polluted; and though polluted, not with one kind of vices but My whole law has been violated by you and my Tables despised, yet yet stand!’

We hence see the design of the prophet: for he condemns the effrontery and frowardness of the Jews, because they thus dared to rush into God’s presence in all their pollutions (p.373).

And this is the prayer with which Calvin concludes this lecture:

Grant, Almighty God, that as Thou buildest not at this day a temple among us of wood and stones, and as the fullness of Thy Godhead dwells in Thine only-begotten Son, and as He by His power fills the whole world, and dwells in the midst of us, and even in us, – O grant, that we may not profane His sanctuary by our vices and sins, but so strive to consecrate ourselves to Thy service, that Thy name through His name may be continually glorified, until we shall at length be received into that eternal inheritance, where will appear to us openly, and face to face, that glory which we now see in the truth contained in Thy gospel. -Amen

The Prayers of J. Calvin (27)

JCalvinPic1On this last Sunday of April 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-sixth lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 6:24-7:1-4, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:1-4:

Now the object of his sermon was, to exhort them seriously to repent, if they wished God to be reconciled to them. So the Prophet shews, that God did not regard their sacrifices and external rites, and that this was not the way, as they thought, of appeasing him. For after they had celebrated the feast. every one returned home, as though they all, after having made an expiation, had God propitious to them. The Prophet shews here, that the way of worshipping God was very different, which was to reform their lives.

…God indeed esteems as nothing this external worship, except it be preceded by inward sincerity, unless integrity of life accompanies your profession.

…We hence see that external rites are here repudiated, when men seek in a false way to gain favour before God, and seek to redeem their sins by false compensations, while yet their hearts continue perverse (pp.362-63).

Calvin conclude this lecture with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we so abuse thy forbearance, that thou art constrained by our depravity to deal sharply with us, –

O grant, that we may not be also hardened against thy chastisements, but may we with a submissive and tractable neck learn to take thy yolk, and be so obedient to thy government, that we may testify our repentance, not for one day only, and give no fallacious evidence, but that we may really prove through the whole course of our life the sincerity of our conversion to thee, by regarding this as our main object, even to glorify thee in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

Certainly fitting thoughts for us on this Lord’s Day as we gather for worship in God’s presence with our fellow saints. May we remember well the worship that alone pleases God and come with the pure sacrifices of penitence and praise.